From the collection of the Museum of the City of New York come thirty paintings made between 1825 and 1993. They capture many aspects of New York, from the unveiling of the Statue of Liberty to a night scene of a street in the Bowery. The artists range from gifted amateurs to professional artists who specialized in marine subjects, a muralist, and the celebrated American impressionist Childe Hassam.
A city perpetually in motion, New York changed most visibly between 1857, when the design competition for Central Park was won by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, and 1931, when the Empire State Building established supremacy over the Manhattan skyline. The expansion of green, the surge of skyscrapers, and the vault of suspension bridges attracted countless artists to set up their easels, chronicling the changing metropolis. They recorded feats of engineering and new leisure areas, the parks and squares where New Yorkers strolled and sauntered.
During the same period, the population of New York shot from two million to seven million, stuffing the land so tightly that subsequent increases have been relatively modest. Artists could hardly ignore the change, and their pictures captured the press of throngs at parades and waterfront entertainments.
The great poet of America’s greatest city, Walt Whitman asked in “Sun-Down Poem” (later retitled ”Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”), ”Ah, what can ever be more stately and admirable to me than mast-hemm’d Manhattan?/River and sunset and scallop-edg’d waves of flood-tide?” How much more might he have admired the island a century after his song, when towers stood like masts all across the land!