The Art of Winold Reiss

Page 1

THE ART OF WINOLD REISS

THE ART OF WINOLD REISS An Immigrant Modernist Marilyn Satin Kushner Contributions by C. Ford Peatross, Jeffrey C. Stewart, and Debra Schmidt Bach

Back cover: Composition VII (Factories), ca. 1917–22, tempera on illustration board, 40 × 30 in. (101.6 × 76.2 cm). Collection of Charles K. Williams, II, courtesy of Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York (cat. 37)

Kushner

Front cover: Langston Hughes, 1926, pastel on Whatman board, 30 1/16 × 21 5/8 in. (76. 4 × 54.9 cm). National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of W. Tjark Reiss, in memory of his father, Winold Reiss (cat. 100 detail)

An Immigrant Modernist

The Art of Winold Reiss: An Immigrant Modernist presents the vanguard work created by this German-born artist (1886–1953) in New York City over four decades, from the time he arrived in 1913 through the early 1950s. European modernism was beginning to take root in New York the year he immigrated, just after the groundbreaking Armory Show had shaken the American art scene to its core. Reiss’s exuberant, dynamic designs—innovative interiors, furniture, and graphic design—anticipated forwardthinking Americans’ passion for European avant-garde art. Steeped in a German “New Art” aesthetic, he brought his brand of modernism to the United States, and established a reputation and material presence in New York’s cultural and commercial landscape. This vibrantly illustrated volume features more than 140 examples of Reiss’s work: his portraits; his advertisements, menus, packaging, calendars, and books; his exterior and interior designs for the Restaurant Crillon, Hotel St. George, Longchamps restaurants, Rumpelmayer’s Café and Tea Room, and 1939 New York World’s Fair Theatre and Music Hall. Reiss painted portraits of leading African American figures of the Harlem Renaissance as well as members of Harlem’s professional and working classes. Essays by specialists Marilyn Satin Kushner, C. Ford Peatross, Jeffrey C. Stewart, and Debra Schmidt Bach provide an overview of Reiss’s life and artistic achievements, examining his exterior and interior designs of iconic New York shops, restaurants, and bars; his portraits of African Americans; and his pioneering work in the decorative arts, including his use of new twentiethcentury materials.

978-0-916141-27-1

THE ART OF WINOLD REISS An Immigrant Modernist



STEPPING OUT IN WINOLD REISS’S NEW YORK, 1915 TO 1952 C. Ford Peatross

F

rom the late 1930s to the early 1950s, at least one hundred thousand New Yorkers a day dined, drank, shopped, or were entertained in an interior designed or embellished by Winold Reiss (1886–1953). His designs for shops and showrooms, offices and apartments, hotels and restaurants, and clubs and bars, each distinctive, were remarkable for their richly colored, visually and spatially daring interiors, as well as multiple themes and schemes of decoration, frequently enhanced by his own murals and paintings. Just by walking down the street, New Yorkers and visitors to the city had a little more spring given to their step when Reiss’s arresting exteriors caught their eye. His façades beckoned with the pulsing neon of bold and elegantly lettered signs, enticing potential customers to enter into and experience something new and exhilarating. Reiss’s interior design “broke out of the box” in many new ways. He was among the first to introduce and exploit multiple and nonrectilinear floor and ceiling layouts and levels; luxurious, innovative, and variously reflective materials and wall coverings, tinted mirrors, murals, and mosaics; and advanced systems of ventilation, as well as lighting and fixtures—the latter both subtle and dramatic, indirect and direct. Reiss’s architecture and design collaborators formed a who’s who of the time: Emery Roth, Raymond Hood, Kenneth M. Murchison, Fellheimer & Wagner, Ely Jacques Kahn, Reinhard & Hofmeister, and Gordon Bunshaft in New York, and John Wellborn Root in Chicago. The great mid-century modern designer Morris Lapidus, when asked if he’d been influenced by Reiss’s

Menu, Café Bonaparte, 1930, offset lithograph, 7 × 10 ¾ in. (17.8 × 27.3 cm). Private collection (cat. 122 detail)

designs, replied that “he was way ahead of all of us—I probably stole a lot of things from him.” 1 From 1914 through the 1940s, it would have been difficult for New Yorkers to miss Reiss’s arresting magazine and book covers on newsstands or in bookstores, whether his vibrant poster-style designs or his illustrations for periodical covers ranging from Scribner’s and the “little magazines” (such as Touchstone and Pagan) in the teens to Survey Graphic (cat. 86),2 Town & Country, Fortune (cat. 124 ), The American Magazine, and even Detective Magazine and other pulps. In 1915 alone, Reiss produced a cover for Puck and two books of poster stamps, and was largely responsible for the creation and production of the first four issues of the groundbreaking and lavishly illustrated M.A.C. (Modern Art Collector), published from 1915 to 1918 (cats. 21– 22, and 24–26). The vocabulary and techniques of “German Poster Art” that Reiss espoused in the M.A.C. were at the core of his aesthetic being.3 Reiss was one of the first American designers to adapt African motifs in his works; in the 1920s, Reiss produced a series of influential graphic designs using that vocabulary. Outstanding among these were his menu for the Congo Room of the Alamac Hotel, his dust jacket for Ebony and Ivory by Llewelyn Powys (1923) (cat. 64), and the “Harlem” special issue of Survey Graphic (March 1925) (cat. 86).4 Reiss’s Native American motifs and portraits (cats. 103 and 144 ) were a theme in his interior designs for restaurants in New York and Montreal.5 From the late 1920s until his death, Reiss designed and illustrated calendars and promotional materials for Louis W. Hill’s Great Northern

29


Stepping Out in Winold Reiss’s New York, 1915 to 1952

Fig. 2.18  Study for library in Theodore Weicker apartment, 1926, graphite, watercolor, and gouache on paper, 7 7/8 × 9 13/16 in. (20 × 25 cm). Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Winold Reiss Collection (cat. 92)

Theodore Weicker apartment (1926) 1115 Fifth Avenue (at East Ninety-Third Street)

Shellball Apartments (1928) 8300 Talbot Street, Kew Gardens, Queens

In 1926 Reiss designed the magnificent Fifth Avenue apartment of Theodore Weicker (fig. 2.18 and cats. 92–95), cofounder of the Squibb pharmaceutical corporation. Its many rooms ranged over two floors and a penthouse at the top of one of New York’s fine apartment houses, providing the space and accommodations usually found in a multistory detached house. Located on the main floors were the living rooms, foyer, library, drawing room, dining room, kitchen, bedrooms, sitting room, and service pantries, and there were rooms for entertaining guests (including a music room) on the penthouse floor, which also featured a large roof garden. Reiss’s work included painted murals on the walls of several rooms and designs for furniture, mirrors, lighting fixtures, doors, gates, grilles, and railings, using five different metals in various combinations.

Reiss’s designs for the Shellball Apartments in Kew Gardens, about eleven miles east of Midtown Manhattan, constituted one of the most advanced modern interiors of the time. These included a wide variety of wall surfaces; iron doors and railings in a modern zigzag style; all the furniture, including Wiener Werkstätte–inspired sofas and barrel chairs; the Expressionistic style of the vestibule’s ceiling mural and of the main lobby’s glass ceiling fixtures; and a dramatically sequenced use of color. One entered the building through a vestibule worthy of a Fritz Lang film, in graduated shades of orange, with an abstract ceiling mural (cat. 109) and jaggedly Expressionistic metal doors, radiator grille, and glass wall sconce. This chamber opened through another set of iron and glass doors to an expansive lobby (fig. 2.19), then further to a colorful lounge with a reflective ceiling and stenciled walls, and elevators with

46


C. Ford Peatross

Fig. 2.19  Shellball Apartments study for lounge, 1928, graphite and tempera on paper, 12 3/8 × 21 7/8 in. (31.5 × 55.5 cm). Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Winold Reiss Collection (cat. 108)

decidedly modernistic interiors. Evocative of the jazz age, the boldly conceived iron doors and railings were among Reiss’s first completely modern metal designs, which preceded his comparable railings and grilles at the Hotel St. George in Brooklyn (1930; see figs. 2.5–2.6).72 Aficionados of Winold Reiss face a challenging task: to attempt to convey the diversity, delights, and significance of his work to those unfamiliar with it. There are many reasons for this, its sheer volume and variety being chief among these. This exhibition and its catalogue provide a welcome opportunity to bring a rich selection of Reiss’s creations to the attention of a new audience—an audience in particular of New Yorkers, for here is where it all really began and developed following his arrival from Germany in 1913. (For Reiss’s early years, see the essay by Marilyn Satin Kushner in this catalogue.) Propagandist, portraitist, illustrator, muralist, architect, designer, teacher—a protean and imaginative powerhouse, Winold Reiss was at the forefront of a variety of developments in those fields. Since the 1980s, many scholars and publications have expanded our understanding of Reiss’s multiple contributions and achievements in the fine and applied arts and as a historical figure.73

By the time of his death in 1953, Reiss’s creations in the applied and design arts had become an enriching and commonplace feature in the daily lives, both high and low, of the millions who inhabited and visited one of the world’s greatest and most vibrant cities. Almost without exception, that work has vanished. Those who do recognize Reiss’s name today know him primarily as a portraitist of Native Americans and of notable figures from the Harlem Renaissance. Yet he was an artist who flourished over four decades, with multiple careers, each of which could have stood on its own: as an illustrator for dozens of magazines, journals, and books; as a muralist, producing painted and mosaic works, from intimate to heroic in scale; as a graphic artist creating bold and colorful designs for publications, products, and packaging; as the architect/designer of hundreds of innovative and influential decorations or “stylings” for hotels, restaurants, clubs, bars, shops, theaters, offices, and residences; and as a designer of avant-garde fabrics and wall coverings, metalwork, lighting fixtures, furniture, and other products. It is no exaggeration to propose that in many ways Reiss enlivened, set new standards for, and redefined a number of these forms, many integral to American modernism.

47



WINOLD REISS’S AMERICAN STUDIES Jeffrey C. Stewart

T

he United States has often celebrated foreign-born commentators who mirrored our national identity and our enduring qualities as a people. J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur, an eighteenth-century Frenchborn writer and diplomat, lived in the American colonies for two decades before the American Revolutionary War, gaining citizenship here, and returned to the United States in 1783 as the French consul.1 During his time in New York City and in Orange County, he wrote his Letters from an American Farmer (published in 1782), which rendered a fictional portrait of a mid-Atlantic, independent American farmer as our distinctive contribution to world culture—a characterization that held for more than a century: Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men, whose labours and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world. . . . The American is a new man, who acts upon new principles; he must therefore entertain new ideas, and form new opinions. From involuntary idleness, servile dependence, penury, and useless labor, he has passed to toils of a very different nature, rewarded by ample subsistence. — This is an American.2

Alexis de Tocqueville, a nineteenth-century French author and diplomat—some call him a philosopher—traveled widely in the United States in the 1830s and rendered a portrait of the American as a uniquely self-sustaining democrat, whose political efficacy created not only an almost religious attachment to the power of voting, but also a relentless energy for creating voluntary associations to fulfill the American will. Tocqueville’s portrait of democracy in America, based on travels across the still young nation, has been celebrated for almost two centuries.3 Girl with Blanket, 1924 or 1925, pastel and Conté crayon on illustration board, 29 3/4 × 20 in. (75.6 × 50.8 cm). Private collection (cat. 75 detail)

But when Winold Reiss arrived in New York in October 1913 and mirrored America as a place of new, innovative modernism, his work was ignored by most of the art world and has continued to remain largely invisible in canonical American Studies. Why? Reiss was German, not French; a visual artist, not a writer; and a latecomer to these shores, arriving just as the Armory Show and the Paterson Strike pageant revealed the power of modernist aesthetics to radically change our perception of what was important and beautiful in America. Gone now was the old chimera that the nation’s independent farms and freewheeling democracy meant there was no class conflict here. The working class was alive and active, both politically and aesthetically, and the mood of early twentieth-century intellectual life in this country was critical rather than self-congratulatory. Perhaps that helps explain Reiss’s obscurity: the popularity of earlier foreign observers of the American scene may have been tied to their willingness to provide us with a flattering mirror of our virtues, and avoid too close a focus on our enduring anomaly—that is, the presence of a large population of African Americans whose experience here had not been that of independent farming or the exercise of the franchise. Reiss did not get the memo. When he looked at American character, American democracy, and American modernism, especially in New York, what he found did not fit the stereotype formulated by his French forerunners. Looking for the modern in America, Reiss saw it in the robust commercial consumer activity of New York and in a particular segment of its inhabitants—African Americans who, living in upper Manhattan, had created a new kind of society, an alternative way of being modern in what was called Harlem. To the image of the American farmer, and the American democrat, he added something unusual

49


Cat. 9 Peasant-style chair (Bauernstube), ca. 1914 Wood and paint Private collection

80


Cat. 10 Two dining chairs, 1914 Chestnut 37 × 29 × 22 in. (94 × 48.3 × 53 cm), 57.5 × 19 × 20 in. (151.1 × 48.3 × 53 cm) Private collection

81



Catalogue

Cat. 12 Peace stamps, 1914 Offset lithograph Envelopes: 4 3/4 × 6 3/4 in. (12.1 × 17.2 cm), Stamps: 2 7/8 × 1 3/4 in. (7.3 × 4.5 cm) Private collection

Cat. 13 Wentz Art Stamps collector’s folder, 1914 Offset lithograph 5 7/8 × 13 3/8 in. (15 × 34 cm) Private collection Cat. 11 Self-Portrait, version 2, 1914 Pastel on paper 14 7/8 × 10 7/8 in. (37.8 × 27.6 cm) Private collection

83


Cat. 19 Study for advertisement for Winold Reiss School, 1915 Graphite and vermilion on black tempera on paper 16 1/8 × 16 7/8 in. (41 × 43 cm) Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Winold Reiss Collection Cat. 20

Cat. 21 Promotional materials for M.A.C. (Modern Art Collector), 1915 Offset lithograph 8 3/4 × 24 1/4 in. (22.2 × 61.6 cm) Private collection

Photo Engravers’ Convention, Chicago, 1915, for Photo Engravers’ Board of Trade of New York City Offset lithograph (poster) 25 × 18 in. (63.5 × 45.7 cm) Private collection


Cat. 22 Cover of M.A.C. (Modern Art Collector) 1, no. 1 (September 1915) Offset lithograph 12 1/4 × 9 1/2 in. (31.1 × 24.1 cm) Private collection

93



Cat. 70

Cat. 69 Alain Locke, 1924 or 1925 Pastel on Whatman board 29 7/8 × 21 5/8 in. (75.9 × 54.9 cm) Private collection

Elise Johnson McDougald, 1924 or 1925 Pastel on Whatman board 30 1/16 × 21 9/16 in. (76.4 × 54.8 cm) National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Lawrence A. Fleischman and Howard Garfinkle with a matching grant from the National Endowment for the Arts 131


Cat. 102 Fred Fripp, Graduate of Penn School, Teacher, with Carol and Evelyn, 1927 Mixed media on Whatman board 30 × 22 1/2 in. (76.2 × 57.2 cm) Fisk University Museum of Art, Nashville, Tennessee

156


Cat. 103 Many Horses, Little Rosebush and Baby, 1927 Mixed media on Whatman board 30 × 22 in. (76.2 × 55.9 cm) Anschutz Collection, American Museum of Western Art, Denver, Colorado

157


THE ART OF WINOLD REISS

THE ART OF WINOLD REISS An Immigrant Modernist Marilyn Satin Kushner Contributions by C. Ford Peatross, Jeffrey C. Stewart, and Debra Schmidt Bach

Back cover: Composition VII (Factories), ca. 1917–22, tempera on illustration board, 40 × 30 in. (101.6 × 76.2 cm). Collection of Charles K. Williams, II, courtesy of Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York (cat. 37)

Kushner

Front cover: Langston Hughes, 1926, pastel on Whatman board, 30 1/16 × 21 5/8 in. (76. 4 × 54.9 cm). National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of W. Tjark Reiss, in memory of his father, Winold Reiss (cat. 100 detail)

An Immigrant Modernist

The Art of Winold Reiss: An Immigrant Modernist presents the vanguard work created by this German-born artist (1886–1953) in New York City over four decades, from the time he arrived in 1913 through the early 1950s. European modernism was beginning to take root in New York the year he immigrated, just after the groundbreaking Armory Show had shaken the American art scene to its core. Reiss’s exuberant, dynamic designs—innovative interiors, furniture, and graphic design—anticipated forwardthinking Americans’ passion for European avant-garde art. Steeped in a German “New Art” aesthetic, he brought his brand of modernism to the United States, and established a reputation and material presence in New York’s cultural and commercial landscape. This vibrantly illustrated volume features more than 140 examples of Reiss’s work: his portraits; his advertisements, menus, packaging, calendars, and books; his exterior and interior designs for the Restaurant Crillon, Hotel St. George, Longchamps restaurants, Rumpelmayer’s Café and Tea Room, and 1939 New York World’s Fair Theatre and Music Hall. Reiss painted portraits of leading African American figures of the Harlem Renaissance as well as members of Harlem’s professional and working classes. Essays by specialists Marilyn Satin Kushner, C. Ford Peatross, Jeffrey C. Stewart, and Debra Schmidt Bach provide an overview of Reiss’s life and artistic achievements, examining his exterior and interior designs of iconic New York shops, restaurants, and bars; his portraits of African Americans; and his pioneering work in the decorative arts, including his use of new twentiethcentury materials.

978-0-916141-27-1

THE ART OF WINOLD REISS An Immigrant Modernist