PaineWebber Art Gallery

New York, NY



Painting the Town, Cityscapes from the Museum of the City of New York

April 13 - June 23, 2000


Nearly 200 years of New York City history will be explored in the PaineWebber Art Gallery's new exhibition Painting the Town, Cityscapes from the Museum of the City of New York. On view from April 13 to June 23, 2000, the exhibition will feature approximately 70 paintings that trace the changing landscape in all five boroughs from 1809 to 1997, recapturing lost or renovated city scenes and highlighting key moments in New York history. Noted artists featured in the exhibition include American impressionist Childe Hassam and urban realist Reginald Marsh. The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue of the same title, published by Yale University Press. (left: Mari-Louise Van Esselstyn, The Escalator, 1943-44, egg tempera on masonite, Collection of the Museum of the City of New York)

"Painting the Town" captures auspicious events in New York's history, including the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825, the Wall Street Panic of 1857 and the unveiling of the Statue of Liberty in 1886. Other famous views featured in the exhibition include the Brooklyn Bridge on its opening day in 1883; Washington Square in 1900, when it was considered one of New York City's most fashionable neighborhoods; and views of Union Square and Central Park throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.

Painting the Town, Cityscapes from the Museum of the City of New York is made possible by PaineWebber Group Inc.

Organized by the Museum of the City of New York from its extensive collection of urban landscapes, "Painting the Town" features works depicting New York's most cherished landmarks - sites rich in narrative or of great sentimental or historical significance. The exhibition reflects the mission of the Museum: to collect and display works of art that "preserve a city's remembrances" and to communicate the shared histories of New Yorkers. Painting the Town, Cityscapes from the Museum of the City of New York reveals the success the Museum has had in fulfilling that mission. (left: Tom Christopher, Last Clock on Fifth Avenue, 1996, acrylic, with pencil, on canvas, Collection of the Museum of the City of New York)


Artists and Workers Unite - A History of Manhattan's Union Square

Painting the Town includes three works that chronicle the evolution of Union Square, which was originally named "Union Place" as it formed a junction or "union" of several major roadways. The Junction of Broadway and the Bowery at Union Square in 1828, attributed to Albertis Del Orient Browere, is the earliest image and depicts the square as a northern outpost of New York City, which was then still clustered south of 14th Street.

By 1849, Union Square had emerged as a fashionable site for elegant hotels, exclusive boarding schools and the homes of wealthy New Yorkers. Modeled after the Place Vendôme in Paris, its manicured residential park is captured in Childe Hassam's Impressionistic Rainy Late Afternoon, Union Square (1890).

In 1882, Union Square earned its reputation as a haven for labor activists following a high-profile demonstration by 25,000 people seeking to establish a regulated eight-hour workday and a ban on child labor. Another work in the exhibition, Riot at Union Square by American painter Peter Hopkins, depicts the rally of unemployed workers and Communist sympathizers that became violent on March 6, 1930, when police intervened to prevent the crowd from marching to City Hall. The artist captured this important event in New York labor history from his studio on the Square, re-creating the scene from memory in 1947.


New York's River Views: Where the City Meets the Sea

New York's success as a major commercial metropolis can be attributed to its role as a water transportation and shipping hub, and works featuring changes in the city's waterways figure prominently in the exhibition. "Painting the Town" features View of Hudson River, c. 1840-1845, a grand view of the Palisades by Victor Gifford Audubon, a son of the naturalist John James Audubon. The figure sitting on a rock in the foreground is believed to be the naturalist himself, and the fish lying on the beach - striped bass, bluefish and fluke - were all in bountiful supply in the Hudson in the middle of the 19th century. (left: Victor Gifford Audubon, View of Hudson River, c. 1840-1845, oil on canvas, Collection of the Museum of the City of New York)


The Erie Canal

Under construction for more than eight years, the Erie Canal was completed in 1825, marking a significant accomplishment in American history. Hailed as a marvel of modern engineering and nicknamed "Clinton's ditch" because it was completed during the tenure of New York Governor Dewitt Clinton, this 400-mile-long waterway connected the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes. The exhibition's Erie Canal Celebration, New York, 1825 by Anthony Imbert captures the official celebration of that long-awaited event, where Clinton ceremoniously poured a keg of Lake Erie water into the Atlantic to symbolize the linking of the Great Lakes with New York Harbor. The canvas captures the excitement of this auspicious scene, and provides a visual record of the occasion that heralded New York's growing reputation as a major center for national trade and finance. (left: Anthony Imbert, Erie Canal Celebration, New York, 1825, 1825-26, oil on canvas, Collection of the Museum of the City of New York)


An Early Bear Market: Wall Street in 1857

On October 13, 1857, a financial panic caused all but one of New York' s fifty-eight banks to suspend activity until December 12 of that year. The "revulsion" of 1857, as it was called, was caused in part by the U.S. economy's accelerating inflation following the California gold discoveries, and led to rapidly increased unemployment and severely debilitated railroads, banks and real estate values. The panic of 1857 also put nearly half of Wall Street's brokers out of business, altered trading styles and led to a period of wild speculation. (left: James Cafferty and Charles G. Rosenberg, Wall Street, Half Past 2 O'clock, October 13, 1857, 1857, oil on canvas, Collection of the Museum of the City of New York)

Wall Street, Half Past 2 O'clock, October 13, 1857, a richly detailed painting by James Cafferty and Charles G. Rosenberg, depicts several people active in the 1857 crisis, including Cornelius Vanderbilt, arguably the most significant manipulator of markets and the richest man in mid-19th century America; Jacob Little, a major figure in the country's railroad era expansion; and Frederick Hudson, managing editor of the New York Herald.


The Brooklyn Bridge: 16 years and 600 men to build

"Painting the Town" features numerous works that depict one of New York's greatest landmarks: the Brooklyn Bridge. In 1883, following nearly sixteen years of construction by 600 workers, it became the longest suspension bridge in the world. The brainchild of engineer John Augustus Roebling, the stone and galvanized steel structure was beset by many difficulties. Building the bridge took the lives of 27 people, including Roebling, who was fatally injured when a ferry toppled him from a waterfront piling. Many of the bridge's other victims died of "caisson disease" (now known as the bends), after coming up too quickly from the underwater excavation chambers. (left: Warren Sheppard, Brooklyn Bridge Celebration, May 1883, 1883, oil on canvas, Collection of the Museum of the City of New York)

Paintings in the exhibition featuring the bridge include Brooklyn Bridge Celebration, May 1883, by Warren Sheppard, which offers a photo-realist view of the night-time ceremony, replete with fireworks over the East River. The following day, when the bridge was opened to the public, twelve pedestrians were crushed to death and many more hurt after an anonymous reveler shouted that the bridge was unsafe, causing the estimated 20,000 people on the bridge to stampede to shore. Since then, the New York icon, which originally featured special lanes for horse-drawn carriages and cable cars, has adapted to the modern era and proved safe and sound.


The Statue of Liberty: A New York Lady's Debut

More than 100 years ago, the people of France gave the Statue of Liberty to the people of the Unites States in recognition of the friendship established during the American Revolution. Included in "Painting the Town" is Edward Moran's dramatic canvas capturing the fanfare in New York's Hudson River on the day of the statue's unveiling.

French Sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi was originally commissioned to design a sculpture to be completed in 1876, to commemorate the centennial of America's Declaration of Independence. However, ten years behind schedule due to fund-raising obstacles, it was on October 28, 1886, that the Statue of Liberty was finally unveiled on Bedloe's island in New York Harbor and dedicated amid elaborate public festivities. Moran's canvas depicts the moment when a 21-gun salute was fired and U.S. President Grover Cleveland formally accepted France' s gift on behalf of the American people.


Bryant Park through the Years

Another New York City site that has witnessed many changes through the years is Manhattan's Bryant Park. "Painting the Town" offers two views of the famed park - Theresa Bernstein's vivid Bryant Park from 1914, and Meyer Rohowsky's On the Alert at Bryant Park - N. Y: C., from 1941.

Originally laid out as a potter's field in 1823, the area became a public park in 1847, when it was named Reservoir Square after the adjacent reservoir. By 1914, Bryant Park was a verdant six-acre enclave stretching west behind the newly completed main branch of the New York Public Library at Fifth Avenue between 40th and 42nd Streets. Bernstein's 1914 view of the site reflects the park's landscaped English paths that were laid in conjunction with the library's 1911 opening, and is a testament to the beauty that Bryant Park still offers its visitors today. (left: Theresa Bernstein, Bryant Park, 1914, oil on canvas, Collection of the Museum of the City of New York)

On the Alert at Bryant Park depicts an armed U.S. Army officer keeping watch. Rohowsky created the work in 1941, immediately following the attack on Pearl Harbor, as New York mobilized an aggressive civil defense network. An anti-air raid observation post was quickly installed in the park, reflecting the sobering possibility of enemy penetration along America's eastern seaboard. This imposing canvas by Rohowsky captures the solemn moment for posterity.


The Evolution of New York's Central Park - the Nation's First Landscaped Park

Included in the exhibition is Fifth Avenue at 89th Street in 1868 by American painter Ralph Albert Blakelock. Blakelock's bleak landscape, which depicts what is today the site of Frank Lloyd Wright's famous Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in 1868, evokes rural Kansas in the early 1930s and underscores the often overlooked reality that the construction of Central Park between 1857 and 1876 displaced some 1,600 residents living in the area.

The first landscaped park in the United States, Manhattan's Central Park was created with the advocacy of many wealthy merchants and landowners who admired the public grounds of London and Paris and believed such an amenity was the mark of a great metropolis. Throughout the late 19th century, leisure activities in the park became increasingly popular, evident in the exhibition's View of Central Park (1862) by George Loring Brown and Skating in Central Park (1865) by Johann Mengels Culverhouse.


Protecting New York's Landmarks: Brave and Bold 19h-Century Volunteer Firemen

Throughout the exhibition, "Painting the Town" also offers various views of New York fire fighters in action during the early 1840s, when the force was composed solely of volunteers. Serving without pay afforded 19th-century New York men exemption from the militia and jury duty, and offered a stimulating social life and an opportunity to play a part in city politics. Organized into engine, hose and ladder companies, the members of each unit not only physically pulled their truck through the cobblestone streets, but also operated the equipment by hand.

The exhibition's Fire at the Tombs is attributed to Browere (whose Junction of Broadway and the Bowery at Union Square in 1828 is also included in the exhibition). The 1842 work depicts a hand-pumped fire truck operated by two groups of men whose vigorous pumping created the necessary pressure to force water from the tank. Steam-powered fire trucks were invented in 1855, but because they eliminated the need for platoons of men to pump the brakes, the city's volunteer firemen used their political connections to delay the introduction of the new apparatus until 1865, at which time horses assumed the chore of pulling the heavy rigs through New York's streets. The year 1865 also saw the establishment of a paid New York-Brooklyn Metropolitan Fire Department.

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About The Museum of the City of New York

The Museum of the City of New York is a private, not-for-profit, educational agency established in 1923 to collect, preserve and present original materials related to the history of New York City. In addition to individual contributions and gifts from foundations and corporations, the Museum receives public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts. The City of New York, the owner of the Museum's building, provides support in the form of operating and programmatic funds through the Department of Cultural Affairs.

Located at Fifth Avenue and 103rd Street, the Museum is easily accessible via public transportation: The Museum is open Wednesday through Saturday, 10:00 am to 5:00 pm; Tuesday, 10:00 am to 2:00 pm for preregistered groups only; and Sunday, Noon to 5:00 pm. The Museum is closed on Mondays and all legal holidays. Admission is free, although the following contributions are suggested: $5.00 for adults, $4.00 for senior citizens, students and children, and $10.00 for families. For more information, call (212) 534-1672.

Read more about the PaineWebber Art Gallery in Resource Library Magazine

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

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