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    AARON HARRY GORSON (American, 1872-1933)
    Steel Mill at Night (Jones & Laughlin by Night)
    Oil on board
    20 x 16 inches (50.8 x 40.6 cm)
    Signed lower left: AH Gorson


    J.J. Gillespie Company Fine Art Galleries, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (label verso);
    Judge Thomas P. Trimble, Old Allegheny, Pennsylvania, purchased from the above before 1919;
    By descent to Margaret Trimble, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania;
    Gifted from the above to her niece Mary Trimble on the occasion of her marriage to Dr. Raymond F. Brittain, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania;
    By descent to Victoria Brittain Payne, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania;
    By descent to the present owner.

    Lithuanian-born Aaron Gorson's atmospheric masterwork Steel Mill at Night exemplifies his paintings of the iron and steel mills of Pittsburgh for which he became well known in the 1910s. Using a principal palette of blue-grays, he depicts one of the prominent mills along the Monongahela River, likely the Jones & Laughlin Steel Company, his favorite industrial subject. Rising up from a crescent-shaped bend in the Monongahela, the various mill structures -- the factory with smokestacks and a coal hoist on the edge of the riverbank -- emit luminous, yellow-peach vapors into the night sky. Along the opposite shore, a puff of smoke from a barge carrying hot iron further illuminates the darkness, while pinpoint lights signal the residential areas of Pittsburgh. In the right foreground, a weighty dock with a gangplank anchors the composition, providing a foil to the shimmery water and cloud elements. Cleverly and perhaps ironically, Gorson uses the heaviest impasto for the weightless smoke and lights and the thinnest washes for the massive buildings. Steel Mill at Night is thus a poetic study of gradations of light, tones, and volumes.

    Indeed, rather than detailing the arduous and dirty manufacturing process in his paintings, Gorson focused, instead, on the aesthetics of the industrial landscape. In the early twentieth-century, when he was working in Pittsburgh, the city was becoming an international force in the coal, iron, and steel industries. Huge plants like Jones & Laughlin, Duquesne Steel Works, and Homestead Steel Works stretched out along the banks of the Monongahela, Allegheny, and Ohio Rivers, which fed into Pittsburgh. Barges and trains further crowded the region, transporting coal and other supplies to the mills and foundries. "In 1909, the city produced as much pig iron as France, Russia, and Canada combined -- 11% of the world's output."1 Such rapid industrialization was not without strife for laborers -- "the twelve-hour day and the seven-day week prevailed in the steel mills"2 -- and irritation for the general populace -- "people scurried to their jobs through sooty streets, handkerchiefs clamped over noses and mouths to filter the dirty air."3

    Yet Gorson, influenced by his training with James McNeill Whistler in Paris, saw nothing but beauty in this "city of smoke and cinders." From Whistler, Gorson adopted a tonal palette; loose brushwork; and an interest in fleeting atmospheric conditions, such as rain and fog at twilight or dusk. Like Whistler, he also titled his paintings after musical forms, for example, Pittsburgh Nocturne. Gorson's multiple paintings of a certain factory at different times of day and under different weather conditions also recalled the avant-garde techniques of Claude Monet and Paul Cézanne. While others of Gorson's contemporaries, including Otto Kuhler, John White Alexander, and Lewis Hine, chronicled the power of the factories and their toll on workers, Gorson showed Pittsburgh as "bountifully endowed by nature with scenes of grandeur and enthralling picturesqueness."4

    Given Gorson's romanticized view of Pittsburgh's industry, it is not surprising that his most enthusiastic patrons were the city's leaders and manufacturing executives. Judge Thomas P. Trimble, whose father, William, had founded a successful construction company in Allegheny City, purchased the current lot, Steel Mill at Night, around 1919. Likewise, the steel magnate James B. Laughlin owned a Nocturne, and the president of United States Steel, Judge Elbert Henry Gary, raved about his Gorson painting, capturing a broad sentiment:

    I continue to like the painting which I purchased from you a few years ago, "The Mills at Night, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania." It shows in marked contrast the glare of light thrown out by furnaces on the distant shore of the river, and somber barges in the half darkness of the foreground. I consider it excellent, vivid and lifelike. I think it is a work of art that will endure.5

    1: R. Younger, The Power and the Glory: Pittsburgh Industrial Landscapes by Aaron Harry Gorson, New York, 1989, p. 2.
    2: Ibid, p. 2.
    3: R. Wilson, "Painters of Pittsburgh . . . Aaron Harry Gorson," Pittsburgh Press Roto, July 31, 1977, p. 18.
    4: C. Gillespie, "Pittsburgh the Beautiful: Artist Finds Inspiration for Pictures Amid the City's Smoke and Gasses," Pittsburgh Press Illustrated Sunday Magazine Section, June 7, 1908, p. 13.
    5: E.H. Gary to A.H. Gorson, May 13, 1936, Gorson Documentation File.

    Condition Report*: Frame accretions and abrasions with associated flecks of paint loss along extreme edges; old varnish layer; does not appear to be evidence of in-painting under UV exam. Framed Dimensions 21.5 X 15.5 Inches
    *Heritage Auctions strives to provide as much information as possible but encourages in-person inspection by bidders. Statements regarding the condition of objects are only for general guidance and should not be relied upon as complete statements of fact, and do not constitute a representation, warranty or assumption of liability by Heritage. Some condition issues may not be noted in the condition report but are apparent in the provided photos which are considered part of the condition report. Please note that we do not de-frame lots estimated at $1,000 or less and may not be able to provide additional details for lots valued under $500. All lots are sold "AS IS" under the Terms & Conditions of Auction.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    December, 2013
    5th Thursday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 4
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
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