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Carousel (Merry-Go-Round)

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Carousel (Merry-Go-Round)

Artist: Jerome Myers (American, 1867 - 1940)

Date: 1918
Medium: Black charcoal or conte crayon on thin, light-cream-colored wove paper
Dimensions:
Overall: 7 3/16 × 8 13/16in. (18.3 × 22.4cm)
Signed:
Inscribed: Recto, lower right (graphite): "415 [encircled] Jerome Myers / EM"; Verso, left center (graphite): "Merry-Go-Round"
Credit Line: Gift of Max Leavitt in memory of Michael Beckwith
Object number: 81.7.A
Text Entries

New York City artist Jerome Myers wandered endlessly, sketching people clandestinely from doorways and from the edges of crowds, capturing both holiday festivities and more mundane activities.(2) Guy Pene du Bois called him “a phantom in the city streets, passing in and out of crowds without ever becoming part of them.”(3) Myers himself concurred with this assessment.(4)

Myers felt special affection for the immigrant population inhabiting the Lower East Side, and, unlike contemporary reformers such as Jacob Riis, Myers celebrated, even romanticized, tenement living.(5) He spoke with Whitmanesque spirit: “My song in my work is a simple song of the poor far from any annals of the rich.”(6) Though he may have experienced poverty, Myers did not live in the communities he described, and it is this quality of being separate from his subjects that suffuses his depiction of them.(7) If he saw the “impersonal reaction” of observing crowds as a means to deeper human experience, as a confirmed outsider he also may have been protecting him- self from such experiences or participating only vicariously in a culture to which he did not belong. While his warm sentiments about the denizens of the Lower East Side seem genuine, with a modern perspective one may ask if the artist was not principally drawn to his subjects’ colorful, exotic “otherness.”

Myers, for example, chose to see children in these neighborhoods as happy creatures, whose “number and . . . well being amply made up for the parents’ privation;”(8) he therefore concentrated on their play. In the MWPI drawing, he sketched seven small children with an older girl who sports a dress with sailor collar and a single braid down her back. All save one of the figures is seen from behind, as the children are looking at a merry-go—round before them.(9) By the early twentieth century, elaborate carousels were popular amusement park attractions, but small versions, such as the one Myers depicted, were transported through city streets on horse-drawn carts.(10) In Myers’s drawing, the carousel is cursorily sketched. The upright poles and protective fence are identifiable, but the ponies and riding figures are suggested simply with a nervous line. The MWPI sheet is undated, but it is very similar to a 1918 painting of the same title reproduced in Myers’s autobiography; the painting can serve as a guidepost for the drawing.(11)

MEM

1. Whitney Museum of American Art Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., microfilm N677, frame 147, includes a catalog sheet with the following information about a drawing that had been in the 1941 memorial exhibition: “ ‘#57. “Carrousel.” Drawing. Lent Mrs. Jerome/Myers.’ Not ill. No mention in text.” This may not be the MWPI drawing, however, because Jerome Myers: An Artist in Manhattan, 1867-1967 (Wilmington, Del.: Delaware Art Center, 1967), 15, no. 70, lists “Merry-Go—Round,” a pencil, ink, and watercolor drawing lent by the Cooper Union Museum (whose collection was subsequently absorbed by the Cooper-Hewitt Museum). The Cooper-Hewitt also owns a second Myers drawing, Around the Carousel, 1925, in black crayon, depicting a larger merry-go—round with a crowd of adults and children watching.

2. Grant Holcomb III, “The Life and Art of Jerome Myers" (M.A. thesis, University of Delaware, 1971), 71; see also Bruce St. John, ed., John Sloan’s New York Scene (New York: Harper and Row, 1965), 143-44: “Got home about 2 A.M. . . . It seemed but a few minutes later when I was wakened by fire engines going by. Looked out the window. Saw the Furniture Store Building next to Myers was burning. . . . Found Mrs. M. alone, Jerome having gone out early to walk as he often does.”

3. “Artist in the Wilderness of New York,” New York Herald- Tribune, March 31, 1940, Section IX, 7, cited in Holcomb, “Life and Art of Jerome Myers,” 72.

4. Jerome Myers, Artist in Manhattan (New York: American Artist Group, 1940), 82: “It was only by losing myself in the crowds I loved to depict, . . . forgetting myself in the joy of impersonal reactions, that I became the sharer of unlimited natural emotions.” Holcomb, “Life and Art of Jerome Myers," 14, also includes this quote by Myers: “To me, the impression of group life became a guiding star.”

5. See Riis, How the Other Half Lives (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1892), or Riis, The Battle with the Slum (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1902).

6. Quoted in Holcomb, “Life and Art of Jerome Myers,” 81.

7. In his February 22, 1907, journal entry John Sloan Wrote, “Jerome Myers . . . is going to take a top floor in 23rd St. across from us.” St. John, ed., John Sloan’s New York Scene, 106. Moreover, in 1915, Myers bought a country house in Carmel, N.Y., which allowed him to make “intermittent defections from Manhattan.” Myers, Artist in Manhattan, 58.

8. Quoted in Holcomb, “Life and Art of Jerome Myers," 89. Holcomb, 60, also notes that children in Myers's paintings “possess a ‘picture book’ quality. They are always clean and healthy." See also “Jerome Myers Finds in Little Children at Play Subject For Etchings,” Vogue, August 15, 1922, 50. Jacob Riis, by contrast, wrote about tenement children in How the Other Half Lives, 179, “Their very number makes one stand aghast." In contrast to Myers’s romanticization, Riis’s reaction suggests a class-based repugnance.

9. Holcomb, “Life and Art of Jerome Myers,” 72, notes that Myers’s unwillingness to intrude on his subjects’ goings-on “accounts for many of his drawings that show the people from the back."

10. See Frederick Fried, A Pictorial History of the Carousel (Vestal, N.Y.: The Vestal Press, Ltd., 1982), 107, for a 1909 photograph of a small merry-go—round similar to the one in Myers’s 1918 painting.

11. Myers, Artist in Manhattan, 139. In addition to the MWPI drawing, the 1918 painting reproduced in Myers’s autobiography, and the drawings mentioned in note 1, there is a pastel of a carousel subject in the collection of the Delaware Art Museum that was donated by Helen Sloan and was once in a New York private collection; and the pen-and—ink drawing A City Playground, which sold at Christie’s on June, 19, 1990, includes a large carousel.

 

Copyright
© Estate of Jerome Myers