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William Glackens (1870-1938)
Hammerstein's Roof Garden
Oil on linen
Overall: 29 7/8 × 24 13/16 in. (75.9 × 63 cm)
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Purchase
Hammerstein’s Roof Garden is an impressionistic rendering of an evening at a fashionable New York nightspot—a roof garden which provided open-air entertainment to urban audiences when stifling summer heat forced indoor theaters to close. Opened by impresario Oscar Hammerstein, the Palace Roof Garden presented vaudeville acts that varied from exotic Spanish dancers to bicycling jugglers and tightrope walkers. Only at the turn of the century did amusements of this sort become acceptable places for respectable women, who, in William Glackens's depiction, now sit side by side with men. The arena into which they gaze is lit by a filigreed tangle of electric lights, a recent invention that had made nighttime theater possible. In this painting, Glackens portrays not simply a night at the theater, but the changing mores of post-Victorian society and the impact of new technology on everyday life.