This iconic image of 1920s New York juxtaposes the prosaic everyday realities of life in the metropolis against the shining monolith of a modern skyscraper, as it sends forth beams of light into the sky like a beacon. Washing, including women’s nylons and socks, is strung high above the rooftops and between tenement windows, lit from within on a hot, still night. That quintessential signifier of the changing face of modern society – the flapper – is pictured facing the view in profile from her fire-escape, her modern dress and haircut as contemporary as the electrically-lit tower upon which she gazes.
Martin Lewis was awarded the 1930 Print Circle of Philadelphia’s Charles M Lea Prize for this print. Identifiable in the image is the art deco Chanin Building, built in 1929, the same year the print was made; the steeple belongs to St Gabriel’s church, which was demolished in 1939 to make way for the Midtown Tunnel.
The Chanin building was publicised at the time in a brochure that emphasised its light-power 'The tower of the Chanin Building is illuminated at night by great floodlights of 30,000,000 candlepower. Within a radius of thirty-five miles it is revealed as a man-made castle in the air – a landmark by night'. (ref: Paul McCarron, 'The prints of Martin Lewis', Bronxville, New York, pg.142). The building dominated the New York skyline for only a short time; within a year the Chrysler Building was completed just across the road, overtaking the Chanin Building in its reach for the sky.
28.9 x 36.5 cm platemark; 38.8 x 47.2 cm sheet
Signature & date
Signed on plate to print l.r.corner "MARTIN LEWIS".
Signed l.r. below image, pencil "Martin Lewis - imp.".
Purchased with funds provided by the Art Gallery Society of New South Wales 2016
Not on display
© Estate of Martin Lewis
Shown in 2 exhibitions
The prints of Martin Lewis: from the collection of Dr Dorrance Kelly, Bruce Museum of Arts and Science, Greenwich, 02 Oct 2011–26 Feb 2012
Martin Lewis: retrospective exhibition, The Old Print Shop, New York, 14 Apr 2016–14 May 2016
Referenced in 8 publications
Anne Ryan., Look, 'Bright lights, big city', Sydney, Oct 2016, 19 (illus.). 'New Acquisition' article.
The Old Print Shop Portfolio, New York, 2016, 150. Cat. 7
Kirsten McKay, Martin Lewis: stepping into the light, Castlemaine, 2002, 23 (illus.), 24.
Modern masters of etching: Martin Lewis, London, 1931, 9, plate XII (illus.).
The prints of Martin Lewis: a catalogue raisonné, Bronxville, 1995, Cover (illus.), 142, 143 (illus.). Catalogue raisonne number 77.
Martin Lewis: New York observer, London, 2008, not paginated (illus.). Cat. 8
The prints of Martin Lewis: from the collection of Dr Dorrance Kelly, Greenwich, 2011, Cover [detail], pg.16 (illus). Ill. 11
An American master: prints by Martin Lewis, Detroit, 1991, 7 (illus.). Cat. 45