Jerome Myers

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Jerome Myers
Jerome Myers 3038098686.jpg
Jerome Myers ca. 1910, from the Archives of American Art
Born Jerome Myers
(1867-03-20)March 20, 1867
Petersburg, Virginia
Died June 29, 1940(1940-06-29) (aged 73)
New York, New York
Nationality American
Education Cooper Union, Art Students League
Known for Paintings, Drawings, Pastels, Etchings, Writing, History
Notable work(s) End Of The Walk, (1907), Sunday Morning, (1907), The Mission Tent, (1906), and Italians In Jefferson Park, (1934), Artist In Manhattan-Autobiography (1940)
Spouse(s) Ethel Myers

Jerome Myers (March 20, 1867 - June 19, 1940) was a U.S. artist and writer associated with the Ashcan School, best known for his sympathetic depictions of the urban landscape.[1] He was one of the main organizers of the 1913 Armory Show, which introduced European modernism to America.[2]

Born in Petersburg, Virginia and raised in Philadelphia, Trenton and Baltimore, he spent his adult life in New York City. Myers worked briefly as an actor and scene painter, then first studied art for a year at Cooper Union and then at the Art Students League for a period of eight years where his main teacher was George de Forest Brush. In 1896 he went to Paris, but only stayed a few months, believing in the direction and reality of his own work, and that his main classroom was the streets of New York's lower East Side. His strong interest and feelings for the new immigrants and their life resulted in well over a thousand drawings, as well as paintings, etchings and watercolors capturing the whole panorama of their lives as found outside of the crowded tenements which were their first homes in America.[citation needed]

In a 1923 magazine article he explained why cities were his greatest source of inspiration:

“All my life I had lived, worked and played in the poorest streets of American cities. I knew them and their population and was one of them. Others saw ugliness and degradation there, I saw poetry and beauty, so I came back to them. I took a sporting chance of saying something out of my own experience and risking whether it was worthwhile or not. That is all any artist can do.”[3]

From the exhibition catalog Ashcan Humanists: John Sloan & Jerome Myers[4][edit]

The Early Years[edit]

"Backyard" 1888, oil on board

Born in Petersburg, Virginia, Jerome Myers was one of Abram and Julia Hillman Myers' five children. As their father was often absent, the Myers clan was raised by their mother and eventually lived in Trenton, New Jersey, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. From time to time, the siblings were placed in foster homes when Mrs. Myers became ill. Given these family hardships, Myers began taking odd jobs at a young age, living in Baltimore, Maryland, before moving on to New York City. Arriving in Manhattan in 1886 at the age of nineteen, Myers worked for several years as a scene painter and later for the Moss Engraving Company, where he reproduced photographic negatives. During this time he began attending evening art classes at Cooper Union and the Art Students League. Even at this date, the artist's interest in urban subjects was evident. Myers' earliest oil, Backyard (1888), depicting clotheslines silhouetted against distant tenements, is today thought to be one of the first paintings exemplifying Ashcan School subject matter in America.[5] Similarly around 1893, after sketching a canal boat during a day trip along the Morris and Essex Canal, the artist made his initial sale to the woman who resided on the boat. The price was two dollars.[4]

Becoming a Professional Artist[edit]

In 1895, Myers found work in the art department of the New York Tribune. With savings of two hundred and fifty dollars from this job, he traveled to Paris in 1896. Upon his return to New York City, with only twenty dollars left, he rented, for seven dollars a month, a studio at 232 West 14th Street in a former five-story mansion, "equipped with a skylight and converted to the use of artists."[6] There, his next door neighbor turned out to be Edward Adam Kramer, a painter just one year older than Myers himself. While the latter's art training had been limited to short stints at New York's Cooper Union and the Art Students League, Kramer had acquired his education in the European art centers of Munich, Berlin, and Paris. It was Kramer who ushered Myers into the world of the professional artist. One day; when the art dealer William Macbeth arrived at Kramer's studio to view work, Kramer directed him to Myers' studio as well. Macbeth purchased two small paintings of his early New York street scenes from Myers on the spot, and simultaneously recommended that the newcomer bring additional work to the gallery. Macbeth thought highly of these two paintings and, taking them to his gallery, soon sold one to an appreciative banker, James Speyer. As an early critic for the New York Globe stated: "Myers' reputation dates from that purchase." [7] Macbeth also suggested that Myers relinquish further drawing in pencil and pastel, and turn instead to oils. In the years following 1902, Myers sold work through the Macbeth Gallery and exhibited in group shows at other venues. Significantly, in March and April 1903, when the Colonial Club of New York held its annual art show Exhibition of Paintings Mainly by New Men, among the twenty artists included were Robert Henri, John French Sloan, and Myers, showing their works together for the first time.

Summer In Manhattan[edit]

For Jerome Myers, summer in Manhattan was rich in opportunity, for when the mercury soared it was certain to bring tenement dwellers out into the streets and parks of the city. By July 1906, Myers' reputation as a skilled artist depicting the life of the people on the Lower East Side was such that a New York Times reporter was assigned to him beginning at five o'clock one morning, in order to observe the artist capturing likenesses of industrious adults at work and lively children at play. To walk through the East Side with Myers, the reporter noted, "turning off here and there to glance at some particular house or group of people,... [was] to receive an impression of a joyous life lived in the open air for much the same reason as people live in that fashion in Europe—because their homes are not as comfortable as the streets.[8] Individual responses to Myers' presence, however, were grounded in cultural differences. While the residents of Italian neighborhoods viewed the artist and his activities with excitement and curiosity; those of the Jewish Quarter, whose traditions often forbade the production of representational images, protested by the most pointed of all actions—moving away from the artist's range of vision.[8]

A Story of Two Paintings[edit]

In 1934 the Metropolitan Museum of Art purchased the painting "Street Group," from the Municipal Art Exhibition in Rockefeller Center. The Herald Tribune said in reporting the story that "the painting by Mr. Myers is of a group of women standing talking in a somber street, with children playing about them. Mr. Myers considers it typical of his work, and says it is the sort of scene he most enjoys to paint. 'Old streets and old houses and the people who live in them,' he explained."

"I am trying to catch the New York that is passing," he said. "I painted that down on Delancey Street seven or eight years ago and already the scene has changed in spirit. I want to get it before it is gone."

Twenty two years earlier, in 1912, a major event had taken place in Jerome Myers' life. The occasion was when the Metropolitan Museum of Art first decided to make a first purchase of a painting of his titled "The Mission Tent." Here is a quote from the Metropolitan Museum Bulletin in June 1913 talking about their purchase: "Jerome Myers for several years has been showing New Yorkers the artistic possibilities of what is perhaps the unique part of the city's scenes. He has discovered these subjects for himself and treats them in his own way. It is never the exciting moments of street life that move him, only the daily happenings, the usual things that all may see. Boys and girls playing in the square, the crowd at a recreation pier, an organ-grinder followed by a troop of dancing children, old people whom the night freshness lures to the park-bench or the wharf, a religious festival in Little Italy—these are his favorite themes and he renders them with loving sincerity and a profound appreciation of their significance."

Not only was the sale to the Metropolitan a great honor then, but it also provided him with enough money to move his family from their small studio into a studio in the "new" Carnegie Hall.[9] Over the years, with all the moving around to various studios, he always came back to Carnegie as his real home and in 1940 it was where he passed away with his friends around him. He could not have been in a more perfect place.

Obituary from The Art Digest, 1940[edit]

“American Art has lost one of it finest, most individual figures with the death on June 19 of Jerome Myers. For more than 50 years Myers, small of stature and bearing a striking resemblance to Paderewski, was a familiar sight on the streets of New York, which he made his special painting province.

The lower East Side, with its crowded tenements and struggling immigrants, knew him best and was recorded in hundreds of sketches which were later transcribed onto soft-toned canvases. The poor seems to bring forth Myers’ deepest feelings, but he did not paint them because they and their environment were ugly; he saw the beauty of their humble lives, and on his canvases he has caught that beauty...During those 50 years the cobblestones that Myers used to tramp were smoothed to asphalt pavements, the city’s center of activity crept northward leaving in its wake new, pristine skyscrapers; gas lamps gave way to neon, but the poor remained.

Though Myers later achieved wide honors—he was elected to the Academy and awarded such important prizes as the Altman, the Carnegie and the Isidor Medal—he suffered from neglect in recent years. Forgotten, for the most part, were Myers’ distinctive contributions to our native art and the battles he has fought for art freedom...Last year, as the end neared, Myers looked back on a long and fruitful life and wrote a most interesting autobiography, Artist in Manhattan (American Artists Group; New York).”[10]

Museum & Gallery Collections (Works of Jerome Myers)[edit]

Gallery of New York City images by Jerome Myers[edit]

New York City Collage 1A.jpg
New York City Collage 2A.jpg
NYC Collage 3.jpg
(All black and white illustrations above are from Myers' autobiography "Artist In Manhattan" 1940)

Quotations from Newspaper Reviews and Articles[edit]

  • One may know the great east side fairly well, and yet it is a revelation to walk through it with so close a student of its life and its people as Mr. Myers has become. - NY Times – 6-1-1906 – (Life on the East Side His Art Inspiration)
  • Let us recognize that the work of Sloan and a few others, such as Robert Henri, C.W. Hawthorne, William G. Glackens, Jerome Myers, and George Luks, is a natural and wholesome reaction from the vogue of frippery, tameness, and sentimentality. - 1907 (Story of American Painting in America) – Charles Henry Caffin
  • The broad, free handling is that of a painter of more than technical powers. Mr. Myers must be reckoned among the mean of today and of many tomorrows in American Art. – Unidentified newspaper 1908

Reviews of Myers First One Man Show in 1908[edit]

  • Twenty-five canvases by Jerome Myers, were placed on exhibition yesterday in the Macbeth Galleries. Those who know their New York well will appreciate these graphic and truthful representations. – New York Herald – 1-5-1908 (Myers one-man show at Macbeth)
  • The poor we have always with us, but not always in the guise presented in the paintings by Jerome Myers, now being shown at the Macbeth Gallery, 450 Fifth Avenue. These are records of life on the east side and in out-of-the-way corners of the town that but few of us are familiar with. – NY Times 1-7-1908 (Myers one-man show at Macbeth)
  • Nearly all of the examples picture existence by day and by night as the East Side dweller sees it and feels it. With these people Mr. Myers has sympathy: hence, nearly all of his work lacks prettiness. Possibly not one would be considered favorably by an Academy committee, and yet in many of them there is not only a record, but fine art, with color, with tone, and with atmospheric effect that remind you of the minor works by old Italian painters. – Brooklyn Daily Eagle – 1-1-1908 (Myers one-man show at Macbeth)
  • Rembrandtesque would have been the epithet applied to some of these canvasses by the critics of an earlier generation. With all their apparent absence of variety they are, when closely studied, each after its style, very different. Many problems of atmosphere, clear and obscure and translucent, Myers has set himself to solve. Sometimes the effect of a street scene is that of a flat Pompeian mural decoration. Airless, the sharp snipped silhouettes of the children assume hieratic attitudes, yet they are vivaciously alive; it is not arrested motion as typified in a photograph. Street gossips meet. Bustle, animation, humor are before us in the life of the East Side. Sometimes as in a transparent breath, a summer night’s sultry envelope, men and women and children swim vaguely before our gaze. It is August and humid veils of steam descent upon the town. Blue black skies which show here and there a half smothered star; a bench at the end of an anonymous street. Upon a bench sit four or five of the disinherited of life. An old man’s reddish beard catches a gleam of light—the source is not shown; probably some remote lamp post; a woman props her head upon a skinny arm. There is despair in the pose. Two children in ambiguous whites are the highest notes in this subdued scale. Mystery, the mystery of Rembrandt, without his consoling magic, pervades “Evening On the East Side.”" - New York Sun, January 7, 1908 - James Gibbons Huneker (Myers' one-man show at Macbeth)''
  • Mr. Myers is an artist entirely, and in no sense a preacher, but because of the truth of his vision he can already move us very deeply. His work, tho already beautifully mature in color and decorative sense, is, we feel with pleasure, only beginning to say what we can expect from this man...Here, in one month, we have Childe Hassam giving us a view of New York's outermost appearance that shows us what a fairyland it is in color and form, and Jerome Myers showing us how, even within the darker recesses, in full view of the sadder side of life itself, there is still beauty for the man with eyes to see. A group of drawings by Mr. Myers shows almost more certainly than the quality of his color the fineness of his grasp of his material. We are not likely to have this winter anything better in itself and more promising for development in the future than this exhibition. - The Independent (Art Magazine) - January 1908 (Myers one-man show at Macbeth)''

Reviews of Myers Work in Other Shows[edit]

  • Mr. Myers has above most of his contemporaries a keen appreciation of the drama of the city, and with his feeling for color at once chastened and heightened, his canvases would take their place in the front ranks of contemporary art. – NY Times – 12-1-1908
  • His work is a valuable record of a side of life in this city which cannot but change completely in another score of years, and, moreover, it is art and art of a high character. – NY Times – 5-2-1909
  • One need merely pass through Mulberry Street to know that childlike gaiety and even grace exist there and in other tenement quarters of the city. Mr. Myers has the happy turn of mind to see the dingy truth in all its dinginess and yet preserve the loveliness of color and tone that blooms never more flowerlike than among the picturesque byways swarming with the children of transplanted races. – NY Times – 5-9-1909
  • Jerome Myers, who is represented by two admirable pictures, is so fully recognized as a master of his technique that one takes from him without comment work which is in an extremely high rank of expressive draughtsmanship ... At all events, this little picture of New York life (Night), tingling with character and actuality, yet conveying a sense of the monumental by the nobility of the composition and the large modeling of the forms, should it find its way into one of the great collections of the future, may be trusted to hold its own as representative of an extremely important phase of twentieth century painting. – NY Times – 10-31-1909
  • With the three street subjects by Jerome Myers we swing into the composite life of the city and get the harsh and stirring note to which the great unconscious army of our new civilization marches. Apparently we are not to be a somber race, since above the misery of the east side rises the love of strong color and play. No one has done more than Mr. Myers to make us realize what the open spaces and organized pleasures of the city mean to the people at large, which is a matter apart from his art, but has the connection with it to be claimed for every subject to which appropriate artistic expression has been given. – NY Times – 1-15-1911
  • Myers has a skill, but he has more than skill, he has sympathy that is boundless and a clairvoyant humor that is the highest truth. – The Evening Mail, NY – 4-4-1911
  • But no one has recorded its accidents and incidents with so large and optimistic a sympathy; no one has shown its strange blossoms of exotic beauty with such natural and unpremeditated appreciation; no one has recorded its somber moments with such respect for their solemnity. His imagination acting upon his essentially vivid materials accentuates its vitality, so that in looking at his drawing we feel this little stage to be the real world and all the rest unreal. As a technician his most noteworthy success is in his use of line, and in America he has few rivals in this respect; but his reading of humanity raises him above the rank of mere technician to that of artist and poet. He does not simply illustrate, he illuminates his subject. – NY Times – 4-9-1911 (Madison Art Galleries Exhibition)
  • As for Mr. Jerome Myers' paintings, each one in turn gave a sense of fresh apprehension of the extraordinary art of this man of simple quiet canvases. How well he understands city life, how beautifully he makes you see the joy in the hearts of his ragged little children, as well as the grief in the souls of the somber aged, was shown in his six paintings which really form a record of his insight into the realities of life and the beauties that are hidden deep in some seeming sad realities. – The Craftsman – January 1912 (MacDowell Club Exhibition)
  • Jerome Myers for several years has been showing New Yorkers the artistic possibilities of what is perhaps the unique part of the city's scenes. He has discovered these subjects for himself and treats them in his own way. It is never the exciting moments of street life that move him, only the daily happenings, the usual things that all may see. Boys and girls playing in the square, the crowd at a recreation pier, an organ-grinder followed by a troop of dancing children, old people whom the night freshness lures to the park-bench or the wharf, a religious festival in Little Italy—these are his favorite themes and he renders them with loving sincerity and a profound appreciation of their significance. – Metropolitan Museum Bulletin – 6-5-1912 (on museum purchase of The Night Mission)
  • There are other engaging pictures. In Pursuit of Pleasure, by Jerome Myers, a group of children following a hurdy gurdy, reminds one of the harmony between the picture by Mr. Myers and that by Whistler hung side by side at the Metropolitan Museum. – New York Times – May 31, 1914 (Summer exhibition at Macbeth Galleries)
  • For the artist, for the humanitarian, for the lover of all truth about human nature these etchings of Jerome Myers are sure to bring a keener interest in and enlarged vision of beauty, a greater appreciation of the etching's line as a means of unfolding human life for us, and a finer understanding of humanity in its franker, simpler expression. – The Craftsman - October 1915 (Jerome Myers as an Etcher and Student of Human Nature - Gustav Stickley, Editor)
  • But Myers does insist that whatever truth is presented by a realist shall be nothing but the truth. I remember his annoyance upon observing in a picture of the East Side a wash line suspended across the street. He had lived and worked in that district for thirty years and never had he seen such a thing. Yes, he has lived in the lower East Side for so long a time that it is home to him. He draws and etches and paints the life of the people there with such rare sympathy and insight because he has made himself one of them. ...But Myers has not always that smiling twinkle in his eye. There are moods of intense sadness in the man. So well does he know the human body (one would say with a physician's as well as with an artist's knowledge) that his sympathy is expressed in poignant lines. We know how the little boy feels as he swings high up over one of those dusty, dreary, necessary playgrounds, and we share the backache of the old man on the park bench, the pitiful comfort of the hard-seat after his painful walk. ' – Jerome Myers by Duncan Phillips – 1917 (Magazine of art, Volume 8 Page 481, American Federation of Arts)''

Jerome Myers' Quotations from his Autobiography "Artist In Manhattan" (1940)[edit]

  • The song of my work is a simple song of the poor, far from the annals of the rich.
  • At Cooper Union, where I first began to study art, and later at the Art Students League, where I continued to attend classes over a period of some ten years, the art taught during my time was either the academic French of the day or the academic painting of the Munich school... I questioned the wisdom of this procedure.
  • Directly, I ventured out to interpret life for myself, to render the impression of the city and the people that I really cared for. ... In this instinctive way, I set myself in opposition to the authority that had governed my art instruction. It was a choice between becoming merely a cultured artist or learning to make a personal statement of my own feeling.
  • [With] a solitary crayon pencil, ...[I peered] at the crowded East Side of New York City, making notes of the historical poor, of the poverty that struggles on...At nightfall, the surcease of a great city, the repose in the parks, or on the recreation piers, the aged gossip, the children at their endless play — a panorama which was for me unceasing in its interest, thrilling in its significance...
  • My love was my witness in recording these earnest, simple lives, these visions of slums clothed in dignity, never to me mere slums but the habitations of a people who were rich in spirit and effort.
  • To this teeming metropolis of the poor whom I studied, to them I came in quiet friendship. To them I owe much.
  • [J]ust as [Rembrandt] went to live in the Dutch ghetto, so I too went to study in the ghetto — that of our own East Side.

References[edit]

Notes

  1. ^ "Jerome Myers". Smithsonian American Art Museum and Renwick Gallery. Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 1 February 2013. 
  2. ^ "1913 Armory Show: The Story in Primary Sources". Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 1 February 2013. 
  3. ^ "The Life Song of the People: Paintings and Sketches by Jerome Myers". The Survey: 33–39. October 1, 1923. Retrieved 1 February 2013. 
  4. ^ a b Perlman, Bernard B.; John Sloan; Jerome Myers; Ken Ratner; Bennard B. Perlman; Darlene Miller-Lanning (2010). Ashcan humanists: John Sloan & Jerome Myers. Scranton, PA: Hope Horn Gallery, the University of Scranton. Retrieved 1 February 2013. 
  5. ^ Grant Holcomb, "The Forgotten Legacy of Jerome Myers (1867-1940) Painter of New York's Lower East Side," American Art Journal (May 1977), 78-91. 81
  6. ^ Jerome Myers, Artist in Manhattan, New York: American Artists Group, Inc. 1940. 25. This work hereafter cited as Myers.
  7. ^ The Life and Art of Jerome Myers by Grant Holcomb III, 1970 Masters' Thesis, University of Delaware.
  8. ^ a b "Life on the East Side his Art Inspiration," New York Times, July 1, 1906.
  9. ^ http://www.delart.org/collections/HFS_library/finding_aids/jerome_myers.htm#chrono
  10. ^ The Art Digest. July 1, 1940. 

External links[edit]