In early 2017, our fourth floor will be transformed into a new destination for historical education and innovation. During the current renovation, objects from our permanent collection are on view throughout the Museum.
The Course of Empire: Destruction
Oil on canvas (relined)
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Mary Reilly, who was born in 1963 in Yorktown, New York, has been a resident of New York City for over two decades. She studied at the Art Students League, The School of Visual Arts, and the National Academy design, where she was a student of Frederick Brosen (who is also represented in the N-YHS collection) and where she exhibited work in its 2001 Annual exhibition. The artist currently works solely in graphite and is known for her meticulous studies of nature, especially plants and trees, which reveal her to be working in the tradition of Asher B. Durand. She uses both powdered graphite and graphite lead to focus on the natural world within the limits of New York City’s five boroughs. For subject matter she seeks out natural places often ignored by visitors and natives alike: serene parks and gardens away from the concrete streets. “Since my childhood, nature has had a profound affect on me in ways that I cherish. The state of mind that is installed within me when walking through the woods, or on a secluded beach by the sights and sounds, the smells, the sense of nostalgia, the timelessness and diversity of nature’s splendor.” Reilly’s artwork has been featured in American Artist Magazine (Spring 2004 and December 2008).
Breezy Point 3 is a tour-de-force drawing that derives from the time the artist spent at the beach in Queens before Hurricane Nicole in 2010. Reilly worked on the hallucinatory drawing for nine months, during which time the seascape became transformed into a nocturnal, moonlit scene with a slightly foreboding intimation of the potentially destructive power of the sea. While exquisitely rendered, the work in retrospect is poignant and prophetic. Hurricane Nicole, which only brought rough surf and winds to Breezy Point, was but a prelude to the damage wrecked on the area in 2012 by Hurricane Sandy. Even though several collectors have been interested in Breezy Point 3, Mary Reilly decided that in light of the recent devastation of Hurricane Sandy and its timely subject, she would prefer to gift it to a New York institution.
As the work’s title implies, the artist executed two earlier, smaller “Breezy Point” drawings. The first depicted a sand dune (2008, private collection), while the second was another ocean/sky view similar to this, but less dramatic (2010). Arguably, the third in the series is the most powerful, and marks a departure for Reilly, as the abstract qualities of it have sparked her desire to pursue investigating New York City seascapes.
Breezy Point, now infamous after Hurricane Sandy, is a neighborhood in the borough of Queens, which because of its Irish-American population has been called the “Irish Riviera.” It is located at the western end of the Rockaway peninsula, between Rockaway Inlet and Jamaica Bay on the landward side and the Atlantic Ocean. Breezy Point and the Rockaways are less urbanized than most of New York City. It is home to three of the ten volunteer fire companies of New York. Breezy Point Tip, to the west of the community, is part of the Gateway National Recreation Area, which is run by the National Park Service. This isolated 200-acre area and its sand dunes, shoreline, and marshland is a breeding spot for a number of avian species, some of which are endangered or threatened.
On October 29, 2012, much of Breezy Point was destroyed by the events of Hurricane Sandy. It was first subjected to extensive flooding and by 11:00 p.m. a six-alarm fire was reported on Oceanside Avenue. The neighborhood was quickly engulfed in raging fires, causing much destruction. Due to high flood levels, local volunteer firefighters were trapped in and the FDNY out of Breezy Point. Help could not reach the scene until the flood receded. On arrival, the FDNY faced several blocks of houses ablaze. According to later reports, 111 homes were destroyed and an additional 20 damaged.
Gift of the artist
Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.
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