Looking at Illustration: Arthur Getz – April 1957

I’ve been flipping through more Arthur Getz cover art from The New Yorker and came upon this beauty from 1957. Let’s take a look.

Art by Arthur Getz. Prints available through https://condenaststore.com/art/arthur+getz

Mr. Getz was an expert at capturing small moments of New York City’s outdoor culture, and what is more ubiquitous in NYC culture than the sight of heavy construction parading right under the nose – or just over the heads – of the citizens? This scene of the renovation of a brownstone is as busy with textures and colors as a paisley tie, but hangs together beautifully thanks to his composition and palette.

The first thing I notice in Getz’s composition is how he directs your eye. Your view naturally starts at the upper left where there are sunlit construction workers and juicy detail in the nearest brownstone’s lovely oriel window. From the top left your eye slides down the chute and the wood planks, past the palisade of old doors to the dump truck; you inevitably climb the intricate façade of the buildings to the right of the truck, up and up to the hazily blank sky, where you can’t help but land with a thud on the bulls-eye of the whole scene, the wrecking ball. It’s a superb construction, sweeping your eye all around the view.

In landscape painting there is a general rule that warm colors advance and cool colors recede. This scene adheres to the rule with great success, with the warm brownstone tones closest to us, the middle ground scene of doors and rubble painted in slightly cooler shades, and the background sky and skyscrapers in the coolest, grayest tones – even that yellow apartment building is about as chilled a yellow as you can get in paint. I love how the artist ties together the scene by splashing periwinkle blue here and there – on a couple of the doors, under the scaffold, the brownstone handrail, the debris chute, one plane of the roof gable, and even high up on the top balconies of that yellow building. Getz’s loose but masterful treatment of the brownstone’s architecture is so admirable too, from the carvings and rustications in the massive sandstone shapes to his seemingly casual squiggles indicating the elegant wrought iron balustrade of the staircase.

Finally let’s point out Mr. Getz’s effective use of angles to make this scene dynamic and yet balanced. There are a number of strong diagonals echoing through this composition, that drive from the upper left to lower right, as I’ve indicated here:

They are formed by weighty, dark masses within the picture and give it a dynamic leftward and downward push. The scene does not ‘fall over’ from all that thrust though, because Getz brilliantly balanced all those forces against one thin, gangly yet very important element: the crane arm holding the wrecking ball. Its push is from lower left to upper right, and because it is a dark structure against the lightest part of the picture, and is more finely detailed than all the dark chunky shapes, and it holds that formidable feature of the portentous wrecking ball, it balances all that leftward thrust and makes the scene satisfyingly stable.

Arthur Getz created a stunning snapshot of NYC life here, marrying its iconic brownstone architecture with the careless jetsam of city construction zones. I would call this one of his best works ever for The New Yorker.

I wrote another cover review which you can read HERE. To see other New Yorker covers by Getz go HERE .

— Pat Achilles

6 thoughts on “Looking at Illustration: Arthur Getz – April 1957

  1. Pat: Thank you for sharing Mr. Getz and his art. I enjoy your emails so much and try to save some of them or pass them on. Picture me as a college student at Drew University in Madison, NJ. in the early 60s, sitting at a rather ugly tiny desk area in the library stacks, going through bound copies of The New Yorker when I want a break from studying. I now live in Mountain Lakes, NJ which is one of the first planned communities to New Jersey and has a small but friendly neighborhood library. One day about 18 months they had a cover from the New Yorker of a man crossing a street in New York City. It was on display on the magnificent antique library table right inside the door. It turned out to be that the man in the picture was an elderly and frequent patron of the library who still commuted to the city at the time and walked with a cane. The library staff knows all the active patrons so they were the ones who realized who the man on the cover was. I loved the picture you choose because of the art involved and the story it told. I had never seen it before. Laura

    • Laura, so nice to hear from you. I love your story about the local man depicted on a New Yorker cover! I’d love to see that one. You don’t happen to know around what year it was published? I have access to their archives online & could look it up.
      I have a slightly similar story – in 1951 the Saturday Evening Post ha a painting of a Doylestown church on the cover – that’s where I live – and the church is the one where my husband & I were married. I love coincidences like that. — Pat

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