Martin Lewis: The Master of the Intaglio Print

Martin Lewis (1881-1962) was an Australian-born American artist renowned for his expertise in intaglio printmaking, particularly etching and drypoint. His body of work, characterized by its focus on urban life and architectural studies, captured the essence of New York City in the early to mid-20th century.

Born in Castlemaine, Victoria, Australia, Lewis left home at 15 and traveled extensively before settling in Sydney to work as a commercial artist. In 1900, he relocated to the United States, eventually becoming a naturalized citizen. Initially, he found work in San Francisco before moving to New York City in 1905.

In New York, he worked as a commercial illustrator but was also deeply involved in the city's vibrant art scene. He began his printmaking career in earnest around 1915, and by the 1920s, he was recognized as one of the foremost printmakers in the United States.

Lewis's prints are known for their vivid details, dramatic contrasts of light and shadow, and their empathetic portrayal of everyday scenes and common people. His depictions of the streets, skyscrapers, and citizens of New York City provide a compelling visual record of the city during a period of significant change.

One of Lewis's distinctive techniques was the use of drypoint, a method that involves incising an image onto a plate with a hard-pointed needle. This technique allowed him to achieve rich, velvety lines and a remarkable level of detail, giving his prints a distinctive character and depth.

While his contemporaries were exploring modernist and abstract styles, Lewis maintained a commitment to representational art. His work displays a masterful understanding of light and shadow, and his nighttime scenes, in particular, have been widely praised for their atmospheric depth and luminosity.

In the later years of his career, Lewis taught at the Art Students League of New York, influencing a new generation of artists, including his student and assistant, Isabel Bishop. His work is now held in the collections of many major museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Martin Lewis's legacy remains a pivotal contribution to American printmaking, imbuing the everyday with a sense of the extraordinary.
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