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 Martin Lewis  (1881 - 1962)

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Lived/Active: New York/Connecticut/Maine / Australia      Known for: realist urban view and genre painting, printmaking

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Ad Code: 3
Martin Lewis
from Auction House Records.
Shadow Pattern
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Castlemaine, Australia, Martin Lewis became in the 1920s and 1930s one of the major print makers in the United States, completing between 1915 and 1945 about 143 prints.  On canvas, he also explored human activity and relationships, but his graphics* are regarded as superior to his paintings.  He lived in New York City most of his life, with the exception of several years during the Depression when he moved to Connecticut.  But in 1933, missing the city, he returned to New York.

He trained in Sydney, and emigrated to the United States in 1900.  After a trip in 1910 to San Francisco, he decided to settle in New York where he was excited about the rhythms of city life.  In 1915, largely self taught, he made his first etching* and also pursued drypoint*.  From 1920 to 1922, he lived in Japan, and that experience influenced his work.  In 1934, he and lithographer* George Miller organized a printmaking school in New York, and Lewis taught at the Art Students League* from 1944 to 1951.

Images of New York City fill his prints that show industry, commerce, and immigrant life.  Like artist Edward Hoppper, Lewis especially liked night scenes, which offered him the chance to show light and shadow.  He continued scenes from his print studies of moody urban streets and structures with and without dominating figures.  In October, 1998, his Cityscapes on Paper was shown at the Brooklyn Museum.

Matthew Baigell, Dictionary of American Art
Spanierman Galleries, Art for the New Collector II

* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary

Biography from Acquisitions Of Fine Art:
Martin Lewis (1881-1962)

Martin Lewis was born on June 7, 1881 in Castlemaine, Australia. He was the second of eight children and he had a passion for drawing. At the age of fifteen he left home and traveled in New South Wales and New Zealand, working as a post hole digger and a merchant seaman before settling into a Bohemian community outside of Sidney.

Two of his drawings were published in a radical Sydney newspaper, The Bulletin. He also studied with Julian Ashton at the Art Society's School in Sydney. Ashton, a famous painter, was also one the first Australian artists to take up printmaking. Lewis visited his family in Castlemaine for the last time in 1900 and then left for the United States.

His first known job after arriving in the United States was painting stage decorations for the McKinley Presidential Campaign of 1900. Little is known of his early years in this country; however, by 1909 he was living and working in New York City. With the exception of a few years, he spent the rest of his life in and around the city. His earliest etching dates from 1915 but shows a technical ability that suggests that he had been working in the medium for some time. To back up that feeling, a friend and fellow artist, Edward Hopper, asked him for technical advice on etching in 1915.

During these early years, Lewis experimented with different intaglio processes including etching, aquatint, engraving, mezzotint, and drypoint. In 1920, he left for Japan, a turning point in his artistic career. He studied the art and culture of Japan. During his eighteen-month stay, he spent his time painting in both oil and watercolor. He did not work in printmaking again until 1925 when he produced a group of etchings and drypoints depicting Japan. These new prints led him several years later to produce many memorable images of New York City.

The period of 1925 through 1935 was his most productive, and he produced eighty-one of the one hundred and forty-eight known prints.

Biography from Spanierman Gallery:
A celebrated printmaker and painter, Martin Lewis applied his consummate skills as a draftsman to scenes of New York City and rural Connecticut, imbuing his work with a palpable sense of life, atmosphere and mood.  Eschewing the trend for Abstraction, he remained a devoted Realist who relied on his own acute observation to record the “homely details of common everyday life.”  His penetrating cityscapes were especially renowned, one commentator dubbing him “the master-psychologist of the megalopolis.”

Born in Castlemaine, Australia on 7 June 1881, Lewis was the son of a gold-mining engineer.  He began drawing at an early age, and by his teens he had acquired an ability to record his immediate impressions of a specific place with skill and accuracy. At the age of fifteen he ran away from home, travelling and sketching in the Australian outback and in New Zealand and later working as a sailor.  From 1898 to 1900, he resided near Sydney, where he studied at the James Ashton Art School and did illustration work for local newspapers.  In 1900, he travelled to San Francisco, where he produced decorations for William McKinley’s political campaign before settling in New York City.

During his early years in Manhattan, Lewis was employed as a commercial illustrator.  Responding to the energy and dynamism of the urban environment, he went on to create spirited paintings and drawings of New York, which he interpreted in a positive and optimistic way.  His work from this period is broadly brushed and highly atmospheric, demonstrating his awareness of the aesthetic strategies of Impressionism, Tonalism and Pictorial Photography.

In 1910, Lewis visited England and Wales, where he had the opportunity to see the graphic work of artists such as James McNeil Whistler, Seymour Haden and others. So inspired, he took up printmaking in 1915.  In fact, his first print was so successful that his good friend, the painter Edward Hopper, asked Lewis to teach him etching techniques.

From 1920 to 1922, Lewis lived and worked in Japan, where he produced oils and watercolors of the countryside and became interested in conveying aspects of time and weather.  Through his study of Japanese prints, he also developed a concern for pattern and asymmetrical designs, qualities that he would emphasize in his views of New York City. 

By 1925, Lewis had evolved a distinctive painting style inspired in part by the example of Hopper, as well as by the work of Ashcan School painters such as George Bellows and John Sloan.  However, despite the fact that his oils were well-received by critics, Lewis decided to concentrate primarily on printmaking after the late 1920s, investigating aspects of light and shadow within the realm of black and white while continuing to focus his attention on the streets, architecture and people of New York City.  He went on to exhibit his graphic work in many group shows, including those of the Print Club of Cleveland, the Society of American Etchers and the Chicago Society of Etchers.  He also had an important retrospective exhibition of oils, watercolors and prints at Kennedy Galleries in New York in 1929. Indeed, by 1930,

Lewis was acknowledged as a leading figure in the tradition of American graphic art, a writer for a Boston newspaper describing him as “a New York artist, whose power of presentation, imagination, happy choice of subjects and sheer technical achievements have brought him rapidly to the forefront of American art . . . an artist, whose work is destined to become a record and memorial of his age.

For many years, Lewis lived in Greenwich Village, but in 1930, possibly due to the economic woes of the Depression, he moved to Sandy Hook, Connecticut (not far from Danbury).  There, he produced images of his immediate environment, depicting farms, trees and country lanes covered with snow.  At the same time, he continued to maintain ties with New York City, establishing a short-lived school for printmaking in 1934, in collaboration with Armin Landeck and George Miller.  Preferring the streets, structures and the hustle and bustle of the city to the pastoral ambiance of Connecticut, Lewis returned to New York City in 1936.  He continued to create prints and drawings, in addition to teaching at the Art Students League from 1944 to 1951.

Lewis died on 22 February 1962.  Examples of his work can be found in major public collections throughout the United States, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; and the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.


© The essay herein is the property of Spanierman Gallery, LLC and is copyrighted by Spanierman Gallery, LLC, and may not be reproduced in whole or in part without written permission from Spanierman Gallery, LLC, nor shown or communicated to anyone without due credit being given to Spanierman Gallery, LLC.

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at
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