Martin Lewis

Born in Castlemaine, Victoria, Australia in 1881, artist Martin Lewis developed an interest in drawing at a young age. When he was only fifteen, Lewis moved to New South Wales to dig post holes and later became a merchant seaman. After his time at sea, Lewis settled back in Sydney, where he lived in an artistic community and worked on his drawings. A left-wing newspaper, The Bulletin, published two of Lewis' compositions. He trained with painter Julian Ashton at the Art Society's School. Ashton was also skilled at printmaking and he taught Lewis how to etch.

At the age of nineteen, Lewis immigrated to the United States in 1900. Initially, he lived in San Francisco and painted stage designs for William McKinley's presidential campaign of 1900. Lewis would later move to New York City and earn his living as a commercial illustrator. Although Lewis did not date any of his etchings until 1915, he had very likely been working to master this medium for some time prior. While living in New York City, Lewis showed Edward Hopper how to etch as well.

Lewis moved to Japan for two years in 1920. This extended sojourn gave him the opportunity to make a detailed study of Japanese art while painting and drawing. Works by Lewis from this period and after bear a strong Japanese influence. From the mid-1920s to the mid-1930s, Lewis focused primarily on etching back in New York City and generated what most now consider his finest works. Successful exhibitions in the latter part of the 1920s allowed Lewis to stop working commercially and concentrate solely on fine art.

Amid the Great Depression, Lewis took up residence in Newtown, Connecticut, which he depicted with his signature, realistic black-and-white prints. By 1936, Lewis returned to New York City, but tastes in the art world had shifted such that there was no longer a demand for his renderings of urban life. From 1944 to 1952, Lewis taught printmaking at the Art Students League of New York.

Lewis died in 1962, with his artistic legacy far from secure, but a retrospective at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut helped rekindle interest among art collectors and elevated auction sales. Today Lewis is viewed as an astute chronicler of New York City and Connecticut during the early 20th century. Institutions such as the Brooklyn Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC now hold examples of his work.

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