Pushcart Vendors

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Pushcart Vendors

United States, circa 1922
Oil on canvas
29 1/16 x 31 1/8 in. (73.82 x 78.9 cm)
Gift of Gill and Tommy LiPuma (M.83.149)
Not currently on public view

Curator Notes

During World War I, when he worked as a mapmaker for the federal government, Grabach traveled to New York every day....
During World War I, when he worked as a mapmaker for the federal government, Grabach traveled to New York every day. He was so struck by the visual image of laundry dancing on clotheslines strung between the upper stories of tenement buildings and the activity of the inhabitants crowding the streets of the poor sections of the city that in the early 1920s he created a series devoted to the theme of wash day. Pushcart Vendors is one of the major paintings from the series. Grabach added to the view of clean white laundry fluttering in the wind an array of peddlers selling their wares from portable pushcarts. The locale was identified as New York when it was exhibited in 1924. Grabach was close friends with GEORGE LUKS and acquainted with the urban scenes of the Ash Can painters, and his paintings of lower-class New York neighborhoods were no doubt inspired by their example. As did the Ash Can artists, Grabach created an image of lower-class city life without an element of dreariness, one characterized by constant activity and energy. A decade separates Grabach’s street scenes from those of the original Ash Can painters, however. Grabach, reflecting his earlier impressionist and postimpressionist concerns, showed a greater interest in the decorative quality of images. Unlike GEORGE BELLOWS in his Cliff Dwellers, 1913 (LACMA; q.v.), Grabach viewed the city from above, from a distance that prevented the artist and now the viewer from becoming immersed in the activity below. This high vantage point also led the artist to flatten the view, to literally pile the alleyways and buildings one on top of another rather than depicting the scene in depth. The two-dimensionality of the scene was further enhanced by the canvas’s high horizon line and almost square format. Grabach utilized formal devices that create the impression of liveliness, and he often incorporated diagonals into his compositions to intensify the sense of movement. In Pushcart Vendors the entire scene is set on an angle, with the wall that separates the buildings from the street functioning as the major diagonal. The wash on the clotheslines forms a counterpoint to the alley and buildings, thereby activating the densely packed scene. Grabach also used a greater variety of colors with less concern for pseudoscientific theory than did Bellows in Cliff Dwellers. Buildings are red, blue, white, and brown, the distant sky lavender, and a patch of grass sparkling green, and these colors flicker across the scene.

About The Era

The early twentieth century witnessed the transformation of the United States into a modern industrialized society and an international political power.


The early twentieth century witnessed the transformation of the United States into a modern industrialized society and an international political power. By 1920 more than half of the country’s population lived in urban areas. Seeming to guarantee employment, the cities lured many farmers and African Americans from rural areas. In addition, between 1900 and 1920, 14.5 million immigrants from Europe, Russia, Mexico, and Asia settled here, primarily in urban centers. A new energy was channeled to such cities as New York and Chicago, as massive skyscrapers were erected to furnish much-needed office space and living quarters. Even West Coast cities were affected—the population of Los Angeles tripled between 1900 and 1910; its unplanned urban sprawl and dizzying speed were captured in the zany movies of the Keystone Cops, filmed on the streets of the city.

Art reflected these changing social and economic dynamics. Impressionism and Post-Impressionism were still popular. Yet other, more progressive ideas now challenged artists. A strong new commitment to realism emerged in literature and the fine arts.

In Philadelphia and New York, a group of artists centered around Robert Henri captured the vitality of urban American life. These realists depicted the hustle and bustle of city streets, the common pleasures of restaurants and various forms of entertainment. Critics dubbed these realists the “Ash Can School” because of their treatment of unidealized subject matter previously considered unattractive. These artists focused on the inhabitants of cities rather than the cities themselves. Their interest in people also led them to create a significant number of single-figure paintings, conveying the human side of the new America . During the 1910s and 1920s the realist celebration of America spread throughout the country, as artists recorded the neighborhoods and people that made their own cities distinct.



  • About the Era.
  • Fort, Ilene Susan and Michael Quick.  American Art:  a Catalogue of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art Collection.  Los Angeles:  Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1991.