20.4 x 32.7 cm
...There was none more insistent on the narrative, psychological, element of the work as being of paramount importance than Hopper, who disassociated himself from the tendril-reach of The Ashcan movement’s documentary technique in a way that Lewis was not so insistent to do. Furthermore, he tipped his hat to Lewis, when, in the 1950s he reflected that, ‘After I took up my etching, my painting seemed to crystallize.’ It would be difficult, in that case, not to conclude that Lewis was in some way an influence on Hopper and vice-versa. It is often difficult to pick apart the intricate weave of contemporaries influence upon one-another, as a fluid process and somewhat mercurial. For Lewis certainly followed Hopper is his favour for the undisclosed story of what was about to happen or of what might happen; the promise of the storyteller, teasing, laden with subtext – the power of suggestion, an enticement to the voyeur.
...In 1936, unable to make his mark with his Connecticut scenes, Lewis returned to New York City having retained his friendships and contacts there. There, he found an etching market in a state of collapse, the craft of lithography no longer in demand; he forged ahead for many years but failed to regain the critical success enjoyed at the zenith of his career. He took up a teaching position at the Art Student League in 1944 where he remained until 1951, however poor health forced his retirement in 1952.
As twilight fell on his métier, interest in his etchings and paintings had long since waned. Despite his brilliance the artist no longer found himself ‘en vogue’. The scene had evolved to celebrate more brightly plumed specimens considered innovative and dynamic, such as his erstwhile student Edward Hopper, whom history has idolised. Sadly, and perhaps most profoundly of all, Lewis died in obscurity on 22 February 1962, at the age of 81.
As a long-standing fan of Lewis’s work it is of great relief that in the last two decades there has been a resurgence of interest in the artist, who so richly deserves a place of wider recognition, not only at the forefront of ‘The American Scene’ but in the collective consciousness of the popular American artistic canon. Latterly, and rather joyously, his work has attracted the interest of collectors once again, and is now highly sought after; selling for tens of thousands of dollars, where previously lots failed to achieve their reserve price and languished unsold for decades. Still, much of his purchased work is held in either public or private collections, not currently on public display, but hidden in locked vaults; a fate counter to their intended destiny, as art is - to the artist - for the eye to behold.
Despite renewed interest, this virtuoso of etching, of interplay between dark and light, a depicter of ‘film noir’ long before the genre was coined, before any cinematographer had captured a sultry image of its kind - remains an enigma. His technical brilliance, a wonder in itself; and he, recognised as a true master craftsman - a mystery. So may we shine a light on a nocturne, as those lamp-lit images did once long ago in the darkest backstreets of New York City. Let us drink a toast to Martin Lewis, lest his legacy be denied.
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