New York City Scenes Form Major Gift of 130 Artworks to New-York Historical Society

  • June 22, 2020 15:26

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Jacob Lawrence (1917–2000), Harlem Diner, 1938. Gouache on paper laid down on board; 12 5/8 x 19 1/8 in. New-York Historical Society, Promised Gift of Elie and Sarah Hirschfeld Collection, Scenes of New York City. © 2020 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Georgia O’Keeffe (1887–1986), Study for “Brooklyn Bridge”, 1949. Charcoal and black chalk on paper; 39 7/8 x 29 1/2 in. New-York Historical Society, Promised Gift of Elie and Sarah Hirschfeld Collection, Scenes of New York City. © 2020 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Robert Henri (1865–1929), Snow in Central Park, 1902. Oil on canvas; 26 x 32 in. New-York Historical Society, Promised Gift of Elie and Sarah Hirschfeld Collection, Scenes of New York City
Norman Rockwell (1894–1978), Gramercy Park, ca. 1918. Oil on canvas; 30 1/8 x 19 in. New-York Historical Society, Promised Gift of Elie and Sarah Hirschfeld Collection, Scenes of New York City
Louise Nevelson (1899–1988), America * New York, 1965. Painted wood on wooden plinth; 44 1/8 x 21 1/8 x 15 1/8 in. New-York Historical Society, Promised Gift of Elie and Sarah Hirschfeld Collection, Scenes of New York City. © 2020 Estate of Louise Nevelson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Giorgio de Chirico (1888–1978), Interno metafisico a Manhattan, 1972. Oil on canvas; 19 1/2 x 15 3/4 in. New-York Historical Society, Promised Gift of Elie and Sarah Hirschfeld Collection, Scenes of New York City. © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SIAE, Rome

The New-York Historical Society has announced an extraordinary promised gift from philanthropists and art collectors Elie and Sarah Hirschfeld. The couple’s “Scenes of New York City” collection comprises 130 artworks dating from the mid-19th through the 21st-centuries, including works by Isabel Bishop, Marc Chagall, David Hockney, Edward Hopper, Yvonne Jacquette, Jacob Lawrence, Louise Nevelson, Georgia O’Keeffe, Norman Rockwell, and Andy Warhol, among others. The collection of paintings, works on paper in various media, and sculpture includes 113 works by 82 artists not currently represented in New-York Historical’s collection. The works are united by a thematic thread that celebrates New York City: its buildings, bridges, parks, landmarks, and people. A major exhibition with an accompanying publication is planned for fall 2021, and a dedicated space, the Elie and Sarah Hirschfeld Gallery, Scenes of New York City, will showcase a rotation of works from the Collection.

The Elie and Sarah Hirschfeld Collection features works by significant American artists from movements specifically associated with New York City—such as the Ashcan School, Abstract Expressionism, and Pop Art—as well as a roster of leading international artists demonstrating their affinity for the city. New-York Historical’s nationally recognized collection of American paintings is best known for its Hudson River School landscapes, colonial portraiture, and 19th-century genre painting. The Hirschfeld gift, with its strong representation of 20th-century artists, is a landmark acquisition that rounds out New-York Historical’s collections with vivid representations of the City during the last century. Among the artists who will be represented for the first time are Stuart Davis, Willem de Kooning, Lyonel Feininger, Edward Hopper, Fernand Léger, John Marin, Reginald Marsh, Mark Rothko, and Edward Shinn. Works by Theresa Bernstein, Keith Haring, William Glackens, Childe Hassam, and Robert Henri strengthen New-York Historical’s holdings by those artists.

“Elie and Sarah Hirschfeld’s ‘Scenes of New York City’ collection is truly transformative for the New-York Historical Society, adding works by many major artists of the 20th century who will be represented in our collection for the first time,” said Dr. Mirrer. “These illustrative works of art will allow us to provide a more comprehensive understanding to our visitors of how New York City has flourished and changed over the last century. This gift demonstrates the pivotal role arts and culture play in our society, and we are especially grateful to Elie and Sarah for their support during these challenging times.”

“This collection is the result of my lifetime dedication to art that portrays New York City and the people who make it unique, and I knew I needed to find the right home for it,” said Elie Hirscfeld. “Sarah and I are proud to place this collection with the New-York Historical Society, an institution that has striven for more than two centuries to preserve New York City history for future generations.”

Among the highlights of the Elie and Sarah Hirschfeld Collection are:

Robert Henri’s Snow in Central Park demonstrates a stark depiction of the urban grounds. The rough brushstrokes, muddied snow, and oppressive sky rebuke the prettiness of Impressionist winter renderings popular at the time. The painting is characteristic of the Ashcan School that Henri founded—a movement focused on gritty and unidealized views of city life in New York that helped to usher in a vital American modernity.

Gramercy Park is a hallmark of Norman Rockwell’s early career. The painting offers a rare glimpse into the artist’s childhood and student days in New York City. At the same time, it presages the signature features of his mature work: the penchant for visual storytelling and celebration of the everyday that would transform him into one of the most popular and beloved illustrators of 20th-century American life. 

Harlem Renaissance artist Jacob Lawrence, celebrated for his documentation of the black experience in America, was just 23 years old when he completed a series of 60 small paintings about “The Great Migration” of African Americans from the rural south to the urban north in 1941. Harlem Diner, a prelude to that series, depicts the African American experience during the Great Depression and the anguish experienced in an era of joblessness.

Pioneering abstractionist Georgia O’Keeffe executed this work (and its corresponding painting in the Brooklyn Museum’s collection) around the time she left New York to live permanently in New Mexico. She may have created them as homages to her success in the city and also as a monument to the power of bridges to connect people and places—thus as a gateway to her new life. The drawing’s sweeping cables create a valentine to New York, a place where she and legendary photographer Alfred Stieglitz launched their seminal careers.

World-renowned artist Louise Nevelson created America * New York in 1965. The dramatic all-black assemblage exemplifies her signature cubist-style sculpture. It comprises a series of boxes, made of found scraps of wood, that slot together to form a darkly dreamlike construction evocative of a futuristic human figure or anthropomorphic skyscraper—a metaphor, perhaps, for the city or city life. Nevelson, who described New York as her “mirror,” persevered against early gender-based discrimination to become one of the most significant sculptors of the 20th century.

The Italian artist Giorgio de Chirico painted Interno metafisico a Manhattan while visiting New York in 1972. The painting unsettles with its unexpected jumble of inanimate objects set in a distorted and claustrophobic interior that floats against the city sky. The composition reworks Manhattan into a dreamlike and impossible world. It exemplifies the artist’s mature metaphysical paintings—his reengagement with a style spearheaded during his early career that profoundly impacted the French avant-garde and Surrealists.

David Hockney (b. 1937), View from the Mayflower Hotel, New York (Evening), 2002. Watercolor and crayon on paper; 24 x 18 1/8 in. New-York Historical Society, Promised Gift of Elie and Sarah Hirschfeld Collection, Scenes of New York City. © David Hockney. Photo credit: Richard Schmidt.

As an important contributor to the Pop Art movement of the 1960s, David Hockney is considered one of the most influential British artists of the 20th century. Although he resides part-time in California, he also visits New York where he drew this high-key, optimistic view—a verdant slice of Central Park, bordered by the skyscrapers of Central Park South and framed by a purple window casement—from his room on a high floor of the Mayflower Hotel. The hotel closed its doors in 2004 shortly after Hockney painted this watercolor.

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