A New York-Centric Timeline of the 1940s and '50s
Friday, October 01, 2010
What was happening and when — here's WNYC's timeline of some of this era's most significant events.
1940: The Nazi occupation of France begins; Winston Churchill becomes Prime Minister of England, and Franklin Roosevelt is elected to a third term.
1940: Richard Wright pens “Native Son” in Harlem, a seminal American novel on race.
1941: Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane” premieres on May 1 in New York.
1941: Peggy Guggenheim arrives with Max Ernst at LaGuardia in July after fleeing the Nazi invasion of France
1941: In December, the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor; the U.S. officially enters World War II.
1942: Peggy opens the Art of This Century Gallery at 30 W. 57th Street in the fall of '42.
1942: New York novelist Dawn Powell publishes “A Time to Be Born,” a book whose egotistical central figure is loosely based on Clare Booth Luce, wife of Time Magazine founder Henry Luce.
1942: Surrealist artist Marcel Duchamp presents his exhibit, “First Papers of Surrealism,” in which he weaves a web of string (said to be 16 miles long) in the galleries of the Whitelaw Reid Mansion in midtown Manhattan. The show is a sensation.
1943: In November, Jackson Pollock receives his first solo show at Peggy Guggenheim’s gallery. His painting “She-Wolf” becomes the first work of his to be acquired by the Museum of Modern Art.
1943: Leonard Bernstein conducts the New York Philharmonic for the very first time – as a last-minute fill-in for Bruno Walter, who had fallen ill.
1944: The D-Day invasion begins, with Allied forces seizing the Normandy coast from Nazi fighters.
1945: Betty Parsons Gallery opens at 15 E. 57th Street. Parsons would be a key supporter of the Abstract Expressionists and would later go on to show Pollock’s first drip paintings as well as Mark Rothko’s earliest color field abstractions.
1945: Pollock gets married to painter Lee Krasner.
1945: In a now famous session for the Savoy label, Charlie Parker records “Billie’s Bounce,” a tune which helped expand the improvisational nature of jazz.
1945: In August, World War II comes to a close with the dropping of the atomic bomb on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
1946: Art critic Robert Coates coins the term “Abstract Expressionism” in an article related to the works of Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Armenian-born painter Arshile Gorky.
1947: Peggy Guggenheim closes Art of This Century and moves to Italy; Pollock creates his first drip paintings.
1947: New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, who had been key in fighting corruption and rebuilding the city’s infrastructure after the Depression, dies of pancreatic cancer in the Bronx.
1948: Willem de Kooning has his first solo show at the Charles Egan Gallery at 63 E. 57th Street, a gathering of 10 black-and-white paintings. The show represents a turning point in the career of the then 44-year-old painter.
1948: Norman Mailer publishes his stark World War II novel “The Naked and the Dead.”
1948: Idlewild Field – later JFK Airport – is dedicated in Queens.
1949: In August, Pollock is profiled in LIFE magazine. The story makes him a household name.
1950: A credit card (Diner’s Club) is used for the first time in New York.
1950: “Talent 1950,” a group show organized in part by influential critic Clement Greenberg, opens at Kootz Gallery at 15 E. 57th Street, and includes work by figures including Franz Kline and Elaine de Kooning (Willem’s wife).
1950: MoMA acquires Pollock’s first splatter painting: “Number 1A, 1948.”
1950: Jack Kerouac’s first novel, “The Town and the City,” is published – under the pseudonym “John Kerouac.”
1951: “The 9th Street Show,” organized by Leo Castelli, takes place at 60 E. 9th Street. It becomes another groundbreaking exhibition for the New York School, featuring works by Pollock, de Kooning, Rothko, Hans Hoffman, Clyfford Still and Barnett Newman.
1951: The United Nations headquarters building officially opens in New York.
1951: Willem de Kooning paints the first of his “Woman” series.
1952: Critic Harold Rosenberg writes his seminal essay: “The American Action Painters” in ARTnews Magazine – in which he coins the term “action painting.”
1952: Lever House, one of the City’s most notable Modernist structures, designed by Skidmore Owings Merrill, is completed.
1952: John Cage writes and presents 4’33”, a musical work consisting of purely ambient sounds (in other words, silence on the part of the musician). It debuts in Woodstock, New York.
1953: Robert Rauschenberg creates “Erased de Kooning” – in which he erases a De Kooning drawing, a way of conceptually erasing the highly regarded Abstract Expressionist painters.
1954: George Balanchine’s production of “The Nutcracker” is staged for the first time at the New York City Ballet.
1955: Krasner, who had put her career on hold for much of the 1940s due to her relationship with Pollock, has a solo exhibition of her collages at the Stable Gallery on East 58th Street.
1955: Marian Anderson becomes the first African American to perform at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
1955: The Brooklyn Dodgers win the World Series.
1956: A show called “American Artists Paint the City,” featuring de Kooning, Pollock and others, opens at the Venice Biennale in Italy. It helps propel these artists to greater international fame.
1956: Pollock dies in a car crash on Long Island while Krasner is away in Europe; in response, MoMA organizes a tribute exhibit called “Jackson Pollock, 1912-1956.”
1957: Important Abstract Expressionist teacher and painter Hans Hofmann is profiled in LIFE.
1957: Influential dealer Leo Castelli opens a gallery on East 77th Street.
1958: “The New American Painting,” a show organized by Dorothy Miller for MoMA’s international program, debuts and travels abroad, further cementing the importance of the Abstract Expressionists on an international level.
1961: Franz Kline succumbs to heart disease.
1962: Andy Warhol paints the “Soup Cans” – which he shows in L.A., at the Ferus Gallery, that same year. Even though the show is poorly received, the arrival of Warhol and other pop artists on the scene heralds a new direction for American art.
Photo Credits: Dizzy Gillespie (William P. Gottlieb/Library of Congress), Arshile Gorky's "Agony" from 1947 (The Arshile Gorky Foundation/The Artists Rights Society (ARS); Museum of Modern Art), Willem de Kooning, "Woman 1," 1950-52 (The Willem de Kooning Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Museum of Modern Art), Guggenheim Museum (Jazzlog/Flickr).