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collections > permanent collections > drawings > mARTIN LEWIS
Martin Lewis
(American, b. Australia, 1881-1962)
Novice in the Subway, n.d., c. 1936
Charcoal on paper, 13” x 18 1/2”
Gift of the Frank and Margaret Sullivan Fund (2010.069)

Innovative compositions and dramatic contrasts of light and shadow are the hallmarks of Martin Lewis, an Australian-born artist celebrated for his images of New York City in the 1920s and 1930s.  Primarily known as a printmaker, Lewis was also a gifted draughtsman and painter.  In the Museum’s Novice in the Subway, the artist uses charcoal instead of his customary ink to bring out the rich blacks of his subject.  The subway was a popular theme for American artists during the Depression years, and as Lewis’ drawing demonstrates, it allowed for picturesque juxtapositions of different characters and types.  Lewis invokes a typical comparison in his imagery of a fresh-faced young woman and the down-and-out old man on the right, but where other artists might focus on satire or earthy humor, Lewis’ portrayal is relatively straightforward.

Lewis worked as a laborer and seaman before studying with painter Julian Ashton in Sydney.  Arriving in San Francisco in 1900, the artist found work painting stage decorations for William McKinley’s Presidential Campaign.  He eventually made his way across the country to New York, where he made his first known etchings during the 1910s.  In 1920, Lewis left on an extended painting trip to Japan.  He concentrated on painting, and did not make prints again until the middle of the decade.   By the late 1920s, however, the artist had resumed etching, and turning to the streets of New York, he made a series of boldly original urban studies.  These cemented his reputation and are today highly prized by connoisseurs of American prints.  Together with printer George Miller and printmaker Armin Landeck, Lewis opened a printmaking school in New York; unfortunately, the enterprise did not flourish.  Lewis afterwards taught at the Art Students League of New York, serving as instructor of graphics until the early 1950s.  Lewis died in 1962.