“A DISTINCTIVE INTERPRETATION OF NEW YORK”: SCARCE EARLY GELATIN SILVER PRINT OF BERENICE ABBOTT’S “GLASS BRICK AND BROWNSTONE FRONTS,” INCLUDED IN HER GROUNDBREAKING WORK, CHANGING NEW YORK
ABBOTT, Berenice. Photograph. Glass Brick and Brownstone Fronts. No place, circa 1940. Gelatin silver print (image measures 7-1/2 by 9 inches), mounted and matted (total measures 13 by 14-1/2 inches), caption on mount. $2000.
Early gelatin silver print of a key 1938 photograph by Berenice Abbott, one of the select images chosen for her masterwork, Changing New York (1939), capturing the striking contrasts of style in an ever-evolving and restless Manhattan though Abbott’s image of the two buildings on East 48th Street—the boldly remodeled office of modernist architect William Lescase and a neighboring brownstone—captioned below the image on print mount, handsomely mounted and matted.
This early gelatin silver print of Abbott’s photograph of two buildings on Manhattan’s East 48th Street, titled “Glass Brick and Brownstone Fronts,” is one of the key images featured in her classic work, Changing New York (1939), funded by the Federal Art Project (FAP). This striking image “not only fulfills Abbott’s criterion for the historical importance of the documentary mode, but also demonstrates its power as a medium of personal expression” (Parr & Badger I:141), providing “a distinctive interpretation of New York as well as a priceless document thereof” (Icons of Photography, 104). Abbott took this photograph on February 1, 1938, an image affirming that her “vision of this historically rich part of Manhattan extended beyond preconceived ideas of New York as the archetypal modern city.” She focuses on the contrast between the “iconoclastic office of modernist architect William Lescaze” and a neighboring brownstone. Both townhouses, built in the 1860s, were part of a group “that was uniformly remodeled in 1920 with a common garden as Turtle Bay Gardens. In 1934 Lescaze brazenly injected into this ensemble an example of the International Style, complete with white stucco, glass brick, horizontal windows and rooftop garden.” Near the time of the book’s publication, Abbott made a set of prints for the Museum of the City of New York, a second set for the Index of American Design and a partial set for the New York State Museum in Albany. Those prints (not this), each signed in pencil on the mount front, were printed by Abbott. When Abbott left the FAP in 1939, the disposition of the negatives was unresolved; despite her protests “the FAP continued to issue prints until 1943, when the FAP disbanded and sent Abbott’s 700 negatives” to the Museum of the City of New York, where they remain” (Yochelson, Berenice Abbott, 229, 383, 31).
An about-fine matted print, evenly brown-toned.