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Roundhouse at High Bridge

On view

Roundhouse at High Bridge

Artist: George B. Luks (American, 1867 - 1933)

Date: 1909-1910
Medium: Oil on canvas
Framed: 36 1/2 x 32 3/4in. (92.7 x 83.2cm)
Overall: 30 1/2 x 30 1/4in. (77.5 x 76.8cm)
Signed: Lower left: 'George Luks'
Inscribed: Circular stamp on back of canvas in two places: 'George Luks Sale / Parke-Bernet Galleries, Inc.'
Credit Line: Museum Purchase
Object number: 50.17
Text Entries

Luk’s favorite topic was the city of New York and the people who inhabited its less fashionable districts. Roundhouse at High Bridge is one of his few pure cityscapes in oil to show the industrial aspect of New York without the human figure at center stage. In fact, the roundhouse is not the true subject of the painting, but rather the billowing smoke produced by its chimneys and the modulated, industrial sky into which it pours.

Columns of grey-green and white-grey smoke rise in parallel rows, beginning as dense swirls and gradually dissipating to merge with the purple and grey-blue tints of the early-morning sky. The dawn begins as a pink tint behind the roundhouse at the left of the canvas and drifts gradually toward the shadows of the city across the tenuous span of the bridge. A tugboat works its way up- stream, its tiny smokestack producing a ribbon of steam to echo the massive emissions of the roundhouse.

The color and tonality of the painting are subdued and impressionistic, with only the dark shape of the buildings on the left providing an anchor. The only bright color is the cheerful red square of a service truck in the lower left, just above Luks’s signature. A deeper, reddish light can be seen through the windows. This was typical of Luks’s works, which were often completed with shades of a single color—usually an earth tone—over the majority of the canvas and small, brilliant touches of color to accent certain areas.

Luks was fond of comparing himself to the Dutch painter Frans Hals, a master of rich, painterly brushwork. But although Luks obviously worked quickly to produce this painting, he stayed away from the thick impasto, which often characterizes his work, in favor of thin scumblings of paint and transparent washes of color. The only exceptions are the rich swirls made with one heavy daub of paint and one twist of the brush at the point where the smoke is released from the chimney.

In technique and subject the picture is related to Whistler’s painting of 1875, Nocturne in Black and Gold— The Falling Rocket (Detroit Institute of Arts), which so outraged the English critic John Ruskin. The treatment of both subjects was unconventional for their time by involving the atmospheric effects surrounding a bridge or building rather than a straightforward likeness. Whistler’s title betrays his interest in the abstract, while Luks’s painting, despite its freedom and unusual composition, is still closely linked to realism as was his philosophy of art in general.

The Utica painting was completed in 1909-10, just shortly after the now famous exhibition of The Eight at the Macbeth Gallery in New York. The group show, held in 1908, was stimulated in part by the rejection of Luks’s Man with Dyed Mustaehios (location unknown) from the 1907 exhibition of the National Academy of Design. Robert Henri’s voice on the Academy’s jury was the only one raised in support of Luks’s painting and when it was not selected, Henri withdrew his own in frustration.

When Roundhouse at High Bridge was included in a one-man exhibition at the Kraushaar Gallery in New York in 1914, The Eight were no longer the radicals of the contemporary art scene, having been supplanted by the modernists. James Huneker, an early supporter of the group, gave Luks a favorable review in Puck. He recalled having once referred to the artist as “a hand and an eye” and called Roundhouse at High Bridge a “most satisfying picture.”(1)


1. James Huneker, “The Seven Arts,” Puck, vol. 75 (May 23, 1914), p. 21.

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