I was in a book store on Friday night and this caught my eye: Denys Wortman’s New York: Portrait of the City in the 30s and 40s.
I’d never heard of Wortman before but I was immediately taken with his work.
If there is a single constant in the creative world, it is that fame has a nasty habit of disappearing overnight. One prime example is the cartoonist Denys Wortman, who from 1924 to 1954 contributed six drawings a week to The New York World and its successors.
His feature, “Metropolitan Movies,” was admired for its strikingly naturalistic portrayal of daily life in Gotham. Using a single panel and a conversational caption, Mr. Wortman adroitly summoned up an entirely believable world of housewives talking across fire escapes, girls in the subway hashing over last night’s date, and men and women trying to make a buck in diners, offices, music halls and factories — or struggling to keep afloat during the Great Depression. Mr. Wortman’s drawings were also beautifully composed and finely worked, a legacy of his art school years, when he studied alongside future Ashcan school painters like Edward Hopper and George Bellows, and with their guru Robert Henri.
Even then “there was nothing quite like it,” said the cartoonist Jules Feiffer, who enjoyed the drawings as a boy. “His work didn’t seem studied. It was as if you were looking out the window — or my window in the Bronx.” And because it was syndicated nationwide (as “Everyday Movies”), Mr. Wortman’s world spread far beyond the Hudson.
But in 1958, four years after his retirement, Mr. Wortman died of a heart attack. By then cartooning had become character-driven and graphically streamlined (think of Charles M. Schulz’s “Peanuts”) while art was ruled by the Abstract Expressionists. And when The World’s successor The World-Telegram and Sun folded, he was as forgotten as yesterday’s fish wrap.
The book and the show look like a must.