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Night Moods

Past Exhibition

June 30 – December 31, 2022
East Building, Ground Level, Gallery 106A

Shrouded in smoky grays and velvety blacks, marked by deep shadows, or shifting reflections illumined by the glow of moonlight, the night has been a continual source of artistic inspiration. These prints and photographs, exhibited with George Ault’s painting, were created by American artists between 1897 and 1955 and are evocative of night’s many moods: playful, menacing, tranquil, foreboding, mysterious, or contemplative. Together they explore urban, suburban, and natural environments and suggest the many ways in which the night was changing.

Artists used a variety of printmaking processes to create dramatic dark and light effects, ranging from Beatrice Levy’s soft passages of aquatint tones conveying a Rainy Night, to the precision of line in Paul Landacre’s wood engraving Laguna Cove. Photographers, aided by increasingly light-sensitive film, reveled in the play of dark and light, whether sharply contrasted, as in Ilse Bing’s Circus Acrobat, New York, or meticulously modulated, as in Roy DeCarava’s Car behind building.

By 1925, only half of American homes had electric power, yet in the cities, glimmering gaslights were being replaced by bright electric lights. The Federal Writers’ Project Guide to 1930s New York (1939) noted of Times Square:  “Here midnight streets are more brilliant than noon, their crowds on ordinary evenings exceeding those of large town carnivals.” Headlights, streetlights, lit interiors, and the ever-brightening night skyline were altering both the appearance and the experience of the night.

Selected Works

About the Series: American Art, 1900–1950: Prints, Drawings, and Photographs

During a period fueled by enormous urban growth and technological changes, riven by world wars, and rocked by new modes of thought, American artists explored many diverse means to express their changing experience and environment. Prints, drawings, and photographs were vital media through which artists pursued radical experiments in form, figuration, and abstraction. Reevaluating European traditions, they developed new ways of seeing the modern world around them. 

Complementing the American modernist paintings and sculptures in the adjacent galleries, these rotating installations feature prints, drawings, and photographs by American artists working in the first half of the 20th century. By looking at pairs or groups of artists, or at broader themes such as abstract portraiture or the Machine Age, the installations spark conversations between established and lesser-known figures in American modernism and highlight the era’s full range and complexity.

Past Exhibitions from this Series

Organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington

Admission is always free and passes are not required

Banner detail: Esther Bubley, Girl Sitting Alone in the 'Sea Grill,' a Bar and Restaurant, Waiting for a Pick-up, Washington, D.C., April 1943, printed 1989, gelatin silver print, The Marvin Breckinridge Patterson Fund for Photography, 1999.108.1