Louis Maurer

(1832 - 1932)

The painter and lithographer Louis Maurer was born in Biebrich, Germany in 1832, and in 1851, immigrated to the United States where he established himself as a printmaker in New York. He achieved great success as a lithographer, working for Currier & Ives for eight years, and ultimately opening his own firm, Maurer & Heppenheimer. Maurer focused his attention on painting after he retired from the lithography business, studying briefly with William Merritt Chase. Maurer’'s son, the well-known modernist painter Alfred Maurer, began his artistic career by working for the family lithography business. The elder Maurer died at the age of 100 in 1932, a year after his first one-man exhibition of prints, drawings, and paintings at The Old Print Shop in New York, where "View of Forty-Third Street West of Ninth Avenue" was exhibited (Edward C. Hill, “"Ninety-Nine But Still At Work, Remarkable Story of Louis Maurer, Popular Artist of Popular Prints Since 1853”" New York Steuben Club, February 1931, p. 9)

The invitation for The Old Print Shop’'s exhibition described Maurer as a “lithographer, painter, flutist, cabinetmaker, conchologist, crack shot, [and] winner of a blue ribbon in the first New York Horse Show” (“Louis Maurer Exhibits,” The New York Times, February 1, 1931, p. 119). His interest in horses and racing is evident from his works for Currier and Ives, many of which were exhibited in 1931. One of Maurer’'s prints from another popular series, “"The Life of a Fireman",” was included in a fire-fighting exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York, which owns Maurer’'s painting, "New York Riding Club: Judge Smith’s".

"View of Forty-Third Street West of Ninth Avenue" was a subject Maurer knew especially well, having lived at 404 West Forty-Third Street (the first house on the right in the painting), since he moved there in 1868 (and where he would live for the rest of his life). In the painting, he captures the early morning commotion on a street in Hell’s Kitchen, a neighborhood notorious for its slums and gangs. Maurer does not make any attempt to hide the “un-picturesque” details of the street. On the contrary, he draws attention to them by focusing on a horse drawn cart, filled with steaming garbage. A man on the curb empties a garbage can into the cart, while another can lies in the gutter, spilling its contents. A black alley cat darts away from the felled can, while a boy, a participant in a game of kick-the-can, appears to dive under the legs of the horse, heedless of danger, in pursuit of a hiding place.

The painting also features a train crossing 43rd Street on the Ninth Avenue elevated tracks, a structure that was extended along Ninth Avenue north of 42nd Street shortly before Maurer painted it. The elevated tracks frame the scene, forcing the viewer’s eye back down to the action in the foreground at street level. The long shadows of early morning further contribute to the sense of a fleeting moment of daily city life.

The stark realism of "View of Forty-Third Street West of Ninth Avenue" anticipates the urban subject matter of the Ashcan school and the revolt of Henri, Sloan, and Glackens. Herman Warner Williams, Jr. noted that in Maurer’'s painting, “even harsher than one finds in any of the street scenes of John Sloan, is a view of an unfashionable section of New York, with its garbage cans, stray cat, ‘el’ and, by implication, the smells, dirt, and noise of the teeming city” (Mirror to the American Past: A Survey of American Genre Painting: 1750-1900 [Greenwich, CT: New York Graphic Society, 1973], p. 218).