View in Pershing Square, New York City

View in Pershing Square, New York City

Grand Central Station takes  center stage in this pictorial streetscape view, with Manhattans bustling life of pedestrians and automobiles silhouetted in the lower part of the composition balanced by the highlighted magnificence of architectural wonder above. This rare surviving example, most likely an exhibition print, was taken by important early New York City commercial photographer John Wallace Gillies 1883-1927, a specialist in architectural views who was a major American proponent for pictorial photography after World War I. (1.)

A slight variant of this photograph was reproduced as the frontispiece for the February, 1919 issue of The Architectural Forum magazine. It shows the facade of the railroad terminal building, which opened for business only six years earlier, along with a row of automobiles-possibly cabs- parked in Pershing Square at left. A caption accompanying the photograph states: “This illustration is the second of a series showing distinctive architectural street composition of New York City. Detail of Grand Central Station with Hotel Biltmore in background.” (p. 32)

The photograph was one of a series of 11 pictorialist cityscapes credited to Gillies that appeared in the magazine for 1919 with the following titles:

-January: “View Across City Hall Park, New York City” showing the City Hall, the old Post Office and the Woolworth Building”

– February: “View in Pershing Square, New York City

-March: “View of Lower Broadway, New York City” showing the Singer Tower and City Investing Buildings in silhouette along with the Park Row Building and Old Post Office.

-April: “The Victory Arch, Madison Square, New York City” (This was the only monthly frontispiece not credited to Gillies: it does however have the look of one of his photographs, with pedestrians watching in the foreground as a blurred-out column of troops from New York’s 27th Division pass through the main archway on March 25, 1919. Featuring three archways, the temporary monument was built in 1918 from wood and plaster at 24th Street and Fifth Ave.)

-May: “View of The Bush Terminal Sales Building From Bryant Park, New York City

-June: “View In Wall Street Toward Trinity Church, New York City“. Another silhouette street-view showing the George Washington statue in front of the Subtreasury building along with the lower stories of the Bankers’ Trust Building.

-July: “Detail of Lower Stories Municipal Building, New York City” (McKim, Mead & White, Architects)

-August: “Entrance, St. Thomas’ Church, New York City” (Cram, Goodhue & Ferguson, Architects)

-September: “Chapel of The Intercession, New York City” (Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue, Architect)

-October: “View of New York Public Library Looking Across Bryant Park” (Carrère & Hastings, Architects)

-November: “View Looking North On Broadway, New York City” (high angle view showing lower stories of Woolworth Building at left and Old Post Office at right)

-December: “View Through Colonnade of Municipal Building, New York City” (McKim, Mead & White, Architects)

Several of these reproduced 1919 views, along with other locations from New York City, were reproduced in halftone as postcards credited to Gillies and published by The Pictorial Company of Brooklyn. Later editions of the same card carried a verso imprint for The Pictorial Card Company with the address of 80 West 40th Street in New York, the location of his photographic studio, giving credibility this may have been a business venture.

In 1922, an article in the March issue of the Photo-Era stated the photographer had been appointed Eastern representative for the Graf Optical Company of South Bend, Indiana, featuring “a complete line of Graf lenses available for inspection along with an attractive display of pictures” in the studio. ( p.176)

This extremely large bromide print, signed in red ink by the photographer in lower left corner: Gillies  NY. may have been part of a one-man show featuring 25 prints scheduled for exhibit in November, 1919 at the Boston Y.M.C.A. hosted by the Camera Club of Boston. (2.) It’s also worth noting the Architectural Forum magazine, which most likely gave the photographer the commission for the streetscapes, including this example, was published in the city of Boston by the Rogers and Manson Company.

provenance: acquired by this archive in February, 2018 from re-seller who originally purchased it at a consignment auction house located in Warren, Pennsylvania.

1. Gillies was an active exhibitor, including winning many prizes, in the Pittsburgh Salon, an important American Salon that first began in 1914 and ran annually through the mid 1920’s. In 1923 he authored the volume Principles of Pictorial Photography used as a supplementary text by The New York Institute of Photography. In the book’s Appreciation section, he gives credit to his friend Clarence H. White: “To him I turn therefore for much of my advice upon photography, and it’s whys.” (p. 9)
2. Notes and Comment: from: The Photo-Miniature: January, 1920: p. 432

View in Pershing Square, New York City

Image Dimensions58.3 x 48.4 cm flush-mounted

Support Dimensions58.3 x 48.4 cm stiff-board covered with loose Kraft-type paper on verso