Penn Station, Interior, Manhattan

Accession Number

Penn Station, Interior, Manhattan

Berenice Abbott

Artist Nationality
American (North American)

Object Creation Date
circa 1936

Medium & Support
gelatin silver print on paper

13 5/16 in x 10 1/2 in (33.81 cm x 26.67 cm);22 1/8 in x 18 1/8 in (56.2 cm x 46.04 cm);14 5/8 in x 11 11/16 in (37.15 cm x 29.69 cm)

Credit Line
Gift of Mrs. Ursula R. Freimarck through the Friends of the Museum of Art

Label copy
For many photographers working in New York, Pennsylvania Station was an important landmark and a symbol of New York’s importance in the national rail system. Designed by the firm of McKim, Meade and White, the station, with its soaring spaces and glazed vaulting, was based on an earlier symbol of imperial might and wealth—the Baths of Caracalla in Rome. In addition to the marble and masonry of its ancient prototype, the station also incorporates modern materials—steel and glass. Abbott’s view of the concourse and platforms shows the architects’ use of new building materials to bring natural light into the station while still impressing the visitor with the immense scale of the building.
Carole McNamara, Assistant Director for Collections & Exhibitions
on the occasion of the exhibition New York Observed: The Mythology of the City
(July 13 – September 22, 2003)
"I had to obtain all sorts of permission to make these photographs [of Pennsylvania Station], but I knew I had to capture this magnificent building. Even with the big skylights the interior was dark, and there was movement. My film was slow and often I was forced to shoot at 1/10 or 1/25 of a second. It was absolutely wicked to tear the building down; it was cheating America, denying Americans their cultural heritage." quoted from Hank O'Neal, "Berenice Abbott, American photographer," New York: McGraw-Hill, 1982, p. 102.

Subject matter
In this photograph of New York City's famed Pennsylvania Station, Berenice Abbott traces the arc of the steel vaulting that extends from the center of the space up and towards the upper left corner of the image. Aligning the ceiling of the the building with the upper margin of the photograph, Abbott emphasizes the formal geometric structure of the vaulting's semi-circles encapsulated in a grid of rectangles. The travelers and workers dotted throughout the space provide a sense of scale, but Abbott seems interested in communicating the soaring interior space of the building itself. Photographed as part of Abbott's series entitled "Changing New York," which was published in 1939, the inclusion of Penn Station now seems prescient since the building would be demolished in 1963.

Physical Description
Interior view of Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan.

Primary Object Classification

Collection Area

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Penn Station
architecture (object genre)
documentary photography
modern and contemporary art
railroad stations
steel frame construction
train stations

14 Related Resources

Architecture in Photography 1900-1948
(Part of 7 Learning Collections)
Art of the Works Progress Administration WPA
(Part of 16 Learning Collections)
Film Noir, Visuality and Themes
(Part of 8 Learning Collections)
New York City
(Part of 3 Learning Collections)
(Part of: Artist Associations and Art Movements)
Technology and Modernity in Photography 1900-1948
(Part of 3 Learning Collections)
The City in Photography 1900-1948
(Part of 8 Learning Collections)
The Modern Metropolis
(Part of 7 Learning Collections)
(Part of 5 Learning Collections)
WPA Woman Artists
(Part of 17 Learning Collections)

& Author Notes

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