Friday, January 22, 2010

five-cent den on Pearl St.

An illustration I showed yesterday1 has New York's crust appreciating some paintings and each others' company at a gallery located on 5th Avenue near Broadway. I used it to help demonstrate the distance between wealth and poverty in that Gilded Age. I quoted the author of a short piece on a nearby tenement on this pervasive disjunction of haves and have nots: "It is a trite saying that one half the world don't know how the other half live. A French gentleman who traveled through England reported on his return that he had seen no poverty in that favored land. Every body was rich, or at least in comfortable circumstances. He had seen only the sunny side of society. A traveler might ride through Broadway and Fifth Avenue and receive the same impression in regard to New York."

The illustration — called "An afternoon lounge at Goupil's Art Gallery" — shows a dense crowd in fine dress within a room whose walls are packed with paintings.2 The viewer's eye is first drawn to the people and their interaction with each other, but a closer look reveals a famous painting on the back wall. It's The Parthenon by F.E. Church, now hanging in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.3 Here's a detail from the illustration showing the painting.

And here's a closer view of the painting as seen in the drawing together with a color reproduction from the Met.

The art critic of the New York Times described Goupil's temporary display of the painting as a major public event.4

Given the spirited journalism of the time,5 perhaps it's not surprising that the artist who drew the crowd at Goupil's — J.N. Hyde — also showed what life was like for those whose lot in life placed them under this top crust of society. For example, this drawing of his appeared in another illustrated weekly paper about a decade later.

{Caption: New York City - Cheap lodging-houses as nests of disease -A night scene in a "five-cent" den on Pearl Street / Hyde ; from sketches by Joseph Becker. SUMMARY: Interior view of lodging house and three exterior views. CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1882. From Frank Leslie's illustrated newspaper, v. 54, (1882 March 18), pp. 56-57. Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photos Div.}

This picture calls to mind images, such as the following couple, that would appear sixty and more years later showing inmates of the German concentration camps.
{These come from Dachau and Buchenwald, respectively}

Here are some detail views of Hyde's drawing.



1 From this post: a tenement on Mulberry Street

2 Goupil's was owned by Michel Knoedler. Now known as Knoedler & Company, the gallery is one of the oldest in the U.S. As they proudly explain:
For over 160 years, Knoedler & Company has had an enduring role in the history of American art dealing. The name “Knoedler” spans three centuries, and over the course of time affiliated living artists have extended from Frederic E. Church (the Hudson River School) to Helen Frankenthaler (the New York School). The gallery was established in lower Manhattan in 1846 by Michael Knoedler, who was then acting on behalf of Goupil & Company, the renowned French firm of engravers. In the beginning, our dealings were primarily in prints and artist's materials.

The gallery’s annotated sales and stock books, dating from the mid-19th century, tell a fascinating story that runs parallel to the growth of New York City and of the country as a whole. The immense industrial expansion and new era of the railroad that followed the Civil War (at a time when Knoedler traded paintings for gold) made a significant impact upon the world of art. Many of our clients, since that period, are still familiar to the current generation as founders of great American fortunes: the Vanderbilt family, the Astors, Henry M. Flagler, Catharine Lorillard Wolfe, H.O. and Louisine Havemeyer, the Rockefeller family, Andrew and Paul Mellon, Robert Sterling Clark and Stephen Clark, Henry Clay Frick, and others. Their patronage, in turn, established some of our nation's most important art institutions.
3 As well as having a business association between gallery and artist, Knoedler and Church were friends and neighbors.

4 See: New York Times, Mar 30, 1872, p. 5
"The Parthenon," by Mr. F.W. Church [The Times got his name wrong; it should be F.E. Church]

Mr. Church's picture of "The Parthenon." Painted for Mr. Morris K. Jessup, it is now on view at the Goupil Gallery. The Parthenon has been justly called "the noblest monument in Athens and the World." ... Mr. Church's picture represents the Parthenon as it is today, disrupted and dismantled. In the foreground are two broken but erect columns, belonging to some other buildings, and around them are its ruins. On the hill-top, full in the sunlight, stands the Parthenon, grand in its decay. In the background is a range of lofty hills. A few patches of grass near the temple alone break the monotony of color, which would otherwise be somewhat disagreeable. So far as mere execution goes, there is little to find fault with in Mr. Church's picture. The treatment is broad, simple and effective; the color harmonious, and the gradations nicely preserved. The shadows are not quite so transparent as they might be. Like Mr. Church's "Jerusalem," it is a beautifully executed and striking picture. It will remain on exhibition at Goupils's for some few days, and we have no doubt will prove a great attraction.
5 It was, for example, the age of Thomas Nast and, although muckraking is associated the the later Progressive Era, it actually began Postbellum.

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