About the Artist
Martin Lewis was one of the most masterful etchers to ever live and work in America.
In the 33-volume Masters of Etching, by London publisher Studio Ltd., he was ranked alongside James Whistler, Goya and Rembrandt and was described as the most psychological interpreter of American life as it was lived in New York. The irony there, is that Lewis was born in Castlemaine, Victoria, Australia and didn’t set foot in New York until 1909, at the age of 28.
Early Life and Career
Lewis was the second of eight children and displayed artistic talent at a young age. Lewis studied in Sydney with Australian painter and printmaker Julian Ashton after leaving home at age 15 and traveling as a merchant seaman.
He left Australia in 1900, at age 19, and got his first job painting set decorations for William McKinley’s presidential campaign. It wasn’t until 1909, at age 28, that Lewis finally set foot in New York, already a skilled printmaker.
His circle of friends included Edward Hopper, who asked Lewis to teach him printmaking techniques. Although Hopper gave up printmaking for painting, he credits his training with Lewis as having a profound influence on his work, apparent in the shadows, light and even subject of Nighthawks, his most famous painting.
Lewis’ circle of friends included poets like Lola Ridge, William Carlos Williams, Alfred Kreymborg and his close companion, concert singer and pianist Esta Verez. After spending two years in Japan, where he studied printmaking, Lewis returned to New York and continued his work as a commercial artist.
In the 1920s, Lewis began to have more success with his own work and was able to give up his commercial jobs.
He work appeared in group exhibitions with The Society of American Etchers, the Chicago Society of Etchers, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Print Club of Philadelphia. Lewis had his first solo show with Kennedy and Company in 1929 and was awarded the Charles M.Lea prize in 1930 for Glow of the City and in 1931 for Spring Night, Greenwich Village, establishing him as a master American printmaker.
Later Life and Legacy
When the Depression hit, Lewis left New York and moved to Connecticut. He drew and printed rural nighttime and winter scenes. After four years in Connecticut, he move back to New York but no longer had a market that would support his work.
He taught printmaking at the Art Students League from 1944 through his retirement in 1952. Lewis died in 1962, at age 81, his work mostly forgotten.
In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in the works of Martin Lewis. Though much of his work is held in museums and private collections, the work recently auctioned has set records for the artist at auction.
Martin Lewis’ Work at Surovek Gallery
Please contact us for more information about Chance Meeting or any of the other work available in our gallery.
Masters of Etching. Publisher: The Studio, 1931