New York Telephone Building: Left (1927); Right “Telephone Building Lower New York” (1926) by John Marin. Both images from John Marin by Ruth E. Fine (1990), public domain, Google-digitized
As skyscrapers sprouted in ever increasing numbers in New York, Chicago, and other cities around the turn of the last century, many people first viewed them as ugly intrusions lacking the charm and grace of more traditional building types. However, new design approaches, specifically suited to the the skyscraper, were developed by architects such as Louis Sullivan and McKim, Mead, and White. As a result, skyscrapers came to be seen as structures that also could be things of beauty.
With this new aesthetic, many artists created works of arts featuring skyscrapers with positive, uplifting associations. While American artists of the mid-nineteenth century had depicted landscapes of the Hudson River valley and the west, in the early twentieth century the new man-made mountains and canyons of the urban frontier filled many an artist’s canvas.
Two images of the Woolworth Building (left, 1914; right 1916) by Rachael Robinson Elmer
Although the first building considered to be a skyscraper was the Home Insurance Building completed in Chicago in 1885, New York soon amassed the greatest concentration of these high rise buildings, creating an iconic, ever changing skyline. We present here ten artists who found their muse among the skyscrapers of New York as these buildings became defining images of the city.
Harper’s Weekly, 27 August 1881, by Thomas Nast
Even before “skyscrapers” existed, they were the subject of an artist’s fancy.
In 1881 political cartoonist Thomas Nast (1840-1902) drew “New York In A Few Years From Now: A View From the Bay” for Harper’s Weekly. It was a prescient view of a future Lower Manhattan, teeming with tall, slender towers. It is unclear if Nast, a German immigrant known for his sharp edged opinions and his crusade against Boss Tweed, intended this image as a future to be weary of or one to be embraced.