Edmund Marion Ashe (1867-1942), American
“New York Street Scene”, first quarter of 20th century
oil on artist’s board, 18 in. x 14 ¾ in.
(framed dimensions: 23 ½ in. x 20 ½ in.)
Titled and signed on reverse by Edmund M. Ashe, Jr. confirming the painting is his father’s work
Formerly of the Esther B. Ferguson collection, Charleston, South Carolina
This charming, energetic oil painting captures the vitality of a rainy evening in New York City, likely in Manhattan. Bustling pedestrians with umbrellas make their way toward the viewer, while streetcars, ablaze with lights, rattle and clang along the adjacent avenue, the wet pavement shimmering with reflections, the whole bordered on either side by orderly blocks of five and six story buildings. In the middle distance, trains on “the El” carrying evening commuters rumble over the avenue. In the far distance, perhaps an intersection, the scene is even brighter as night is pushed aside by a flood of incandescent light. A lone tree at center adds a natural element and curving lines to the man-made cityscape. The painting is robustly and confidently executed. Throughout, the artist uses broad brushstrokes, including bold, slashing slabs of paint in the street and foreground. On a foundation of lilac-grays representing the sidewalk and street, Ashe strikingly renders the warm lights of the storefronts and streetcars, and the reflections in the wet pavement, with built-up, gem-like daubs of paint in pinks and creams. Based on style, Ashe’s residency in Manhattan, the type of streetcars and inscriptions on the reverse (see next paragraph), the painting seems to me to date from the period about 1909 to 1920, a transitional period in his painting.
It is difficult to say whether this work was a commissioned illustration to accompany a story, or possibly a magazine cover, or painted for its own sake. There is an alphanumeric inscription visible below the paint surface at bottom center just above the frame which appears to read “CD-9”. On the reverse of the board, there are a few lines inscribed related to an illustration to be photographed for a short story titled “Barbs and Bullets”. This story was published in Munsey’s Magazine in November 1909 and was illustrated by Ashe. However, that story seems quite unrelated to the subject matter here and the 2 illustrations that accompany the “Barbs” story do not match this image. I suppose it is possible the artist re-used the board to paint this New York scene, or intended to, but never did, use the board for the “Barbs and Bullets” story.
Edmund Marion Ashe was born in New York City and began his art career studying at the Metropolitan Art School and the Art Students League with John Stimson and Charles Vanderhoof. Later he went to Paris and studied at the Julian Academy. Ashe began his career as an illustrator for various magazines including Munsey’s, Colliers, Harper’s, Scribner’s and St. Nicholas. He also painted “Gibson Girl” type watercolors and illustrations for many novels and short stories.
From 1896 to 1909, during the presidencies of McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt, Ashe was a White House artist-correspondent for Leslie’s Weekly, the New York Tribune and the New York World, even becoming good friends with President Roosevelt. At the same time, he taught at the Art Students League and at William Merritt Chase’s New York Art School, where he met and befriended Robert Henri. In 1905, Ashe moved to Westport, Connecticut and, along with George Hand Wright, helped found an art colony there. The artist also maintained an apartment on the upper west side of Manhattan, and he taught Men’s Life Classes on Manhattan’s east side at the Vermeer School, where he rented a studio. Moving to Pittsburgh in 1920, he taught illustration at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh from 1920 – 1939, eventually becoming head of the Department of Painting & Design and professor emeritus. On his own time, he worked on genre scenes of the local steel industry – images of the workmen and their powerful machinery.
Ashe exhibited at the legendary New York Armory Show of 1913, a watershed exhibition known as the International Exhibition of Modern Art, where he showed a painting titled “Spirit of the Pool”.
Edmund also created numerous illustrations for posters during World War I exhorting the public to support the soldiers at the front by buying Liberty Bonds and investing in Victory Loans.
Ashe’s earliest paintings were in an impressionist style. During the first decade of the 20th century he adopted a more progressive realist style. Thereafter, his paintings assumed a darker tonal range with broader, bolder brushstrokes, akin to the style of the Ashcan group and its unofficial leader Robert Henri, whom Ashe befriended while teaching at Chase’s school. Until his retirement, Ashe continued to exhibit in New York City and to spend summer months in Westport, traveling with George Wright and others to various locations, including the Maryland shore.
Ashe retired in 1939 and moved with his wife to Charleston, South Carolina where he died in 1942.
In addition to founding the Westport art colony, Edmund Ashe was also a founding member of the Silvermine Artists Guild in Norwalk, Connecticut. Ashe was a member of the Society of Independent Artists, the New York Watercolor Club and the Society of Illustrators.
Besides the Armory Show in 1913, Ashe also exhibited at the National Academy of Design (1910s), the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (1910s), at Ferargil Galleries in New York City in 1929 and at the Carnegie Institute in 1931. He often exhibited with the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh.
In his personal life, Edmund Ashe married Estelle Egbert in 1893 and they had 2 children – Dorothy and Edmund, Jr. His daughter tried her hand at painting and illustrating before focusing on raising her own family. His son was also an established artist and illustrator.
The painting is in very good condition. There are minor spot touch-ups in the lower left and lower right quadrants of the painting (see UV photo). The support, illustration board, is slightly bowed which is hardly noticeable unless removed from the frame. The paint surface is stable and clean with no craquelure and has a pleasing matte finish. The period gilt frame may be Newcomb Macklin (“NMF” inscription in pencil on reverse) and is in fine condition, except for one small area of gold leaf loss on the bottom which is out of sight. The painting bears a label on the reverse from Berry-Hill Galleries, Inc. in New York City.
Edmund Marion Ashe, New York Street Scene, oil painting on board