Martin Lewis (1881-1962) New York Noir Prints

Martin Lewis was born on June 7, 1881 in Castlemaine, Australia. He had a passion for drawing. In 1900 he left for the United States. By 1909 he was living and working in New York City. With the exception of a few years, he spent the rest of his life in and around the city.
His earliest etching dates from 1915 but shows a technical ability that suggests that he had been working in the medium for some time. To back up that feeling, a friend and fellow artist, Edward Hopper, asked him for technical advice on etching in 1915. Lewis produced many memorable images of New York City. The period of 1925 through 1935 was his most productive. He died largely forgotten.


Shadow Dance


                            2 AM

Here and above we see the Martin Lewis girls in their cloche hats, bobbed hair and tight skirts and his love of light and dark.

 Bedford Street Gang

These pictures almost demand a scenario. I can almost see a very young Jimmy Cagney under one of these street kids’ caps.

Rainy Day In Queens

I know of no one else who so consistently catches the sunlight of this city – what Cheever once called, “the water light” as even from behind clouds the sun reflects off the harbor and the Hudson.

Stoops in Snow

Again the play of light on a grey day with New Yorkers always ready for anything but never quite prepared for snow.


               Late Traveller

Who is this woman plunging alone down the subway stairs on a street not empty or deserted but with no one close to her? I will never see this picture and not wonder where she’s going.

Quarter of Nine – Saturday’s Children

How well he captures the way light finds its way over buildings and around them and the grim detirmination of the morning crowd making its way to work.

        Speakeasy Corner

I know I’ve seen this corner at this hour of the night in one of the low-rise neighborhoods that still exist in this city. This is Hopper’s world but done in the proper black and white and grey of this city once upon a time.

There are plenty more Martin Lewis prints including many set in the city of New York. He’s undergone a revival in the last twenty  years but I believe he’s still much under-appreciated.

Jefferson Market And The Sixth Avenue El

This 1926 photo shows the Courthouse, jail and market buildings with the Sixth Avenue El which was constructed in the early 20th Century.

Photos in the early 20th century were black and white. John French Sloan was an “Ashcan” artist devoted to showing the life of New York City. Here’s his take of the courthouse etc. bathed in early morning sunlight.

Here’s Sloan’s vision of Sixth Avenue with the courthouse tower on the left on a lively night from Third Street where the El turned and headed east for a while before going south again.

Here’s a scene taken from Sixth Avenue and Eighth Street at some point in the early 1930’s. The El is still up. And on the left of the picture is a new structure – The Women’s House of Detention

The Women’s House of Detention – large and forbidding – was built on the site of the old jail and market buildings in 1932. The Sixth Avenue El came down in 1939/40. Steel from the El legendarily was sold to Japan and used to make the bombs dropped on Pearl Harbor. The Women’s House of D. was part of the Village scene – the “girls” yelling out the cell windows, booing passing police

The Jefferson Market Courthouse (which had been used as the place to try “Women’s Crimes” was used first as the New York City Police Academy and then transformed into a branch of the New York Public Library.

The site of the old Women’s House of Detention became a remarkably quiet and pleasant garden open to the public on weekends and some other times.