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Stefan Hirsch (1899-1964)
An American Place: The Barney A. Ebsworth Collection
Stefan Hirsch (1899-1964)

Excavation

Details
Stefan Hirsch (1899-1964)
Excavation
signed with initials and dated 'SH 1926' (on the license plate at lower right)
oil on canvas
35 ½ x 45 in. (90.2 x 114.3 cm.)
Painted in 1926.
Provenance
The Downtown Gallery, New York, by 1930.
Elsa Rogo, New York, wife of the artist.
Rosa Esman Gallery, New York, acquired from the above.
Acquired by the late owner from the above, 1979.
Literature
"Exhibitions in the New York Galleries," The Art News, April 19, 1930, p. 12, illustrated.
R. Flint, "Around the Galleries," Creative Art, vol. 6, May 1930, supp. p. 114, illustrated.
"Stefan Hirsch--Painter," Index of Twentieth Century Artists, vol. 2, no. 7, April 1935, p. 105.
R. Rubenfield, "Stefan Hirsch: Pioneer Precisionist," Arts, November 1979, p. 97.
"Stefan Hirsch: Pioneer Precisionist," Art News, February 1980, p. 206, illustrated.
Exhibited
New York, Valentine Dudensing Gallery, Young American Art, 1926.
New York, Museum of Modern Art, An Exhibition of Work of 46 Painters & Sculptors Under 35 Years of Age, April 12-26, 1930, p. 9, no. 86.
Cincinnati, Ohio, Cincinnati Art Museum, The Thirty-Seventh Annual Exhibition of American Art, June 1-29, 1930, p. 10, no. 43.
Washington, D.C., The Phillips Collection, Stefan Hirsch, November 5-December 4, 1977, n.p., no. 13.
New York, Rosa Esman Gallery; Grand Rapids, Michigan, Grand Rapids Art Museum, Stefan Hirsch: Pioneer Precisionist, November 6, 1979-January 6, 1980, no. 4, illustrated.
St. Louis, Missouri, St. Louis Art Museum; Honolulu, Hawaii, Honolulu Academy of Arts; Boston, Massachusetts, Museum of Fine Arts, The Ebsworth Collection: American Modernism 1911-1947, November 20, 1987-June 5, 1988, pp. 108-09, 208, no. 32, illustrated.
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art; Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, Twentieth-Century American Art: The Ebsworth Collection, March 5-November 12, 2000, pp. 23, 130-32, 285, no. 28, illustrated.
Brooklyn, New York, The Brooklyn Museum; Dallas, Texas, Dallas Museum of Art; Cleveland, Ohio, Cleveland Museum of Art, Youth and Beauty: Art of the American Twenties, October 28, 2011-September 16, 2012, pp. 158-59, fig. 121, illustrated.

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William Haydock
William Haydock

Lot Essay

Born in Germany to American parents, Stefan Hirsch was a pioneering American Modernist who enjoyed great success working in New York in the early 20th century. Meticulously rendered with bold colors, Excavation is a quintessential example of the artist’s acclaimed Precisionist aesthetic and a celebration of an ever-changing New York City.

According to Glen Umberger of The New York Landmark Conservancy, Excavation likely depicts an area in Turtle Bay near the former Church of St. John the Evangelist at 1st Avenue and East 55th Street, where photographic evidence from 1927 reveals three separate excavation sites. In the lower right quadrant, the green train visible behind the excavation site is most likely the former IRT Second Avenue Elevated train, which ran cars green in color and had a nearby stop at 57th street.

Regarding the present work, Teresa A. Carbone writes, “In Excavation, Hirsch, who worked slowly and deliberately, created a composition in which the definitive angles of the blue steel girders stand, sharply prominent, against the backdrop of brick and brownstone. The construction truck and the figures of two workers in the foreground appear dwarfed and toylike, as if they are spectators to the process occurring mysteriously before them.” (“Silent Pictures: Encounters with a Remade World,” Youth and Beauty: Art of the American Twenties, exhibition catalogue, New York, 2011, p. 158)

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