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.