Street Scene (Hester Street)
George Benjamin Luks
On View: American Art Galleries, 5th Floor, The City and the Rise of the Modern Woman, 1900–1945
In this scene capturing a crowded pushcart market on Hester Street on New York’s Lower East Side, George Benjamin Luks positions the viewer directly at street level and in close proximity to the array of men, women, and children who throng the foreground. Although the painting has been interpreted as a sympathetic vignette of Jewish life, it shows a closer kinship to Luks’s colleague Robert Henri’s method of representing people as racial or ethnic “types” rather than as specific individuals (see nearby work). Here, the figures are presented in profile, with particular attention to skin color and physical features, while the subject matter relates to a series of caricatures of Jewish peddlers—which engage with anti-Semitic stereotypes—that Luks created for Truth magazine in the 1890s.
Oil on canvas
25 13/16 x 35 7/8 in. (65.5 x 91.1 cm)
frame: 32 1/2 x 43 x 3 in. (82.6 x 109.2 x 7.6 cm) (show scale)
Signed lower right: "George Luks"
Dick S. Ramsay Fund
George Benjamin Luks (American, 1867-1933). Street Scene (Hester Street), 1905. Oil on canvas, 25 13/16 x 35 7/8 in. (65.5 x 91.1 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Dick S. Ramsay Fund, 40.339 (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 40.339_edited_PS9.jpg)
overall, 40.339_edited_PS9.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2019
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any additional information you might have.
Do have any information about the toy the man in the top hat is holding up?
The man you have honed in on appears to be entertaining the surrounding children with a marionette-like puppet. The puppet or toy may even have been for sale from one of the pushcarts like the one you can see in the foreground full of flowers. Many turn-of-the-century residents of the Lower East Side made their living selling goods this way.
In the early 20th century (George Benjamin Luks painted Hester Street in 1905), street performers were a popular form of entertainment in urban areas like Hester Street in Lower Manhattan. Luks and his fellow members of the Ashcan School were interested in portraying the realities of New York City life.