The River, 1949
Oil on masonite
30 x 36 inches
Austrian-born Henry Koerner was a master of Magic Realism, a style that proliferated in the United States during the 1940s among a small and vibrant group of American artists. After fleeing Europe and serving in the army during World War II, Koerner settled in Brooklyn and was considered one of the leading postwar American artists of his time.
The River belongs to an important series of works painted by Koerner between 1949-1950. Depicting what appears to be an everyday scene, several unrelated figure groups move across the river, passing beneath a footbridge overhead. A coxswain and coach shout orders into megaphones to a burly rowing team, a water bicyclist gazes down at an oblivious young couple in a rowboat, and at lower left a small dog circles a pair of ducklings in the water. The unusual perspective and distortions of scale convey the sense of mystery and intrigue. This is especially evident in the large scale of the bicyclist at the center of the composition, juxtaposed with the diminutive scale of the coxswain.