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September 12, 2008

Martin Lewis - Printmaker

I love Martin Lewis' black and white prints of life on the streets in New York City (mostly in the 1920s and 30s), which are the works he is best known for. Although he painted and sometimes drew in colors, his prints are considered to be his finest work. I would love to be able to add some of his pictures to this post, but most of his works are still under copyright and the pictures he made in his early days that are no longer under copyright are not typical of the works that I like best and that he is best known for (not that I don't like the others - some I like a lot but I thought that if I added only those pictures here someone might get the wrong impression, thinking that these were typical of his work, and might not bother to take a look at his works that I'm going to add links to below).

He was good at capturing light effects, both in day and night scenes, and he was also very good at drawing snowy and rainy scenes. I love the "social commentary" aspect of much of his work. Also, he obviously had a sense of humor (take a look at Boss of the Block, for instance -- There are links below to several of his pictures and also there's a video below showing some of his work).


Martin Lewis was born in Australia in 1881. He left home when he was fifteen with the intention of making his living at art. He traveled and sketched in the countryside of Australia and New Zealand, and from 1898 to 1900 he attended the James Ashton Art School near Sydney, Australia (that was his only official art education), and eventually found work as a merchant seaman. In 1900 at age 19 he sailed to the United States, first stopping at San Francisco where he got work as an artist working for William McKinley's political campaign. By 1909 he had settled in New York City, where he supported himself by working as a commercial illustrator.

For two years in the early 1920s Lewis lived in Japan where he drew and painted, and studied Japanese art. The influence of Japanese prints is very evident in some of his own prints made after that period. He returned to New York City and by 1930 was concentrating on the black and white pictures he is most famous for, mostly night pictures. I'm very intrigued by night pictures and also I love (non tourist/real life) street scenes in big cities, and although I've never done any printmaking I wish now that I'd learned to -- I love pen and ink drawings and enjoy drawing with a pen myself; so naturally these pictures (which look very much like pen and ink drawings) appeal strongly to me, and they also appeal to many others. People pay a huge amount of money for his prints these days.

In 1930 he and his family moved to Connecticut, but he stayed in contact with friends in New York and returned there to live in 1936 as he loved big city life and found life in the country too dull. He taught at the Art Students League from 1944 to 1951.  He died in 1962 in New York City.

Now for the best part of this - Links to several of Martin Lewis' pictures, ones that I myself like best.


The Old Timer Battleship, 1916  One of his first prints.

Something different by Martin Lewis -- a painting.  Lewis lived in Japan in the early 1920s.  Mt. Fuji - Looking across to Gotemba, c. 1920
oil on panel

One of my own favorite pictures by Martin Lewis.  The Bridge near Nikko, 1926
Drypoint and sand ground

Down the Hudson -- Smoke and Sunshine, c. 1926

Derricks at Night, 1927

Glow of the City, 1929
drypoint on wove paper

Stoops in Snow, 1930. This looks like it was influenced by his stay in Japan.
(And, by the way, you can have this one for only $50,000 - Just "add to basket," as it suggests)

Shadow Dance, 1930
drypoint and sandpaper ground, trial proof

Arch, Midnight (New York City), 1930

Rainy Day, Queens, 1931

R.F.D., 1933
drypoint and sandpaper ground

Winter on White Street, 1934

Boss of the Block, c. 1939
Aquatint and etching

Here is one of my favorites (but this isn't a good picture of it; I have a better picture of it but it's under copyright and I can't display it on this blog -- Unfortunately I didn't make a note of where I found it on the web and now I can't find it again). The subject is cars on a wet country road at night. Wet Night, Route 6, 1933
drypoint etching

AT THE LINK BELOW THERE WAS A PHOTOGRAPH OF MARTIN LEWIS - But as someone wrote in the Comments section (in Oct. 2010), the photo is no longer on the page.  I've looked and looked to see if I could locate this photograph elsewhere, to no avail.  If you find it please let us know in the Comments section where to find it - Thanks!  Meantime, you will know where it was.  Where it was:

Title: Martin Lewis in a Subway Kiosk, 1951
Vintage silver gelatin photograph.
Photographer: Alfred Gescheidt.

This is very interesting. It is a photograph of a New York City night scene of the type Lewis drew, and what's even more interesting is that the man in the photograph coming up out of the subway is Martin Lewis himself. I think it would be very interesting and fun to try to draw this with pen and ink. By the way, you can buy this photograph for just $5,500.00.

Late Traveler, 1949  This print was made before the photograph of Lewis (see above) was taken, apparently in the same setting.

Here is a blog post on the "Articles & Texticles" site devoted to Martin Lewis, with several of his pictures that enlarge to a good size. The "Shadows, Garage at Night" is one of my favorites. After you open up a picture to a large size, click the X in the bottom right corner of the picture to close it and go on to the next one.

A series of New York City scenes by Martin Lewis

You can also see the above video on this page where you can read about the music recorded in 1932 that's played with the video.

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Anonymous said...

This is an interesting post, Jean, and I appreciate your introducing me to the work of Martin Lewis. Your article is a nice compliment to the recent one on nocturnes and this has gotten me thinking about doing some nocturnes of my own. Taking a walk in the park near our apartment last night I noted the deep purple and blue gray colors of the night sky and the effect of all of the street and building light and am seeing lots of possibilities.

Jean Vincent said...

Brian, I'm so glad to know you're considering doing some night pictures! I want to do more of them myself. - Jean

Petya said...

Jean, this is a great post! I was familiar with a few of Martin Lewis' works, but didn't know too much about him as an artist. I really like his style - he really had a talent for capturing street scenes and that typical New York City look.

Jean Vincent said...

Petya, Thank you so much for your comments. I love Martin Lewis' drawings. I'm not familiar with life in New York City personally. My ideas about what it's like there are from all that I've read and all that I've seen about it in my life (quite a huge jumble of impressions from reading, what I've heard from people who've been there, movies, photographs, drawings and paintings....), but I like to think his drawings captured the essence of those scenes. It's how I imagine it was there back at that time, or how I like to imagine it anyway. I'm very intrigued with that era, especially the thirties.

Bambino said...

I'm very happy to find this blog about art, it's really good!! I'm a teacher of art and history in a Secundary School in South of Spain (sorry for my bad English). I studied History of Art at the University but I don't know absolutelly nothing about the marvellous printmaker Martin Lewis I discover his works last summer while I visited the exhibition "The American Scene. Prints from Hopper to Pollock" at the British Museum, and I wondered specially with the prints of Lewis. Searching information about him in the Net I discover this blog. Congratulations for your work and thank you for the information of this very interesting post, Jean.


Jean Vincent said...

Oscar, Thanks so much for your comments! They are very much appreciated! There's no need to apologize for your English, as your make yourself perfectly clear. Hoping to hear from you again. - Jean

Anonymous said...

Wonderful site. I'm a big Martin Lewis fan -- I only regret that the Old Print Shop, or whatever it's called, is monopolizing access to his work, in terms of publications that cost $$$$!

Jean Vincent said...

Thanks, Anonymous! I appreciate your comments, and also appreciate your taking the time to leave them. - Jean

Jerry said...

Only today, thanks to the 'net, did I come across the magnificient talents of Martin Lewis. He's a keeper. I'm just wondering if there are any books on the market that might contain some of his works you have elaborately illustrated here. I'd be interested in frugally framing some of his works and hang them in my study at home; a place of solitude and his works would surely fit the mood. And thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and insights.

Jean Vincent said...

Jerry, your idea about "frugally" framing some of his works and hanging them in your study...a place of solitude...that sounds wonderful to me. What a good idea. I love solitude, too. They certainly would be fitting for a quiet study. I don't know about books with his prints. If you find some good ones, maybe you'll come back by and list them here? Thanks very much for your comments. - Jean

Anonymous said...

As a native New Yorker, I'm a big fan of Martin Lewis, who gives us a wonderful window into what is now a lost era. Thanks for your info and links.

I'd loved to have seen Gescheidt's photo of him in the subway kiosk, especially if it is the same one as in "Late Traveler," since that might help ID the location. Unfortunately, the page you link to no longer has it. Do you know of anywhere else on the web where it can be seen?

Jean Vincent said...

What a shame that photo is no longer there! I've changed the wording ahead of that link (in the post). I looked and looked today to try to find that picture elsewhere, but haven't found it. Maybe someone else will, and they'll let us know where it is. - Jean

AdrianLewis Cole said...

Dear Jean,
Thank you for your wonderful post on Martin Lewis. He was my grandfathers brother. Growing up in Australia we used to hear alot about him from my mother and father (who visited him in New York in 1942 (or thereabouts) while on his way to serve in the RAAF in England during world War II). I would love to able to locate his children/grandchildren. Any clues? I believe a son was an engineer in South America.

adrian lewis cole said...

To Jerry: There is a book that may still be available "The Prints of Martin Lewiis" by Paul McCarron. There seems to be a number available online.
PS: A beautiful book BTW.

adrian lewis cole said...

To all:
A few years ago, Castlemaine Art Gallery in Victoria, Australia, held a retrospective on the works of Martin Lewis (Castelmaine being his birthplace in 1881). Works were shipped from overseas, and many people, including many realtives attended a beautiful event. If you want any further information on Martin Lewis, the gallery would be sure to assist.

Anonymous said...

I love Lewis' work! Anyone have an idea as to where the lady in "Glow of the City" is standing? I know that she is looking at the Chanin Bldg. There is a neighborhood church in the picture. Obviously, it was an area where there were tenements. I have often wondered where this scene was.

Lynn said...

I found a photo that may be of the same area as shown in "Late Traveler". Here is the link:
Please copy and paste the above link.
There are two views of the entrances. The photos are side by side. You'll have to scroll down quite a ways to see them.
In the one photo, there is a man going down into the subway entrance, but I don't know if it is Lewis.
If you compare the roofs of the kiosks in the photos with those in Lewis' picture, one roof is different in the photo.
Here is what the caption to the two photos says:
"As these 1964 views show, 50th Street was among the last stations to lose its distinctive entrance and exit cast-iron kiosks. Photo left: nycsubway.org; photo right: Evelyn Hofer from New York Proclaimed".
The www.nycsubway.org website is still active. The book, "New York Proclaimed", is by V. S. Pritchett, with photographs by Evelyn Hofer and is available on the internet.
By the way, the search words I used to find the photos of the kiosks were "Martin Lewis artist exiting a subway station". I used Google and searched in the images option.
In addition, I found a photo of Lewis. Copy and paste this link: http://tinyurl.com/3r77tp3
If you figure out where the location of the kiosks in the Lewis picture are, please let me know.

Anonymous said...

Where can you purchase a poster print of Martin Lewis 's art? My Mom is originally from NYC and these art works are very meaningful to her.

Howie said...

I just found a Martin Lewis Print "Night in New York" in my father in laws collection, buried in the garage. It is in perfect shape. How can I best find a new owner for it??? The best way toi sell it??? howard in Oregon

Lynn said...

This is to answer the July 25, 2011 question posted by "Anonymous" regarding "Glow of the City".
I found out where the church and the tenements were in this picture. The church is St. Gabriel’s Church, which was formerly located at 308-310 E. 37th St. (accounts of the address vary). That would make the tenements between 36th and 37th Sts. and 2nd Ave. on the north and Tunnel Entrance St. on the south. The church and tenements were torn down to make way for the tunnel project.
I found this photo which shows St. Gabriel’s Park. Note the steeple of the church near the base of the Chrysler Bldg. This is the church in Lewis’ etching. The tenements in the photo are those in the etching. Here is the link.
You may have to copy and paste the link.
The woman in the etching would be standing in the area which we cannot see that is between the buildings in the photo.
Still, this is really neat, being able to see the photo of the place that Lewis used for his artwork.
And it is nearly from the same angle. The Chanin Bldg. is also visible.
This took me quite a while to research but it was fun.

Lynn said...

I found this photo of a subway kiosk that is very reminiscent of the one in Lewis's "Late Traveler, 1949".
The photographer is Berenice Abbott and the location is Union Square, East 14th between Fourth Avenue and Broadway, and was taken July 16, 1936.

Lynn said...

I came upon a good copy of Lewis's "Late Traveler, 1949" on the internet. http://tinyurl.com/9lses5c
I am able to see that on the illuminated panel on the side of the kiosk into which the woman is descending, it says, "Entr" and underneath that word, the word "Upto".
I'm guessing that it says "Entrance Uptown".
On the sign to the front of the woman inside the staircase it says in part, the letters "OR" in the top word and "DWA" in the bottom word. Might the lower word be "Broadway"? If the upper word is the name of a street along the line, what might it be? "Ashford"?
I am not from New York City and am not familiar with the subway routes but does anyone want to hazard a guess as to which line this might have been in 1949?
There is also an illuminated sign on one of the buildings in the background. It almost looks like "Bristol Cafe" but that's a guess. The First letter of the horizontal word is a "B" and the last three letters look like "T-O-L". The first three letters of the vertical word are definitely "C-A-F".
Any ideas?

Jean Vincent said...

Lynn, I want to thank you for your very interesting comments. I'm going to either make a new post with your comments in it (I hope you won't mind), or else I'll modify this post to point them out. I don't want what you've written to be lost way down here among the comments that some might not get to, as I think it would be of interest to others. It seems that many people who like Martin Lewis' pictures are very thoughtful people, and other comments are interesting, too. I'm a little busy just at the moment but I'll get to this as soon as I can. Thanks again. - Jean

Lynn said...

Thank you for your comments and for your interest, Jean. I am grateful. You have my permission to copy my comments to other sites as my goal is sharing/exchanging information with others. For the past several years I have tried to find the actual locations depicted in Lewis's prints, but it hasn't been easy. I'm working on several right now. BUT, I happened to be on the website, Pinterest, and I think I may have found the photo you have searched for of a man, perhaps Lewis, entering a subway kiosk. I had seen that photo, too, but like you, couldn't remember where. I came upon this by accident. I hope it is the one you were looking for. I will post the link (copy and paste) to the site: http://tinyurl.com/8gbpuut
The name of the person on that website who created the photo folder, "Old New York #1" is Carol Shepko. She has amassed a wonderful collection of photos. I'm fascinated with Lewis's work and have really enjoyed looking at old photographs to help me in my search. I'll keep hunting. Let me know if this is the photo you were looking for. The man's build seems to be similar to a photo I have seen of Lewis.

Jean Vincent said...

Lynn, I'll try my best to get to this in the next day or two. :-) - Jean - insplendidsolitude@gmail.com

Lynn said...

Thanks, Jean!

Lynn said...

Jean, FYI, I sent you an email at your private email address yesterday. Lynn

Lily Pond Lane said...

Jean, I sent you two emails to your private email address yesterday. Lynn

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