Study, New York

Study, New York by John Marin

How does the changing city skyline make you feel?

For Marin, New York’s geometric architecture and kinetic street life epitomized the abstract principles of modern European art movements. The vantage point in this picture, looking from Brooklyn across the East River toward lower Manhattan, was popular with artists who could juxtapose the 19th-century Brooklyn Bridge with the city’s 20th-century skyscrapers. Marin’s scene boldly declares the spiritual dimensions of the entire urban landscape on both sides of the bridge.


Wave by Bror Julius Olsson Nordfeldt

Where is geometry found in nature?

Nordfeldt was attracted to the sea, and it was as a constant source of inspiration. He painted the oceans on both coasts of the United States, including this work. After traveling to the California coast, his wife, Emily, admitted that “the resulting paintings were . . . less rigid, have movement and vibrancy and almost a joyfulness and gaiety about them.” Toward the end of his life, he stripped down his dreamlike compositions to semi-abstract shapes or “idea-bones” in order to express emotion.

Untitled (South American Burial Scene)

Untitled (South American Burial Scene) by Héctor Poleo

What is your relationship to loss?

Poleo traveled the Andean region in his early 40s. In his works of the period he addressed the social character of the groups he encountered. In this sensitive rendition of a community burial procession, we see figures arranged in a dreamlike formation against a striking South American landscape. The poignant humanity of the burial ceremony creates a striking contrast with the topography, color, and light of the natural landscape.

A Bermuda Window in a Semi-Tropic Character

A Bermuda Window in a Semi-Tropic Character by Marsden Hartley

What does simplification accentuate?

In the winter of 1916–1917, Hartley traveled to Bermuda, where he was joined by the artist Charles Demuth. During this period, Hartley painted simplified still lifes, including the work seen here. The format is straightforward: an arrangement of fruit and one flower stands before an open window. In the bay visible beyond, a boat with pink sails surges through an aquamarine sea. Using rich, saturated colors, the artist created broad fields of color broken only by subtly patterned brushwork.

Seated Nude

Seated Nude by George Wesley Bellows

What are the challenges and benefits of painting from life?

Bellows taught a life drawing class at the Art Students League of New York in 1910—presumably the students in this class were asked to paint nude models. The quick execution of this painting is recorded by the rich, broad strokes that define the figure’s back, and the single stroke that makes up the calf and heel of the figure’s right leg. Supposedly, this work was a demonstration piece for Bellows’ students, and it shows the artist’s intimate knowledge of anatomy and masterful technique.

The 'Cello Player

The 'Cello Player by Edwin Walter Dickinson

What objects in your life have memories attached to them?

At first glance this painting appears to be a study in gray, black, and white. Upon close looking, however, muted colors appear: pinks, browns, purples, greens, and blues. At the center of the painting sits a man cradling a cello. However, he holds no bow; the cello is silent. Although Dickinson denied a narrative or symbolic meaning, some art historians believe that the painting reflects the artist’s sense of loss following his brother’s death by suicide more than a decade earlier.

Lower Manhattan

Lower Manhattan by George Grosz

How does this painting describe the energy of a city?

Lower Manhattan is one of the first paintings Grosz executed after moving to the United States. This scene captures the energy and promise of New York City as seen from New York Harbor, the entryway to his new life and the haven from the ominous backdrop of life in his native Berlin, where he was known for his cynical political caricatures. The move to the United States helped Grosz explore new artistic avenues, and the grandeur of the modern metropolis pushed him in exciting new directions.

Still Life with Flowers

Still Life with Flowers by Florine Stettheimer

How can an artist make a still life move?

By the 1920s Stettheimer developed her own take on still-life painting; her “eyegays” feature tabletop floral arrangements as the means for exploring the effects of her brilliant palette. In 1946 the critic Henry McBride commented that “the blossoms in her vases wriggled upward with a whimsicality in the stems.” In this work, Stettheimer used bold, vibrating colors to animate a bowl of phlox, a perennial wildflower.

The Bridge

The Bridge by John Koch

How would you want your bedroom to look in a painting?

The model for this painting is believed to have been Felicia Marsh, the wife of painter Reginald Marsh. She poses in Koch’s studio, which overlooked the Queensboro Bridge in New York City. Although he built his reputation as a painter of wealthy New Yorkers in their elegant interiors, Koch painted this simple scene for his own pleasure. He later recalled, “It was a picture I sweated out, but the finished canvas looks fresh.”


Venus by Manierre Dawson

How does this artist show movement?

After Dawson returned from Europe, he increasingly devoted more of his attention to painting the human figure. He used Renaissance and Baroque paintings as the basis for his own cubist reinterpretations. These works display a forceful dynamism, suggesting active movement and dancing light—effects that can be seen in Venus. Dawson was not only interested in transforming the figure, he also attempted to change the shadows and voids around it.