James Chapin (1887-1975)
Oil on canvas, 27 x 39 inches. Signed lower left: "JAMES CHAPIN - 1933"
James Chapin, Associated American Artists Galleries, New York, NY, November 12 - December 1, 1945, no. 13; Charles W. Hawthorne: A Life in Color and James Chapin: The Dark Side of Light, ACA Galleries, New York, NY, May 10 - June 27, 2008; Enduring America: Selections from the Collection of Art and Peggy Hittner, Northern Arizona University Art Museum, April 7 - May 29, 2015.
Westvaco Inspirations for Printers, No. 157 (1946), cover illustration; Enduring America (catalogue).
Prescott, Kenneth W., James Chapin (exhibition catalogue, Yaneff Gallery, Toronto, Canada, 1980); Rubenfeld, Richard L., "James Ormsbee Chapin (1887-1975)" in Passantino, Erika D., ed., The Eye of Duncan Phillips: A Collection in the Making (The Phillips Collection in association with Yale University Press, 1999), at page 464; Pagano, Grace, Contemporary American Painting: The Encyclopaedia Britannica Collection (Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1945); Craven, Thomas, "American Painting," essay in The Studio, Vol. 127, No. 615 (June, 1944), pp. 170-184.
With Gallery of Associated American Artists, Inc., New York, NY as of 1946; D. Wigmore Fine Art, New York, NY; Christie’s, New York, March 16, 1994, lot 112; unidentified private collections, New Jersey and New York; Owen Gallery, New York, NY; Christie’s, New York, March 3, 2005, lot 151 (acquired post-auction).
Canvas relined. Cardboard protective covering bears labels of D. Wigmore Fine Art, Owen Gallery and ACA Galleries, all of New York City. Recent 3 1/4-inch gold leaf frame.
With no less than eighteen one-man exhibitions during the first half of the decade, James Chapin was at the height of his popularity in the early Thirties when he painted Street Market. By this time Chapin’s style had evolved. "[H]e has loosened his technique considerably, easing up on the precise fidelity to appearance and devoting his attention to flashes of insight, brought out with the fluid swiftness of impressions,” observed the critic Edward Alden Jewell in The New York Times.* (For additional biographical information on Chapin, see Chapin: Young Ball Player).
In Street Market, Chapin depicts a typical New York street scene, capturing the hustle and bustle of the fruit and vegetable vendors, their customers and passersby in what is likely his own West Village neighborhood. Chapin lived at 299 West 12th Street at the time this work was executed, directly across the street from Abingdon Park, a quarter-acre greenspace which is one of Manhattan's oldest parks. While the buildings appearing in the present photograph (see Fig. 1) vary somewhat from those depicted in the painting, the location of the park in the painting corresponds to its position in the photograph (note the tent of a produce vendor at the extreme left of the photograph, just to the left of the truck, where street markets are still staged today). The distinctive corner stonework along the right edge of the building in the photograph is nearly identical to that appearing on the blue building in the right-hand corner of Chapin's painting. Chapin is meticulous also in his delineation of figures within the painting, imbuing them with character and individuality, from the little girl accompanying her grandmother as she carries a bag of produce in the left foreground to the man who passes through the scene in the right foreground, perhaps on his way to work (if, indeed, he was fortunate enough to be employed). Though the scene is set in the depths of the Depression and the abundance of produce seems strangely at odds with the prevailing sense of want, Chapin steadfastly refuses to evoke sympathy or pathos. Instead, his subjects go on about their business, revealing a gritty determination to carry on.
* The New York Times, February 18, 1932, p. 18.
Fig. 1 - View down Hudson Street from corner of West 12th Street, New York City, 2008.