My Man Anton Schutz: An Immigrant's View of the New York

Anton Schutz in his studio When talking about immigration, it is either an often cited or often forgotten fact that most of us here in the USA are decendents of immigrants. What I think is more often forgotten is that it the immigrant who sees the positive side of a new life in the US and contributes to our culture in ways that current residents don't: with the eyes of the outsider.
An example is the life and work of Anton Schutz. Anton Schutz had a special way of looking at the US, in particular his views of Gotham. His portrayals of New York City are renowned for his sense of progress and his ability to capture of the grandeur of the modern city during the 1920's and 30's. After only being in the USA for a short time, Schutz was able to capture the American spirit of New York City so remarkably that his New York etchings were featured in newspapers (In particular the New York Times) in lieu of photographs. His love and portrayal of New York comes from his technical artistic background as an etcher, a challenging art form, and his life experiences in Europe. Broadway (Aquatint) His biography is nothing short of spectacular. In 1914, Schutz was drafted into the German army and served with distinction, reaching the rank of corporal. His artistic abilities led to him being contracted by the German army to draw postcards of occupied cities in Belgium and France. Often, his postcards would be of destroyed cities to be sent home by soldiers. Here, you can see the market at Meenen in west Flanders from the German WWI Postcard series drawn by Schutz. His experiences in the First World War had a profound effect on him that increased his pacifist leanings. Meenen Market Upon returning from war, he resumed his art and moved to Munich. In Munich, he simultaneously attended both the Art Academy and the Technical University for architectural studies. Although attending both institutions simultaneously was forbidden at the time, Schutz pursued his passions for both architectural engineering and fine art. His art, mainly etchings with a focus on architecture, sold well in Germany from 1918-1922, particularly in the galleries of Munich. It was also there that Schutz witnessed first hand the economic crisis of 1923 and the early rise of the Nazi party under Adolph Hitler. His apartment window faced out directly to the Feldherrnhalle where Hitler tried to violently overthrow the Weimar Republic in November 1923. Although socially and economically successful in Munich, he emigrated in February 1924 to New York City after destroying all of his copperplates used to print his German etchings. He simply cut his ties and set out in some fairy-tale manner to make it in the new world. In New York, he immediately became a successful etcher, known for his technical skills and portrayals of American city life on the eastern seaboard. His depictions of the modern progressive city were so impressive, that the newly formed USSR invited him to Moscow to produce similar etchings. After returning from Moscow in 1928, he also toured Europe as an "American" artist. His primary subject was the architecture and city life of New York with emphasis on Manhattan and Brooklyn. His artwork in America, although appearing to be more technical in nature due to his focus on detailed architectural renditions of the city, actually are 'freer' than his European images. Midtown Canyon Despite his successes in the art world in the USA throughout the thirties, the coming war and the waning interest in black and white etchings drove him to shun art production in 1939. As founder of the New York Graphic Society, he turned his attention to high quality art reproduction. The NYGS produced many books highlighting European masters in full color from 1925-1966. The NYGS was contracted in 1949 by the United Nations through UNESCO to publish the World Art Series featuring color reproductions of world art. Schutz then traveled the world from 1949-1961 documenting world art for the United Nations. Schutz experienced the early twentieth century from a unique perspective. He saw war as a soldier and artist, studied classical art and architecture in Munich, saw the hints of the rise of fascism in Germany, lived through an economic collapse, saw the early days of the USSR, and eventually decided that his home was NYC. There is something telling about his love for New York that perhaps only New Yorkers can know. His personal motto was "Ubi bene, ibi patria or My fatherland is where I am at ease." J. Hector de CrèvecÅ“ur wrote in the Letters from an American Farmer that this is the motto of all immigrants. Schutz died on October 6, 1977 in New York but his work is still widely available. If you are in Manhattan, stop by the Old Print Shop and check it out for yourself. For a final contrast, you have two images, an etching from Munich of the Sendlinger Tor and in contrast an aquatint from Brooklyn heights.


  1. I suppose most of the descendants of immigrants are, by this time, decedents as well.

    Or, wait… Oh my god! We’re all zombies!

  2. Sorry to be negative, but I’ve not heard the term “reverse etching” ever. He’s using an intaglio press, and the prints with shading are “aquatints.”

    Where did the term “reverse etching” come from?

  3. Wonder if any of us will be as clear-thinking as Schutz to notice when fascism comes to the U.S., and have the personal courage to leave and start a new life elsewhere ? (think I’m being melodramatic ? have you noticed the Tea Party and the Christian Right lately ?)

    “When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.” —Sinclair Lewis

    1. Schutz indeed left Germany very early. I always wondered if he truly saw fascism coming to Germany or if he just got lucky. Either way, he was successful and wealthy in Germany at the time so had no real urgent reason to leave so perhaps he saw something others didn’t.

  4. Biographies such as this always make me contemplate the perceptions we all harbor regarding “what” someone is in terms of, for lack of better words, nationality and offspring. Is he a German or an American, or a “German-American” whatever that is? Would a German answer this differently than an American? How would an Italian or a Chinese answer? Which ultimately leads to: and does it really matter? I’m sure it did matter to him to some degree, considering the treatment he no doubt received during the 1940s considering his German descent (he obviously didn’t americanize his name like other immigrants did it to escape unjust persecution), and possibly under McCarthyism as well considering he had spent time in Russia. And what does that tell us about today’s examples of xenophobia?

    (As an aside, clicking one of the links leads to news search which leads to the NYT archives, where I can purchase a piece of news from 1930 about his achieving American citizenship. For $3.95 – I kid you not. A miniature digital snippet of information from 80 years ago, for almost four freaking dollars. Dear NYT, I hope this business model is working for you, but just to be clear: that’s some obscene amount of money compared to what I’d be getting.)

    1. The NYT articles for $4 also are text only… no images, what a rip off. I assume that with the dates you could easily find a library with NYT microfiche.

  5. That photograph, the man and the machine, is just wonderful, and then, the story behind it, and the fabulous artwork.

    Sorry, I’m chocking on superlatives here, not to mention a tear or two.

  6. His artistic abilities led to him being contracted by the German army to draw postcards of occupied cities in Belgium and France. Often, his postcards would be of destroyed cities to be sent home by soldiers.

    Curious, I wonder if there were any American artists in the Army in Iraq sending home pictures of destroyed cities.

    1. Kristopher Battles, Henry Casselli, and Michael D. Fay are apparently the three official military artists working now.

  7. I wonder if anyone knows whether the Midtown Canyon scene is real or imagined?

    The viaduct leading to a second storey open parking in front of a building is fascinating me for its architectural incongruence. Why would there be parking on the roof of a 1-storey addition, and why would access be from across the street??

    I tried Google Earthing to see if I could find any remaining landmarks near the Chrysler building, but no luck. Help?

    1. It’s real if you use streetview to look East up E 42nd St towards the Chrysler building you’ll see the bridge

      1. Thanks! I had no idea Park Avenue ran around GCT above grade; found out about it on the Wikipedia page

  8. The technical skill required to produce that first aquatint is truly jaw-dropping. It’s also an astoundingly beautiful image. Thanks for this!

    1. Seconded; I gave up etching because I couldn’t control aquatint to the degree I needed. Damn Goya, making it look straightforqard *grin* So what did I do? Concentrated on mezzotint, dooming myself to eternal hard graft, but oh, the results, and the absolute first hand control of tonality, mean I’ll never look back. For the quick stuff I have linocut.

  9. I am the daughter-in-law of this fantastic artist and although I never met the man, his body of work is truly breathtaking. He left Germany because he did indeed see the “handwriting on the wall”, not just by dumb luck. Judging by the character of his son, he must have been an amazing individual.

  10. This is just wonderful, to see a photo of the artist and to get an insight into his life. About 18 years ago I was living in Chicago and was attracted to one of his sketches, the store owner told me it was $90 but she couldn’t sell it to me until she had checked with an expert re. it’s value. I went back the next day and she nor the “expert” had heard of Anton Schutz. I bought the signed etching and have been fascinated by it ever since. It’s a scene I have not seen in any of my research and is in it’s original frame with Marchall Field’s inforamtion on the back, including the sales price and the sales person. Now, years later, I can put a face to the artist and get a glimpse into his life. It’s fascinating and I’d love to know what has drawn me to him.

Comments are closed.