Oil on canvas
Gift of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller; P.935.1.3
For George Ault the city’s artistic appeal lay not in its bustling activity but in the pristine geometry of its architecture. In this image, as in most of his works, he ignored the illustrious skyscrapers for which New York is best known, focusing instead on the anonymous roofs and facades of its tenements and warehouses, here seen from a rooftop in his neighborhood of Greenwich Village. Ault’s formal approach to the urban landscape was shared by many of his contemporaries, especially fellow precisionists Charles Sheeler, Louis Lozowick, and Preston Dickinson. Unlike their celebratory images of technology and urbanization, however, Ault’s city depictions reveal a tinge of melancholy and desolation. Roofs, for instance, exhibits flat lighting and a subdued palette with browns and blacks predominating. The interplay of rectangular facades and blackened windows creates a complex and satisfying pattern of rectangles, but the physical space of the city is compressed and impenetrable, with no sign of life or motion. The heaviness of the scene may reflect the artist’s dark psychological mood as well. He suffered from various mental disorders, including depression, which only intensified with the death of most of his family members in a short span of time. By 1929 he had lost both parents and three brothers, who committed suicide. Ault was also ambivalent about the social ramifications of the city, which he referred to as “the Inferno without the fire.” Despite the city’s visual appeal to Ault, he retreated in 1937 to the rural art colony of Woodstock, New York, where he turned primarily to nature for solace and artistic inspiration.
Last Updated: 4/29/09