Samuel Rothbort SOLD
Artist Name: Samuel Rothbort
Artist Dates: 1882 - 1971
Title: Manhattan Lower East Side
Painting Date: Undated
Medium: Oil on Canvas
Signature: Signed Left Center
Provenance: Private Collection
Size Unframed: 24 x 36
Frame Condition: New Reproduction
Artist Best Price: $10,500
Our Price: SORRY SOLD
Our thanks to Harriet Semegram Barry
Rothbort's long-term dealer for corrections to this essay. Rothbort
first exhibited in New York in 1917, at a showing held by The
Society of Independent Artists. Later, Rothbort exhibited at the
Barzansky galleries on Madison Avenue, and he became known
during this period for his historic cityscapes of Brooklyn and
Manhattan. His longest residence was on Avenue S in Brooklyn,
but he interrupted that stay to start a chicken farm in the
Catskills. Rothbort originally worked in oils, painting nearly every
subject conceivable in his self taught, impressionistic style. When
the Depression hit, there was no money for paint, so he turned to
watercolors, driftwood and field stone. Many of his later works are
"memory paintings," or recreations of his boyhood experiences in
Russia. He was born in Wolkovisk, and worked during his youth as
a cantor, gaining a rich understanding of Jewish life. Poverty, as well
as political unrest led to his immigration to America in 1904.
The artist, ca. 1950
photo: Leonard Heicklen
His serious career as an artist began in 1909 when a still life he painted at the time of his marriage showed him the path he was to follow for the rest of his life. The Rothborts settled in Brooklyn, living on Avenue S in Flatbush in what became their permanent home. Samuel Rothbort died in 1971, leaving behind him an impressive collection of sculptures and paintings. Critic Hamilton
Easter Field once summed him up with the following line: "The layman dreams of lords and ladies, but Samuel Rothbort paints the rich reality of the common man." The Lost Wooden Synagogues of Eastern Europe, which was produced by Albert Barry and Florida Atlantic University, used many of Rothbort's paintings in the film to show life in Eastern Europe pre-war. The paintings helped show the viewers what the synagogues looked like in color. The film was shown at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. and on Public television in a four part series. The prize-winning documentary, Memories of the Shtetl, which was produced by Harriet Semegram Barry and was a winner at the Edinburgh Film Festival, incorporated 215 of Rothbort's watercolors, and this film and his paintings were the major source for Jerome Robbins' movie and play, Fiddler on the Roof. Rothbort's works are found in major collections including both the Smithsonian and the Brooklyn Museum.
What we like most about Rothbart's work, as exhibited in his view of Alphabet City on Manhattan's Lower East Side, is his unromanticized energy and feeling for New York as a town of neighborhoods--his painting are always a reminder of the great struggle between Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses for the soul of New York--and Rothbort stands with Jacobs. He knows New York is
about where people live and how their energy and passion are channeled through the alleys, streets and avenues where all are connected. There is energy in the streets--fed by the Con Ed power plants along the East River--where generators are empowering immigrants and walk-up buildings to reach for the sky. The city is fueled with the human desire for success and a richer life.
Rothbort's deep sense of New York as a city with 8,000 stories is seen in the multiplicity of people and buildings that interconnect on his canvas.
The figure on the roof is another Rothbort stylistic element--representing his son--the painter Lawrence Rothbort who tragically pre-deceased his father and who is a figura in many of his father's works representing the artist unseparated from the metro environment with its tones, noise and masses of color. Surely Rothbort would be pleased to know that the Alphabet City neighborhood, with its Avenues A, B and C, in his painting has resurrected itself with the energy of youth and is once again teeming and alive with artistic potential.