John William Hill’s jewel-like watercolor sketch for the more finished watercolor in the N-YHS (1958.125), which is three times its size and is one of twenty drawings and watercolors in the collection by the artist. It immediacy vividly communicates the meteorology of the windy, sunny day on the Hudson River. The artist first sketched the composition freely in graphite, eventually framing his composition with graphite lines.
The artist would have then made another study on a separate sheet of paper in graphite, perhaps on the spot. With both studies as guides, Hill then painted the finished watercolor in his studio. This vivacious watercolor sketch and its relationship to View from High Tor, Haverstraw, New York sheds light on the working method claimed by the American Pre-Raphaelites and demonstrates that Hill produced sketches in nature, which he consulted when executing the more highly finished watercolor in the studio.
Hill read John Ruskin’s sensational Modern Painters (first published in England in 1843; American edition 1847) around 1855 and was greatly affected by the critic’s passionate appeal that artists reject artistic interpretation in favor of a meticulous transcription of the visible world. Such ideas contradicted the notion of the sublime that was integral to the work of the Hudson River School but had found favor in England with the Pre-Raphaelites. Embracing Ruskin’s ideas, Hill began to paint directly from nature, eventually adopting a stippling technique favored by the Pre-Raphaelites. In 1863, he became a founding member of their American counterparts, the Society for the Advancement of Truth in Art, and was elected its first president.
Located near Clarkstown and Haverstraw in Rockland County, New York, High Tor is now a state park. High Tor measures 797 feet and nearby Little Tor 620 feet. They are the highest peaks in all of the Hudson Palisades. High Tor was used as a signal point during the American Revolution for the colonist and was used as an air raid watch during World War II.
Inscribed with the title and “William Hall, Master” and dated 1805, lower right
The watercolor depicts the ship, “Warren” of New York, which was captained by William Hall (c. 1769–1829). Although his birth year has not been identified, William Hall is listed every year from 1800 to 1828 as a shipmaster in the New York City directory. He was a member of the New York City Freemasons and entered into the “sublime degree of Master Mason” on August 21, 1804, the highest degree in the fraternity. The following year, Hall became master of the “Warren.”
verso inscribed at upper left in graphite: 1950 / GOUACHE SAILBOATS / CENTRAL PARK
Best known as a pioneer in screenprints, Max Arthur Cohn was born in 1903 to Russian immigrants in London and moved with his family to New York City in 1905. After his first art-related job creating commercial silkscreens at age seventeen, Cohn began to experiment with silkscreening on his own and later, in the 1930s and 1940s, exhibited his prints in New York City and Washington, D.C. Unfortunately, none of his early works from the 1920’s or early 1930’s are known to have survived. Cohn developed a new concept of screenprinting with the use of transparent washes, which gave the finished product the quality of transparent watercolor. He also studied at the Art Students League in New York City with Boardman Robinson and John Sloan. During the Great Depression, he worked as an easel painter for the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a New Deal program that supported artists by providing them with a small stipend. In the 1950s, Cohn owned a graphic arts business in Manhattan, and is credited with teaching silkscreen techniques to a young Andy Warhol. Cohn coauthored several books on silkscreening, including the influential 1958 book Silk Screen Techniques, written with J. I. Bielgeleisen, that is still in print. Barely a century old, silk screen printing or serigraphy has been adopted as a commercial and an artistic process by thousands of enthusiastic professional and amateur artists throughout the world. Cohn produced his last artistic screenprint images in 1945, but maintained a commercial art studio in New York into the 1950’s.
The watercolor is a study for a silk screen print that is signed and dated 1944. Like many of the artist’s works, it has a simplified generic appearance and bears a simple title, which has been reported variously as “Toy Boats” or “Sailing Toy Boats in Central Park.” The inscription on the verso cinches its location as the Conservatory Water in Central Park, located near 72nd Street in New York City. Model boats are sailed and/or raced there every weekend. Residents of the City may apply for permits to store their boats in the Kerbs Boathouse.
George Lehman, one of the artists who worked with John James Audubon on “The Birds of America,” was born around 1803 in Switzerland. He worked as a printmaker (lithographer, engraver, and aquatintist) and ornamental painter in Philadelphia from ca. 1825 to 1870. Lehman immigrated to the United States as a “printer,” arriving aboard the ship Howard in New York City with his parents and siblings on June 11, 1824. Also a talented landscapist, Lehman exhibited views of Pennsylvania and Switzerland at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts beginning in 1825, and served as Audubon’s landscape assistant on his expeditions to Charleston and Florida during 1831–32. Between 1833 and 1834 Lehman partnered in the printing firm of Childs & Lehman in Philadelphia, having delineated works printed by Childs as early as 1827, and subsequently with the French lithographer P.S. Duval in Lehman & Duval (1835–37). Leaving the partnership, Lehman continued to delineate works for Duval and to work as a lithographer in Philadelphia until 1870.
Audubon had met Lehman in October 1824 in Pittsburgh. Returning from his first trip to England in 1829, after establishing his successful partnership with the printmaker Havell, he stopped in Philadelphia and began working with Lehman. As JJA wrote to his wife Lucy, “I have found . . . Lehman a German whom I knew at Pittsburgh 5 Years since who is helping me with my plants . . .”
Watercolors by Lehman are rare, although “The Annual Exhibition Record of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts 1807–1870” lists about a dozen watercolors that the artist exhibited between 1825 and 1831 before he departed Philadelphia with Audubon.
“View of Borie’s Factory on the Canal at Manayunk” is one of the heretofore missing works Lehman exhibited in 1828 at Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (no. 231). He painted it with a sophisticated mix of media that parallels the one used by Audubon himself, but in an earlier, more conservative style. The beautiful work reveals why the legendary Audubon selected Lehman as one of the five artists he commissioned to render settings for his avian tableaux (Lehman participated in at least 32 of the Audubon’s watercolors held by the N-YHS). It also suggests, as is the case with George Mason who assisted the artist in 1821–22, that Audubon first drew the background compositions of his watercolors in graphite and that his assistants would complete the landscapes or botanicals. This large and ambitious watercolor proves that Audubon challenged his collaborators to paint on his level and inspired them to cultivate their skills. Lehman rose to the occasion to become Audubon’s most accomplished assistant. Only with this watercolor can one make the argument about why Audubon was attracted to Lehman and begin to chart the Philadelphia artist’s development. It is telling that after his southern expedition with the naturalist-artist, Lehman returned to his primary occupation as a printmaker.
This fascinating watercolor also captures important historical elements of the Industrial Revolution in America and a celebration of new technology. The Manayunk or Flat Rock Canal is today a remaining segment of the canal system built by the Schuylkill Navigation System, sometimes called the Schuylkill Canal, which was once over 106 miles long, stretching from the anthracite region near Pottsville down the Schuylkill River into Philadelphia. One of the first anthracite canals built to bring coal through this network, its development parallels that of the Erie Canal. Manayunk is six miles from Philadelphia’s harbor and located on fast moving water, making it an ideal location for the early textile spinning mills and glass factories starting up on the English model in New England. Lehman’s watercolor depicts an action-filled scene on the canal at Manayunk with a horse-drawn barge towed on the canal and a boy fishing from a bridge beneath threatening storm clouds. In the middle ground stands the cotton-mill established by Borie, Laguerenne & Keating in 1825; it was one of eight large mills crowded together that by the early 1830s led to Manayunk being called the “Manchester of America.” Two of its smokestacks are ablaze with yellow and red fires.
Inexpensive water power and new technology concentrated the industry in Manayunk. The labor of immigrant children, who typically began work at age nine, and women generated the profits. An investigation of 1837 found the wages for children at between $.50 and $1.00 per week. Some of the youngest, according to the testimony of the Manayunk schoolmaster, earned no more than $.75 every two weeks. Women were paid about $2.00 a week. Almost immediately after the Factory Regulation Act of 1833 set a maximum ten-hour day for English textile workers, the demand for the same restrictions spread to the mills of Manayunk. The mostly female workers in the mills of J.J. Borie were among those who walked out over a 20 percent wage reduction in August 1833. The women protested over “thirteen hours of hard labor” and unhealthy working conditions. This led to the immediate formation of the Working People of Manayunk to mobilize workers and subsequently to the Trades Union of the City and County of Philadelphia (TUCCP). By May 1834 the triumphant workers were back at their jobs with a five percent raise. The subject matter of Lehman’s landscape encompasses significant stories about the American Industrial Revolution, transportation, and the beginning of labor movements that involved child labor and the employment of women at lower wages.
Lehman’s watercolor also contirbutes to an understanding of the history of early American watercolors and the development of landscape painting in the country after “The Hudson River Portfolio.” It also helps to tell more completely the epic story of Audubon’s The Birds of America” and demonstrates why Audubon engaged the artist as a collaborator.
In her art Mary Reilly uses both powdered graphite and graphite lead to focus on the natural world within the limits of New York City’s five boroughs. “For me, working in graphite, using the techniques I’ve learned and have cultivated over the years, has been extremely gratifying. I tone my paper with up to eight layers of graphite before starting my drawing, taking the surface to a middle tone then pushing the darks and lifting the lights. This process creates subtle shifts in the tone that are in harmonious contrast with the sharpness of the minute details, helping me create a sensuality and a mood in each piece.” For subject matter she seeks out natural places often ignored by visitors and natives alike: serene parks and gardens away from the concrete streets. “Since my childhood, nature has had a profound effect on me in ways that I cherish. The state of mind that is installed within me when walking through the woods, or on a secluded beach by the sights and sounds, the smells, the sense of nostalgia, the timelessness and diversity of nature’s splendor.” This drawing belongs to the artist’s Graffiti Tree series.
“I found most of the images from my Graffiti Tree series within the woods of Alley Pond Park, Queens. Alley Pond Park has one of the ‘ancient forests of NYC’. I photographed graffiti trees in many parks within the five boroughs of NY but the trees in Alley Pond Park were by far the most plentiful and the most interesting, with carvings dating back to the 1930’s (as in ‘Jack Loves Kat’ from 1932). The forest that I found ‘Pee Wee’ in is now called the Thain Family Forest (formally known as ‘Historic Forest’) in the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx. What I find interesting about these woods is that the carvings are all so different. Walking through the woods was like a trip back in time. Almost every tree had something carved on it which made me imagine the people from the surrounding neighborhoods walking into the park, whether it be kids drinking, smoking and hanging out, or lovers taking a stroll. I found the faceless initials carved on the trees and what might be the story behind them to be most interesting . . . I guess you can say that the history of the carvings is what inspired me to draw them.”
PEE WEE is the ambiguous tag of an early adolescent graffiti writer, who probably lived near this wildlife sanctuary. Its anonymous writer may have been a person of small stature or someone sad about the fact of being petite. Alternatively, PEE WEE may have had a surname beginning with a P, as that initial follows PEE WEE, adding an element of mystery to the sheet. The drawing has many connections with other objects in the N-YHS collections. The most obvious link is to the later urban graffiti drawing collection (as well as to the photographs of graffiti and the graffiti door). It also has a dialogue with hundreds of Asher B. Durand’s graphite drawings of trees, the artist’s magnificent obsession. Moreover, Reilly’s focused study of bark recalls a large number of the watercolors by John James Audubon for “The Birds of America,” as for him trees were a major roost for “the feathered tribes.” In fact, Audubon named one of his favorite birds, today known as the Eastern Phoebe, “Pewees.” He applied silver threads to the legs of individuals from a family of this species, becoming the first person in history to practice bird banding.
Inscribed extensively by the artist in many media
Muhammad Ali (1942–2016) was one of the greatest boxers of all time. Born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., in Louisville, Kentucky, he was a legendary, three-time heavyweight champion and a courageous, popular, but polarizing public figure. He captured the world’s attention with his provocative style, bold statements, and strong political and religious convictions.
LeRoy Neiman is widely known for his brilliantly colored paintings and the energetic style he used to capture sporting events and leisure activities. After serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, Neiman studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. From 1960 until his death, Neiman traveled the world, observing and painting leisure life, social activities, and athletic competitions, including the Olympics, the Super Bowl, and championship boxing. Of the many subjects Neiman painted, his long-time friend Muhammad Ali was among his favorites. The two men met in May 1962 at St. Nick’s Arena in New York City before Clay fought Billy Daniels. Neiman immediately began drawing the young boxer, and they struck up a lasting friendship. By this time, Clay had already won an Olympic gold medal in Rome and boasted that he was sure to beat heavyweight champion Sonny Liston. Neiman followed Ali throughout the boxer’s storied career, capturing public and private moments. He also taught Ali drawing. They shared a love of boxing, the limelight, and breaking with convention. LeRoy Neiman’s works are in the permanent collections of many American museums, including the Smithsonian, the Whitney Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the Art Institute of Chicago, as well as in private and corporate collections.
On February 25, 1964, the twenty-two-year-old Clay had his desired match-up with Liston in Miami Beach. The odds were seven to one against him, as Liston had knocked out the previous champion, Floyd Patterson, in one round, so that even his financial backers expected disaster. For months Clay taunted Liston with a barrage of insults and other antics aimed at psychologically gaining an advantage. The weigh-in the morning of the fight was no different. “I’m the champ!” he hollered. I’m ready to rumble! Tell Sonny I’m here! He ain’t no champ! Round eight to prove I’m great! Bring that big ugly bear on!” Against Clay’s fast reflexes and quick feet, Liston had a hard time landing punches. As Neiman noted in his sketch, “Cassius prancing, dancing side-to-side, actually seems to tower over the lumbering heavy-footed champion.” After six rounds, Liston sat in his corner and refused to get up. Clay, realizing he was now the heavyweight champion, yelled, “I am the king! King of the world! I don’t have a mark on my face and I upset Sonny Liston!”
This collage records the last workout before the Liston-Clay fight, which Neiman was covering for Playboy magazine. Among the notable vignettes Neiman depicted on the sheet are the men in Clay’s corner, such as the boxer Sugar Ray Robinson and his trainer Angelo Dundee. To finish the work in his studio, the artist consulted the scenes he recorded ringside in a sketchbook. Neiman also made many annotations around the edges of the work, including the press predictions for the fight heavily in favor of Liston and attached ephemera to make it a collage (including a ticket for the fight in the upper left corner).
The artist and his family