The painter Alfred Mira (1900 – 1981) was born into an Italian immigrant family and grew up Greenwich Village. His father worked as a carpenter, but young Mira had dreams of becoming an artist. His family couldn’t afford the 50 cent daily tuition for art school, so Mira took a job at an interior decorator studio, meticulously saving his meager $3 salary until he could afford the fees at the National Academy of Design.
With Mira’s art style, loose, swift brushwork and a fondness for plein air painting, one might draw parallels to the French Impressionists, yet Mira steadfastly claimed, “While I bare great esteem for the French Masters, I do not claim comparison with them. However, my ultimate goal is to paint exclusively American Impressionism..“
Mira embraced the vibrant spirit of the Ashcan School, inspired by the naturalistic street scenes of John Sloan and George Luks. Like his predecessors, he was captivated by the frenetic energy and cityscapes of Manhattan, and took every opportunity he could to paint outdoors.
In 1928, he embarked on a European sojourn, now earning a modest living as a painter and attending classes at the Art Student League. Despite his travels through Paris, Southern France, and even Italy, his ancestral homeland, Mira realized that the gritty streets of Greenwich Village held his true inspiration. These urban scenes were the true source of his artistic passion.
One remarkable painting, “Greenwich Village New York” (above) captures a distinctive red brick “mini-flatiron” at the intersection of Greenwich Avenue and 11th Street. Originally constructed as three separate houses, this building is approximately thirty years senior to its more well-known neighbor to the north at 23rd and Broadway.
Another of Mira’s works, “Summer Morning” (above), depicts a busy intersection illuminated by gentle sunlight. Some keen-eyed commentators on the Ephemeral New York blog speculate this may be an impressionistic portrayal of the corner of Fifth Avenue and 14th Street. Notice the squat white building in the upper right corner, which resembles the one-story structure that once housed the Lone Star Cafe and Schraffts.
In 1942, Mira also lovingly painted this stretch of West 8th Street, viewed from MacDougal Street. This painting captures one of the main thoroughfares of wartime Greenwich Village. The corner shop on the right would later become home to Eighth Street Books, one of the legendary bookstores of the Village in an era before Amazon and Barnes & Noble dominated the literary landscape. This intersection was also featured as also part of our Greenwich Village Historic District Map.
The early years of the 20th century in New York City were a particularly visceral experience and provided a perfect palette for artists. After traveling to Europe, Mira realized he was better inspired in Washington Square than in Jardins du Luxembourg. Like many of his predecessors in American Impressionism, Alfred Mira devoted his life to painting the quotidian streetscapes and street life of New York City.