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The Docks, New York City

Not on view

The Docks, New York City

Artist: Everett Shinn (American, 1873 - 1953)

Date: 1901
Medium: Pastel on paper
Dimensions:
Overall: 15 1/2 x 22in. (39.4 x 55.9cm)
Signed: Lower left: 'E.Shinn / 1901'
Credit Line: Museum Purchase
Object number: 55.34
Text Entries

The hustle and bustle of stevedores carting crates, the chaos and confusion, the marked contrast between toilers and talkers—all of this brings a sense of immediacy to Everett Shinn’s depiction of New York City’s docks. The viewer can almost hear the groans and chatter, smell the stench, and feel the cutting cold.

Such a spontaneous composition was made possible because of Shinn’s experience during the 1890s as a newspaper artist-reporter, producing on-the-spot sketches of news events in the period before photographs replaced them.

Everett Shinn, like his fellow newspaper artists William Glackens and George Luks, had been assigned to translate into visual terms what the news reporter put into words. The speed required for such art demanded a sponge-like memory, one which would soak up the essence of a scene, retain it, and then allow the image to be squeezed out onto a piece of paper or illustration board. Such a creative approach eliminated the necessity of Shinn’s having to sit on a dock one winter’s day in 1901.

Just the previous year the artist had executed his first center spread for Harper’s Weekly, likewise an ambitious crowd scene in pastel. The prize commission had been obtained because the publication’s editor, after viewing a selection of Shinn’s New York street scenes, asked whether he had a drawing “of the Metropolitan Opera House and Broadway in a snowstorm.” “I think I have,” the twenty- five-year-old artist responded, knowing full well that he would have to work through the night to create it. The pastel appeared in the magazine on February 17, 1900.(1)

Such slices of life as The Docks, New York City were out of step with the times, with the Genteel Tradition and Victorian mores in which even pianos were not referred to as having legs. The Art Establishment sought to avoid representing the seamy side of life, sometimes going so far as to pretend that it did not even exist. Their eyes were cast on upper Fifth Avenue, not the lower East Side, and they viewed it through the warm glow of Luminism or Impressionism, not the somber hues of the realist.

But Shinn, like a Daumier in Manhattan, reveled in recording the virtual pulse of the city. Shying away from depicting either elegant urban vistas or nondescript rural landscapes, he and his friends were soon labeled New York Realists and, years later, the Ashcan School.(2)

One of the ironies of Shinn’s early success is that while his subject matter often derived from everyday life, his patrons included the affluent, such as Stanford White, Clyde Fitch, Elsie de Wolfe, and David Belasco. In a one- man show held in 1901, arranged for by White at a Fifth Avenue gallery, Shinn was pleasantly surprised when more than half of the forty pastels on display were sold.(3)

 Although numbered among his many achievements are murals for Belasco’s Stuyvesant Theater and the Oak Room at the Plaza Hotel, as well as movie sets and book illustrations, Shinn’s most poignant artistic statements are his early city scenes in pastel and oil, of which The Docks, New York City is a prime example.

 

Notes

1. Conversation with Everett Shinn, September 12, 1952, as reported in Bennard B. Perlman, The Immortal Eight: American Painting from Eakins to the Armory Show (New York: 1962; rev. ed., Westport, Conn.: North Light Publishers, 1979), p. 79.

2. The term “Ashcan School” did not appear in print until 1934, when Holger Cahill and Alfred H. Barr, Jr., employed it in their book, Art in America.- A Complete Survey (New York: Reyna] & Hitchcock, 1934).

3. Conversation with Shinn (as in n. 1).

 

Copyright
Presumed copyright: the artist or the artist's representative/heir(s).