By MARGE WEBB
REPRINTED FROM CARAVAN MAGAZINE
A GROUP of younger contemporary American "moderns" have been spending much of their time to serve the art lovers of the smaller "art conscious" metropoles throughout the country.
The daring efforts of some of these younger artists will be responsible for bringing order out of much of the present chaos in the Fine Arts world of to day. Thus the work of Anna E. Meltzer reflects the present art spirit by the distinction of her work of down-to-earth subject matter that she so humorously presents to the onlooker.
It is the desire of Anna E. Meltzer to help create a better understanding between the artist and the vast art-loving public. This has been made possible through a series such as the traveling exhibitions of her paintings and drawings currently being shown at the Plainfield Art Association Art Gallery of Plainfield, New Jersey. This exhibition closes on April 15th, 1945. It is the individuality of expression in the interesting character studies of unusual types seen in and around New York that makes this exhibition so unique.
A keen observer of contemporary American life, her technique and point of view is somewhat akin to the English satirist, Hogarth. After early training at the Art Students League with Alexander Brook and others, she won a number of honors and awards, the most recent in 1942, for her "Gallery Visitors," which was awarded the First Prize (Bronze Medal) by the Audubon Artists group. She sees with honesty the facts of American city life, tinged with realistic fidelity and bitter irony where her subject matter demands it.
We must take the word of some of America's outstanding critics to properly evaluate this artist's contribution: thus, Helen Boswell, former art critic for many years of the "Art Digest," wrote: "Having encountered the work of Anna E. Meltzer in various group shows, I knew that here was a special talent that stood head and shoulders above others. One spotted a Meltzer and remembered it, whether it was an easy study of the gallery itself with visitors strolling and gazing, or whether it was a rather plaintive study of a white haired woman who somehow held the critic's searching eye. I was away on a Sabbatical when Mrs. Meltzer held her first one-man show at the Vendome Galleries, so I wasn't prepared for the splendid surprise that awaited me on a trip to the artist's studio.
"Here was encountered real talent and real purpose. A sincere and highly accomplished artist recording in a steady, realistic and heartfelt manner the things both she and the public like people. These are not glorified conceptions of the people who so often get painted, the prosperous banker, the satined debutante or the alert young man in smart yachting clothes. These are human documents of the people we have all met, a Bronx housewife, completely un-glamorized, staring out of the window at a sparse view; a gay young blade with hat on the back of his head wistfully tooting a flute, and one of our "born and bred in Brooklyn" working girls, gowned by the best 14th Street Stores, caught just exactly as all of us have seen her almost every day of our lives.
"There is this about Anna Meltzer. She goes below the surface in her characterizations and gives an inner vision which lifts any artist up to higher spiritual levels. Not too often encountered, this is a special gift. Coupled with it is a certain unforced and unhurried quality, as though Mrs. Meltzer had done a lot of quiet thinking in a gentle philosophical way. Not tangled up with threads of high emotional voltage and the haste to record fleeting, discordant impressions on canvas, the artist paints a good picture seeped in the best traditions of good painting. An amazing draughtsman with a strong touch and good solid color, Mrs. Meltzer has started on what looks like an unusual and highly artistic career of fine figure painting.
"These New York characters have a 20th century O. Henry touch. Bagdad on the Subway as seen through the eyes of a painter who is a poet at heart painting contemporary types. There is the organ grinder with humble, earnest mien; eager adolescent boys and girls,. Iower Manhattan mendicants, even a striking idiot girl with wild eyes and a mane of auburn hair. From a study of Peternella, violin maker of 57th Street, closeted among his collection of tools and fiddles, the artist turns to a well organized portrayal of the Mayan Indian Princess Wahletka, psychic and mind-reader who has designed and built her own throne and crystal ball stand.
"One of the favorite pictures is the amusing composition of a Delancey Street Bank, particularly appealing with its rear view of a pretzel woman depositing her earnings. Surroundings are important to Anna Meltzer. She paints types but puts them in their proper place, so that there is no question as to who they are or what they are doing. This is literality combined with executive skill and crushed glowing color. The field she has selected is a large field. The world is full of humans. With her unerring skill, a special undisguised talent and deep spiritual grace, Mrs. Meltzer has all of life before her. The hand of the critic clasps the hand of the painter."
Ever since Miss Meltzer's first "one man" show at the Vendome Gallery in 1940, the most caustic art critics have written encouragingly of her work. This is what the director of the Vendome Gallery, Joseph Buzzeli, wrote in the foreword of her first catalog: "An artist is great when he or she can withstand the barrages of influences that exist in the field of art. Anna E. Meltzer accomplishes this peak to an infinite degree."
And it was of this same exhibition that Emily Genauer, noted art critic of the New York World Telegram, wrote: "Her work is full of a robust, healthy flavor . . . extremely well drawn and modeled. Her color has a certain vibrant strength. She uses it with richly expressive effect."
We naturally compare the more humorous of Anna E. Meltzer's character studies to the work of William Hogarth ( 1697-1764) because of his satirical portrayals of the aristocracy of his day although he preferred to show almost every type of person of corruption from the mansion to the slum in the chaotic London of his time. Just as his vivid prints remain a true portrait of the London of his day, with its humor, and pathos - and with no pulled punches, so to say - so will the work of Anna E. Meltzer live in the museums, the private collections to record the present-day fast moving life, and excitements of the types of Manhattan (however unlovely) as the characterizations may seem, preserved exquisitely in the sensitive, yet vibrant color palette of this present day artist reporter of life.
Thus in time of war and strain like the present, when society's lid is raised and its seething violence meets the eye, in a new interest, it is natural to those who compare her work with that of Hogarth (the father of caricature) to enjoy and profit by her fearless interpretations. Her keen eye for character, drama, and worldly motives, plus her enormous interest in the life around her, will make her work continually sought after by art collectors. Her work will continue to receive enormous popularity, and as in all good work rise in value and prestige.
This fine collection of fifteen uniformly framed Character Studies in oils, 25x30 and seventeen framed drawings, have also been shown during the present art season at the Rockford Art Association, Rockford, Illinois - the Massillon Museum, Massillon, Ohio - the Peabody Art Gallery, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, Cayuga Art Museum - The Bloomington Art Association, Bloomington, Illinois, and many other places.
Anna E. Meltzer paints in her sunlit studio at 58 West 57th Street, New York
PERTINENT FACTS: By the Artist
As long as I can remember, life has seemed good when I have been able to draw. I can recall as a
very little child always using the pencil. The years from ages six to eight stand out as a period of prolific work. At eight came heartbreak. I entered school armed with stacks of drawings and presented these, my life's work, to my teacher expecting my joys of creation to be shared by her. She spent very little time in looking at them and said it was very nice for a little girl. I might have been content with that meager compliment had I not seen all my precious work in the waste-basket the following morning.
My school years were spent oblivious to surroundings and teachings. I lived in a world all my own. The physical location was under the desk top. There I drew many pictures of teachers as I saw them, and as I would have liked to see them look. Woe was me. When my name was called and I was shocked into this real world and beheld before me a glaring ruler with her arms folded over her mountainous body.
My mother's plans differed from mine. According to hers, I was to have a thorough academic and musical education. Music was a welcome study, though it was my second love. After graduation from grammar school, I went to High School quite reluctantly, and when my art teacher gave me definite advice, I lost no time trying to enroll in the Cooper Union Art School. Miss Reynolds, the principal, informed me that I was under age for admission requirements. With some persuasion she promised to show my drawings to the dean. He passed on them favorably and an exception was made. I was admitted and within three months I was appointed pupil-teacher in drawing from cast class.
While art was permanent in my life, I had been spending more time at music. Many hours a day was devoted to teaching, a career I started at the age of twelve. Although I had been earning money, I still could not afford the luxury of owning oil paints. That came later when I married. My husband, who was my childhood sweetheart, presented me with the necessary materials and also became my one and only tired-after-dinner-model. This inspired new hopes and opened new vistas. After having worked for so many years with black and white medium, color made me tingle.
Then came my children. One was always parked at the base of my easel, while the other tugged at my smock clamoring for eats, always at such moments when I thought I had discovered color nuances, etc. Inspiration arrested, brushes laid down, pots and pans became the interest of the moment.
After a few years of painting and mothering, I was commissioned to do portraits. This experience taught me that instead of painting naive truths, operations had to be performed, noses shortened and hips sliced (on the paintings).
Being robbed of freedom of expression and the pleasure of mimicry, I discarded this field. From that time until now, I have painted without restriction.
Out of all these years of work have evolved my present technique, expressions and dreams for the future.