Jerome Myers (March 20, 1867 - June 19, 1940) was a U.S. artist and writer. Born in Petersburg, Virginia and raised in Philadelphia, Trenton and Baltimore, he spent his adult life in New York City. Jerome worked briefly as an actor and scene painter, then studied art at Cooper Union and the Art Students League where his main teacher was George de Forest Brush. In 1896 and 1914, he was in Paris, but his main classroom was the streets of New York's lower East Side. His strong interest and feelings for the new immigrants and their life resulted in hundreds of drawings, as well as paintings, etchings and watercolors capturing the whole panorama of their lives as found outside of the crowded tenements which were their first homes in America.
Born in Petersburg, Virginia, Jerome Myers was one of Abram and Julia Hillman Myers' five children. As their father was often absent, the Myers clan was raised by their mother and eventually lived in Trenton, New Jersey, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. From time to time, the siblings were placed in foster homes when Mrs. Myers became ill. Given these family hardships, Myers began taking odd jobs at a young age, living in Baltimore, Maryland, before moving on to New York City. Arriving in Manhattan in 1886 at the age of nineteen, Myers worked for several years as a scene painter and later for the Moss Engraving Company, where he reproduced photographic negatives. During this time he began attending evening art classes at Cooper Union and the Art Students League. Even at this date, the artist's interest in urban subjects was evident. Myers' earliest oil, Backyard (1887), depicting clotheslines silhouetted against distant tenements, is today thought to be one of the first paintings exemplifying Ashcan School subject matter in America. Similarly around 1893, after sketching a canal boat during a day trip along the Morris and Essex Canal, the artist made his initial sale to the woman who resided on the boat. The price was two dollars.
In 1895, Myers found work in the art department of the New York Tribune. With savings of two hundred and fifty dollars from this job, he traveled to Paris in 1896. Upon his return to New York City, with only twenty dollars left, he rented, for seven dollars a month, a studio at 232 West 14th Street in a former five-story mansion, "equipped with a skylight and converted to the use of artists."
There, his next door neighbor turned out to be Edward Adam Kramer, a painter just one year older than Myers himself. While the latter's art training had been limited to short stints at New York's Cooper Union and the Art Students League, Kramer had acquired his education in the European art centers of Munich, Berlin, and Paris. It was Kramer who ushered Myers into the world of the professional artist. One day; when the art dealer William Macbeth arrived at Kramer's studio to view work, Kramer directed him to Myers' studio as well. Macbeth purchased two small paintings of his early New York street scenes from Myers on the spot, and simultaneously recommended that the newcomer bring additional work to the gallery. Macbeth thought highly of these two paintings and, taking them to his gallery, soon sold one to an appreciative banker, James Speyer. As an early critic for the New York Globe stated: "Myers' reputation dates from that purchase."
Macbeth also suggested that Myers relinquish further drawing in pencil and pastel, and turn instead to oils. In the years following 1902, Myers sold work through the Macbeth Gallery and exhibited in group shows at other venues. Significantly, in March and April 1903, when the Colonial Club of New York held its annual art show Exhibition of Paintings Mainly by New Men, among the twenty artists included were Robert Henri, John French Sloan, and Myers, showing their works together for the first time.
For Jerome Myers, summer in Manhattan was rich in opportunity, for when the mercury soared it was certain to bring tenement dwellers out into the streets and parks of the city. By July 1906, Myers' reputation as a skilled artist depicting the life of the people on the Lower East Side was such that a New York Times reporter was assigned to him beginning at five o'clock one morning, in order to observe the artist capturing likenesses of industrious adults at work and lively children at play. To walk through the East Side with Myers, the reporter noted, "turning off here and there to glance at some particular house or group of people,... [was] to receive an impression of a joyous life lived in the open air for much the same reason as people live in that fashion in Europe—because their homes are not as comfortable as the streets.
Individual responses to Myers' presence, however, were grounded in cultural differences. While the residents of Italian neighborhoods viewed the artist and his activities with excitement and curiosity; those of the Jewish Quarter, whose traditions often forbade the production of representational images, protested by the most pointed of all actions—moving away from the artist's range of vision.