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George Bellows and New York, 1900–1930

Karl Struss
American, 1886–1981

Pennsylvania Station

1911
Platinum print
Purchased with funds given by an anonymous donor, 1979.52

A bright swath of sunlight juts across the interior of the newly constructed (and now demolished) Pennsylvania Station, while suit-clad commuters navigate the building’s Beaux-Arts architecture. Unlike George Bellows’ gritty paintings depicting the toil and industry of excavating the site for Penn Station, Karl Struss chose to depict the picturesque beauty of the structure’s cavernous interior through emphasis on architectural detail, soft-focus, and gradual transitions in tonality.

These aesthetic choices arise from Struss’ involvement in Pictorialism, a style that sought to promote photography as an art form by mimicking the handmade qualities of painting, a feat Struss accomplished through his manipulation of light and his meticulous printing process. Photographer and Modern Art promoter Alfred Stieglitz greatly admired Struss’ technical and aesthetic prowess, featuring his work in photography exhibitions at Stieglitz’s gallery 291 and in his journal Camera Work. Although Struss eventually turned to cinematography, Pennsylvania Station and Paul Haviland’s New York at Night demonstrate how artistic photographers at the beginning of the 20th century “aestheticized” the urban landscape of the new New York.