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John Taylor Arms

Born: 1887, Washington, D.C., United States of America
Died: 1953, New York, New York, United States of America

The Gates of the City
1922

Color etching and aquatint on cream laid paper
Plate: 8 1/2 x 7 15/16 in. (21.6 x 20.2 cm)
Sheet: 13 5/16 x 11 1/2 in. (33.8 x 29.2 cm)
Mat: 16 x 20 in. (40.6 x 50.8 cm)
Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection, 1996.3
Signed: In graphite, lower right: John Taylor Arms
Inscribed: In graphite (by another hand), lower left: 53.162 Gates of the City
Artist Name: []
Markings: In pencil on verso bottom left corner: l698/as or 95; bottom right corner: 128; watermark along left edge of sheet: F.D. Head & Co.

Interpretation

John Taylor Arms's The Gates of the City features one of the two monumental gothic revival-style towers of the Brooklyn Bridge, a great New York City landmark, which serves as a gateway to Manhattan. Arms, an architect by training, skillfully recreated the bridge's massive architectural form and structure, contrasting its stone masonry with twin ogival arch openings (one for each direction of vehicular traffic) within a web of cables. In the background, faintly visible through the portals, are the pale silhouettes of the Woolworth Building, at left, and the Municipal Building, at right. In the foreground, a lone man resting on a bench on the pedestrian walkway introduces a sense of scale to the composition. A master of color etching and aquatint, Arms skillfully nuanced the textures of the towers' individual stone blocks, each subtly toned to convey the variations of sunlight playing on its surface or shadows cast by the protruding supports and cornices.

Arms generally based such prints on preparatory sketches made on site, with occasional reference to photographs; then, back in his studio, he painstakingly executed a detailed image of the bridge on a copper plate. Preferring to use an ordinary thin sewing needle as his drawing tool, Arms was able to render minute details and tonal effects with such unrivaled exactitude that his printed images seem like photographs. The complexity of printing this color impression required Arms to collaborate with an expert master printer, who selectively inked areas of the single plate with the tan-yellow and blue colors before running the inked plate through the press in a single pass. This print, which also exists in a black and white edition, is one of the most accomplished color intaglios the artist made during his productive early period, between 1919 and 1925; thereafter he worked exclusively in black and white.

An innovative engineering achievement of its day, the Brooklyn Bridge is still one of America's most recognizable and important bridges. When it opened on May 24, 1883, this span across the East River linking New York City and Brooklyn (then a separate municipality) was the world's longest steel suspension bridge, at just over 5,900 feet in length. Arms's print emphasizes the bridge's distinctive design and solid stability, in contrast to John Marin's etching Brooklyn Bridge, No. 6 (TF 1995.15), which expresses an urban dynamism, or Stow Wengenroth's lithographs Manhattan Gateway (TF 1995.52) and Brooklyn Bridge in Winter (TF 1995.51), which evoke the atmospheric experience of the bridge at night and in winter.

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Provenance

The artist
Margo Pollins Schab, Inc., New York, New York
Terra Foundation for the Arts Collection, Chicago, Illinois, 1996

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Exhibition History

Visions of a Nation: Exploring Identity through American Art, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, August 10, 1996–January 12, 1997.

Ville et campagne: les artistes américains, 1870–1920 (The City and the Country: American Perspectives, 1870–1920), Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France (organizer). Venues: Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France, April 1–July 15, 1999; Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, December 10, 1999–May 7, 2000 (in modified form). [exh. cat.]

Figures and Forms: Selections from the Terra Foundation for the Arts, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, May 9–July 9, 2000.

Paris-New York, aller-retour. Une Modernité américaine en formation, 1875–1940. Oeuvres des collections de la Terra Foundation for the Arts et des Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens (Paris-New York, Roundtrip. American Modernism in the Making, 1875–1940. Works from the Terra Foundation for the Arts and the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens), Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France (organizer). Venue: Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France, September 15–November 30, 2002. [exh. cat.]

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Published References

Arms, Dorothy Noyes, Marie Probstfield and May Bradshaw Hayes. Descriptive Catalogue of the Work of John Taylor Arms, manuscript. New York Public Library. No. 128.

Bassham, Ben L., ed. John Taylor Arms: American Etcher. (exh. cat., Elvehjem Art Center). Madison, Wisconsin: Elvehjem Art Center, 1975. No. 128, p. 61. [reprints the Arms/NYPL catalogue]

Fletcher, William Dolan. John Taylor Arms: A Man for All Time; The Artist and his Work. New Haven, Connecticut: Eastern Press, 1982. No. 126, pp. 92–93.

Watrous, James. American Printmaking: A Century of American Printmaking, 1880–1980. Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 1984. Text p. 80; fig. 3.43, p. 86.

Acton, David. A Spectrum of Innovation, Color in American Printmaking 1890–1960. (exh. cat., Worcester Art Museum). New York and London, England: W. W. Norton & Company with Worcester Art Museum, 1990. No. 21, pp. 88–89.

Creation & Craft: Three Centuries of American Prints. (exh. cat., Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc.). New York: Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., 1990. No. 93, p. 89.

Pelletier, S. William and Patricia Phagan. "John Taylor Arms: His World and Work." Georgia Museum of Art Bulletin 17 (1993): 1–124. Text p. 9; pl. 12, p. 52 (color).

The Old Print Shop Portfolio 54:1 (October 1994): cover. Ill. cover.

Hults, Linda C. The Print in the Western World: An Introductory History. Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 1996. Text p. 740; fig. 12.45, p. 741.

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