Jun 30, 2022 - Sale 2611

Sale 2611 - Lot 108

Price Realized: $ 47,500
?Final Price Realized includes Buyer’s Premium added to Hammer Price
Estimate: $ 40,000 - $ 60,000
Relics (Speakeasy Corner).

Drypoint, 1928. 302x252 mm; 11 3/4x9 3/4 inches, full margins. Edition of 111. Signed in pencil, lower right. A brilliant, luminous impression of this important print with richly-inked, velvety burr.

According to McCarron, the location of this scene is at the intersection of Charles Street and West Fourth Street in Greenwich Village. The location of the speakeasy alluded to in Lewis's title was on the ground floor of the building across the street in the upper left, a space that was later occupied by Camilla's Village Garden restaurant. Kennedy Galleries, the artist's New York representative for most of his career, changed Lewis's (1880-1962) title to Relics, possibly in an attempt to tone down the subject.

Among Lewis's most masterful prints are those depicting scenes of New York City life. These prints have historical interest, as the imagery captures the architecture and urban scenery of the time, while simultaneously incorporating ephemeral moments. The time of day, the weather, the lighting, the viewpoint--each aspect was important and added to the atmosphere of the scene. Lewis's use of shadows and light to create mood, life and movement is most powerful in his New York prints. Relics is his most celebrated etching, incorporating all of the aspects that make his prints such cherished glimpses into New York's bustling yester-year, while simultaneously capturing the timelessness of city life.

This was Lewis's most popular print during his lifetime too. He sold out the entire intended edition of 100 soon after its completion, and it remains one of his most sought after prints today.

Lewis had met Edward Hopper approximately 15 years after his arrival in the United States in 1900. The two artists shared discontent over their commercial careers. In 1927, Lewis was given a solo exhibition at Kennedy & Company in New York and successive shows at the gallery were so well received that Lewis, like Hopper after his own first taste of success, stopped commercial work after 1929.

Lewis's career was built upon his technical virtuosity in printmaking. Lewis's first interest in printmaking has been tied to his work for the Sydney newspaper Bulletin in the 1890s. While in Australia, he was exposed to works of several important etchers, including Australian artist Arthur Streeton, as well as Seymour Haden (Whistler's brother-in-law), Rembrandt, Charles Meryon, and James A. M. Whistler, but there was no known attempt to etch before Lewis reached the United States. Lewis's first documented print, Smoke Pillar, Weehawken, printed in 1915, (see McCarron 1) has enough technical skill to argue that this was not the artist's first attempt (he was known to have destroyed unsatisfactory impressions). The same year, Lewis encouraged Hopper to take up printmaking and gave him technical advice. After this exchange, Hopper created his own etching Paris Street Scene with Carriage, 1915-18 (see Levin 6). While Lewis would employ aquatint and other processes in conjunction with etching, Hopper continued to work with only etching and drypoint. Nevertheless, the two artists would use largely the same subject matter and compositional elements, like cutting angles and the interplay between light and shadow.

Lewis's Relics (Speakeasy Corner) is thought to be a response to Hopper's Night Shadows, etching, 1921, with Lewis employing a similar bird's-eye, nocturnal, urban street view, though Hopper simplified his composition with a solitary figure while Lewis populated his scene with several disconnected individuals and pairs. McCarron 74.