Watercolor of Manhattan taking in an early 1930s view of the Empire State Building rising in the background from the vantage point of the street below. Executed in a Precisionist style practiced by other artists at the time such as Edward Hopper and Charles Sheeler, the painting captures a typical New York neighborhood of that era (apparently Lexington or Second Avenue slightly north of Gramercy Park) in documentary detail: the people in the street, the shop signs, the newsstand, the streetcar, a delivery truck, an automobile, architectural details such as cornices and fire escapes, and even the curtains in the windows. McKay took more license with the color palette, however, limiting the hues to browns, oranges, reds and yellows, stressing the verticality of the buildings, and reminiscent of the effect of a sepia-toned photograph. Perhaps the color choice was also used to show the effect of sunlight reflected on the buildings, such as in the late afternoon.
The watercolor was painted only one year after the Empire State Building had officially opened. As the tallest building in the world it stood as a symbol of American technological achievement and an Art Deco icon of New York City. At the time of the painting, it did not yet have the large antenna tower on the top that we associate with it now -- that was not erected until the 1950s.
Walter Hood McKay was a designer and painter based in New York City. Born in Ohio, he studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Art Students League. In the 1930s he exhibited at the Barbizon Plaza Hotel and the Tricker Gallery, but specialized in illustration and advertising art. In the 1940s and 1950s, he also designed typefaces, including Columbia, which was produced by the Amsterdam Type Foundry between 1949 and 1956. An illustration by McKay of Alexander Graham Bell inventing the telephone was sold by George Glazer Gallery to a private collection in the 1990s.
Condition: Generally very good with the usual overall light toning and wear. Few scattered pale foxing and other spots, unobtrusive. Glue residue, discoloration, and some mat toning in margins, can be rematted out. Frame generally good with the usual overall wear.
Falk, Peter Hastings, ed. Who Was Who in American Art. Madison, Connecticut: Sound View Press, 1985. p. 409.
Haskett, Thomas R. "Broadcast Antennas on the Empire State Building." Broadcast Engineering. August 1967, pp. 24-31. Online at L.N.L. Electronic Distributors. http://www.lnl.com/esbantennas.htm (10 October 2011).
Middendorp, Jan. Dutch Type. Rotterdam: 010 Publishers, 2004. p.89. http://books.google.com/books?id=sR9g5xPPJVQC (7 October 2011).