|EVERETT LONGLEY WARNER (1877-1963) - New York from a Seaplane, c. 1919|
Signed at lower right: EVERETT WARNER
Almost certainly the only surviving work from a series of aerial views the artist created of early 20th-century Manhattan, New York from a Seaplane conveys the enduring thrill of seeing the world’s most exciting city from a plane. Though air travel is no longer the novelty it was in Warner’s day, the sight of Manhattan’s skyline viewed from aloft still captivates even the most jaded of travelers. In the present work, Warner captures a panoramic view of lower New York in considerable detail, using fine crosshatches of pastel to define the contours of individual buildings as well as major landmarks like the Brooklyn Bridge. But by introducing complex effects of light and perspective, the artist heightens the work’s overall dramatic effect, transcending the realm of pure cityscape. Here, the scintillating reflected sunlight and the plane’s steeply angled wingtip (which insinuates a turning motion) imbue the picture with an almost startling immediacy.
In June 1919, Warner was completing his tour of duty in World War I, where he directed the U.S. Naval Camouflage Department’s subsection of design. Drawing upon his artistic reputation and training, he developed innovative distortion camouflage patterns for naval warships, intended to misdirect torpedo attacks by creating optical illusions. During the final days of his commission, Warner looked ahead to his imminent return to work as an artist, devising an assignment to paint naval planes in flight, a project that also allowed him to make sketches of New York from the air that he could use once back in his painting studio. Warner completed several dozen sketches (which he asserted were the first completed during actual flight) from the open cockpit of a U.S. Navy seaplane assigned to the project, using them as the basis for his finished compositions including the present work. According to notes he made for a later exhibition, the artist found working from the seaplane surprisingly easy, crouching down to avoid the wind and experiencing less vibration than he would have encountered in a boat or train [Fusscas, A World Observed, pp. 19-21, 40]. The artist’s remarkable observational skills allowed him to quickly represent not only the specifics of what he saw before him, but also to capture the elusive (and, to most people at the time, exotic) sensation of being in flight.
Warner’s fluid and assured use of the pastel medium draws upon the familiarity with impressionist techniques he gained while working alongside masters like Hassam, Metcalf, and others in the formative years of the Old Lyme, Connecticut art colony of which he was an early member. Here, he displays his skill by using the brown ground of the paper to help denote land and buildings, employing strokes of pastel to define the effects of sunlight falling upon city buildings as well the surface of the East River.
In addition to the iconic Brooklyn Bridge in the middle distance, New York from a Seaplane includes other landmark structures including the Municipal Building (at center left) and the Woolworth Building (at center right). Completed in 1914, McKim, Mead & White’s Municipal Building was acclaimed by legendary architectural critic Henry Hope Reed as “America's premier skyscraper,” which, “along with the best of the firm's earlier work, set the measure of American architecture”. [“Architecture That Honored Civilization,” New York Times, June 17, 1984] Evidently quite taken with this magnificent structure (which still stands today), Warner also depicted it in a large oil now in the permanent collection of the Museum of the City of New York, The Municipal Building, c. 1915 (oil on canvas, 49 3/4 x 39 3/4 inches).
This work also captures the distinctive form, if not the intricate gothic ornamentation, of Cass Gilbert’s seminal Woolworth Building, completed in 1913 and until 1930 the world’s tallest building. Perhaps America’s most important early commercial skyscraper, the Woolworth Building’s graceful soaring form set the aesthetic standard for ensuing generations of skyscraper construction across the United States. This magnificent structure inspired the term “cathedral of commerce,” which was eventually used to refer to the proliferation of corporate skyscrapers on the American skyline in the decades to come. Warner also used the shadowy form of the Woolworth Building as a backdrop in his Manhattan Contrasts, 1917 (New-York Historical Society), a work that highlighted the peaceful coexistence of New York’s aging low buildings and its impressive skyscrapers, a favorite theme. [William Gerdts, Impressionist New York (New York: Artabras, 1994), p. 92]
The recipient of numerous prestigious awards over the course of his long career, Warner maintained an unconventional and unemotional attitude about destroying his work. Not only did he do away with or paint over compositions that, for whatever reason, failed to meet his standards, he also destroyed strong works, sometimes even important prize-winning ones, he felt were not sufficiently appreciated by the public. This was apparently the case with the other seaplane pictures, leaving the present pastel as the only surviving work from the series. Interestingly, Warner also eradicated some pictures he liked, reasoning that in doing so he would increase the value of his remaining works. All the paintings, drawings, and papers remaining in the artist’s possession at the time of his death burned in a 1972 studio fire, further increasing the scarcity of his work. [Fusscas, pp. 22, 40, 43]
Created during a formative period in the development of New York’s skyline, when distinctive edifices like the Municipal and Woolworth Buildings were fast arriving on the scene, the present work documents the height of the city’s early skyscraper era. In this imaginative and exhilarating view, Warner encapsulates the period of growth that would come to define the essential visual character of Manhattan, small in land area, but looming large in the American imagination.
|Location of Origin: North America|
|Medium/Materials: Pastel on paper|
|Dimensions: 14 x 11 5/8 inches|
|Primary Classification: Antique Picture Frames and Fine Art for Sale : Antique Paintings : Landscapes|
|Secondary Classification: Modern and Contemporary Art|
- Florence Griswold Museum, Old Lyme, Connecticut, A World Observed: The Art of Everett Longley Warner, 1877-1963, catalogue by Helen K. Fusscas, June 6 - August 9, 1992, no. 32, cited pp. 22, 46, illus. fig. 22 p. 22. Exhibition also traveled to Westmoreland Museum of Art, Greensburg, Pennsylvania, August 30 - October 25, 1992 and the Center Gallery, Bucknell University, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, November 16, 1992 - January 26, 1993
Warner’s works are in a number of prestigious public and private collections, including the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Corcoran Art Gallery, Washington, DC; the Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois; the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia; the Florence Griswold Museum, Old Lyme, Connecticut; the St. Louis Art Museum, Missouri; the National Academy of Design, the Museum of the City of New York, the New-York Historical Society and the National Arts Club, New York; the Princeton University Art Museum, New Jersey, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, among numerous others.
|Provenance: Mr. and Mrs. Arthur C. Riley, by 1992|
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121 Mount Vernon, Boston, MA 02108 USA
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