10 3/4 x 13 3/4 in.
...In these early years, Lewis’s commercial work provided the opportunity to meet many of his up-and-coming peer group; he formed many enduring friendships, among these artists was Edward Hopper. In 1915, Lewis took up the practise of printmaking, embracing the etching press as his principal form of expression, due to his soaring success in the field. In fact, so admired were Lewis’s etching techniques and emergent skills during this period, that Hopper asked that he might study alongside him and Lewis thereafter became his mentor in the discipline. Hopper even cited his apprenticeship with the printmaker as inspiration for his later painting, the consolidation of his individual style.
Lewis was recognized for his keen attention to detail, excelling with technical brilliance, especially with relation to his drypoint pieces, and insistence upon rigorous adherence to stringent technique; that all detail must be produced from etching directly on to the plate, rather than manipulated afterward through inking treatments. This, he saw as laziness and a shortcut, a corruption of the fine art. He produced prints of such intricacy so as to be exhibited in numerous group shows during the 1920s and early 30s, at a time when printmaking was undergoing something of a renaissance, and when Lewis became involved with influential artists and thinkers of the period, in the group of writers and intellectuals surrounding Lola Ridge.
...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.
...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.
americamanhattannew yorknightusanew yorkprintetching and drypoint