Union Square

by Clifford Isaac Addams (1876–1942)
Oil on canvas
30¾ x 42⅝ inches
Signed upper right: Addams

Information

Provenance

Hanover Square Gallery, Brooklyn, New York, by 2012

Private collection, New York, by 2015

Private collection, Beverly Hills, California

Literature

David Adams Cleveland, “The Twelve Characteristics of Tonalism,” in “What is Tonalism?” American Tonalist Society, accessed November 2, 2021, https://www.americantonalistsociety.com/what-is-tonalism/.

David Adams Cleveland, “Adventures in Scholarship: Clifford Addams (1876–1942),” Artsy, last modified April 12, 2015, https://www.artsy.net/article/david-adams-cleveland-adventures-in-scholarship-clifford-addams-1876-1942.

Note: This composition faces south toward the bottom of Union Square, New York, with the prominent sign for the flagship department store of Orbach’s visible. The store, which was located there from 1923 until 1954, when it moved to a new site on West 34th Street, had the slogan “A Business in Millions, a Profit in Pennies.”

Tonalist scholar David Adams Cleveland wrote of this work:

Union Square, allows us a glimpse of the fascinating near-visionary quality of Addams’ mature work, when he’d shed the aesthetic polish of his earlier exhibition pieces for something wholly modern but distinctly grounded in hard-won painterly skills. Much of the early Whisterian tonalities remain, along with the lush transitions of muted colors of a city in the first blush of evening. But it is the expressive quality of the brushwork mirroring the energetic bustle of the city that captivates, and allies Addams with Henri’s circle of urban realists. There is a deep affection for the hard life of the streets and the teaming crowds. The packed sidewalk along 14th Street where the sign for Orbachs, the famous department store, hangs prominently fairly seethes with rambling shoppers and sidewalk vendors. This is not a tourist view but a non-sentimental evocation of a city electric with felt life. The paint marks are as alive as the fabric of the city they depict, full of febrile otherworldliness as twilight descends and the neon signs of the city begin an eerie glow. Very few of Addams’ foreground figures can even be identified as distinct pedestrians, so vivid is the abstraction of form, an abstraction that acts to viscerally communicate the honking crush and jostled blur of rush hour.[1]

    [1] David Adams Cleveland, “Adventures in Scholarship: Clifford Addams (1876–1942),” Artsy, last modified April 12, 2015, https://www.artsy.net/article/david-adams-cleveland-adventures-in-scholarship-clifford-addams-1876-1942.  

Artist Biography

Born in Woodbury, New Jersey, Clifford Isaac Addams was a tonalist known for his prints, etchings, watercolors, and oil paintings. Addams first studied architecture before winning the prestigious Cresson Traveling scholarship from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts at age 23, which led him to study in Paris. In Paris, he discovered the atelier of James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834–1903), known as the Académie Carmen, and married artist Inez Bates, who was a teacher there, and later, in charge of the school. Both he and Bates were such devoted apprentices of Whistler that Whistler became the godfather to their first

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Born in Woodbury, New Jersey, Clifford Isaac Addams was a tonalist known for his prints, etchings, watercolors, and oil paintings. Addams first studied architecture before winning the prestigious Cresson Traveling scholarship from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts at age 23, which led him to study in Paris. In Paris, he discovered the atelier of James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834–1903), known as the Académie Carmen, and married artist Inez Bates, who was a teacher there, and later, in charge of the school. Both he and Bates were such devoted apprentices of Whistler that Whistler became the godfather to their first child. In Paris, Addams likely became acquainted with other American painters like Robert Henri (1865–1929) and his circle. His work was included in the 1901 exhibition of the International Society of Sculptors, Painters, and Gravers in London. After traveling in Venice and making prints between 1913 and 1914, Addams returned to London; during World War I, he enlisted in the Royal Navy and made drawings and pastels based on life aboard ship. During his time abroad, his work continued to be exhibited in the United States: at the 1906 Albright-Knox Gallery Annual, and by 1910, he was regularly exhibiting at National Academy of Design and Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Forty-six of his etchings were included in the Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915 in San Francisco, one of which was awarded a bronze medal, and seven etchings were shown at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1917, where he won the Frank Logan Prize. Among these etchings were scenes of New York and Philadelphia.

Returning to the United States in 1920, settling in Washington Square, New York City, Addams’s work was further recognized with prizes and by critics, resulting in a one-man show in 1923 at the Baltimore Museum of Art. In the mid-1920s, he concentrated on views of New York, emphasizing both architecture and urban dwellers, with a more mature style that combined his Whistlerian influences with an expressive brushwork that aligned him with the urban realists. An exhibition reviewer in 1923 noted “Addams has an extraordinary personal viewpoint. His work is a strange mixture of the most subtle nuances of color with a violent dramatic massing of light and dark.” By 1929, he was exhibiting regularly at the Society of Independent Artists, a progressive group of artists, rather than the National Academy. In addition to the aforementioned institutions, Addams exhibited at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, and was a member of the Society of American Etchers and both the Chicago and Philadelphia societies of etchers. His work is included in the collections of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, among others.

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