The Urban Scene: 1920–1950

26 Feb — 6 Aug 2017 at The National Gallery of Art in Landover, United States

20 APRIL 2017
The Urban Scene: 1920–1950. Courtesy of The National Gallery of Art
The Urban Scene: 1920–1950. Courtesy of The National Gallery of Art

American artists of the early 20th century sought to interpret the beauty, power, and anxiety of the modern age in diverse ways. Through depictions of bustling city crowds and breathtaking metropolitan vistas, 25 black-and-white prints on view in The Urban Scene: 1920–1950 will explore the spectacle of urban modernity.

Prints by recognized artists such as Louis Lozowick (1892–1973) and Reginald Marsh (1898–1954), as well as lesser-known artists including Mabel Dwight (1875–1955), Gerald Geerlings (1897–1998), Victoria Hutson Huntley (1900–1971), Martin Lewis (1881–1962), and Stow Wengenroth (1906–1978), are included in this exhibition. The Urban Scene will be on view in the West Building from February 26 through August 6, 2017.

"During the past decade the Gallery has acquired extraordinary groups of prints from the Reba and Dave Williams Collection, the Corcoran Collection, and the collection of Bob Stana and Tom Judy," said Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art. "We are thankful for the generosity of these donors and for the opportunities that have allowed the Gallery's American print holdings to grow in both richness and depth."

The black-and-white prints that comprise The Urban Scene, most of which were acquired in the last ten years, often highlight the unprecedented scale of urban architecture and the impact of industry and technology on city life. From one perspective, skyscrapers, bridges, and other technological marvels projected wealth, opportunity, and invoked the sublime, but from another these structures could be interpreted as blocking light, deepening shadows, heightening a sense of enclosure and confinement, and amplifying feelings of diminution and anonymity.

The artists featured in this exhibition chose their subjects, arranged their compositions, and scrutinized details to convey particular aspects of urban life. They used line to capture the specifics of a face or the idiosyncrasies of a building and manipulated tone to mimic the play of light. Employing precise detail and descriptive clarity to characterize experience, suggest meaning, and convey a narrative, certain elements were emphasized while others were minimized, resulting in images distilled to their narrative or atmospheric essence.