A Major Gift of American Prints

Mabel Dwight, Queer Fish, 1936. © Estate of Mabel Dwight The Museum’s collection of American prints and drawings has been substantially augmented by a recent gift from Richard Reinis, Class of 1966, and Lois Reinis. This large group of 147 works—carefully assembled by Richard over many years—consists primarily of American prints made between 1910 and 1940 by fifty-eight artists. Though the works vary in approach, style, and subject matter, most can be described as American Scene, or images depicting different aspects of urban and rural life in the United States in the first half of the twentieth century.

Louis Lozowick, Mural Study: Triborough Bridge, 1936. © Estate of Louis Lozowick As Reinis explained, these prints “honor the working people of America and their lives. . . . There is a hint of satire and humor to be found in the works, along with a social realism that you would expect.” Such a collection reflects Reinis’s keen interest in American history—his major at Princeton. Within the gift, city views and images of urban life predominate. The ever-changing environs of metropolitan areas like New York and Philadelphia were a preoccupation for many early twentieth-century artists. Some—like John Taylor Arms, Gottlob Briem, Jolán Gross-Bettelheim, Armin Landeck, and Louis Lozowick—chose megalographic views of towering skyscrapers and geometric cityscapes, often emphasizing their formalist linearity and abstracting them from a human scale. Others—such as James Edmund Allen, Harry Sternberg, and Julius Tanzer—highlighted the laboring steel and construction workers who built the city, juxtaposing their sturdy muscled frames against the built environment. And still others depicted the lively, and often gritty, bustle of urban life. For example, the gift features Robert Riggs’s battered boxer, Mabel Dwight’s wonderfully whimsical scene of an aquarium encounter, and Fritz Eichenberg’s images of subway commuters and people dancing in the street.

The best-represented artist in the group is Earl Horter, whose twenty-one city views offer glimpses of New York, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, and more. Horter’s etchings from the 1910s provide a connection to street scenes of the previous century, showing the heavy influence of James McNeill Whistler, while his aquatints of the 1930s look much more of a piece with the work of his contemporaries.

Hugo Gellert,  Untitled (Protest), ca. 1933. © Estate of Hugo Gellert Though many of the prints exude optimism about America and modernity, several fall under the rubric of Social Realism, a movement that sought to highlight inequities suffered by the working class. More overtly critical examples include Reginald Marsh’s crowd of unemployed workers in The Bowery (1928), William Gropper’s textile workers in Sweatshop (1934), and Hugo Gellert’s powerful lithograph of a group of protesters (ca. 1933). Such images speak to the political leanings of their makers: Gellert was a founding editor of the important socialist magazine New Masses, to which both Gropper and Marsh contributed illustrations, and many of the artists represented in the gift provided images to other leftist publications. Gellert’s image of protest is, moreover, born of personal experience, as he was arrested at an anti-fascist protest that he co-organized in 1928.

John Steuart Curry, John Brown, 1939. Also included are roughly two dozen works by American Regionalist artists, including Thomas Hart Benton, Grant Wood, and John Steuart Curry. Highlights among these are Benton’s Aaron (1941)—an intimate portrait of a Black sharecropper—and Curry’s iconic image of the abolitionist John Brown (1939), based on his murals for the Kansas State Capitol. Though the rural subject matter sets these artists apart from those discussed above, they were similarly motivated by populist interests. Other artists included in the Reinises’ gift, such as Howard Cook and Martin Lewis, bridged the gap between rural and urban subjects.

Together the prints represent a significant collection of American Scene, Social Realist, Regionalist, and other prints that highlight changes in the physical and political landscape of the United States in the first half of the twentieth century—a time that saw great upheaval: two world wars, the Great Depression, agrarian desperation, and urban expansion. The time was, as Reinis avers, a “creative crucible” in which the work of these artists was forged.

Jun Nakamura
Assistant Curator of Prints and Drawings