Manhattan Metamorphosis

By Katie Ott

In her two watercolors entitled “Metamorphosis: Manhattan (From Brooklyn Heights Window)” and “Changing Skyline from Brooklyn Heights Window,” Dorothy McEntee displays the visible growth of the lower Manhattan skyline with two buildings under construction.

In Dorothy McEntee’s 1968 watercolor entitled “Metamorphosis: Manhattan (From Brooklyn Heights Window)”[1] we see the skyline changing, specifically at the tip of Manhattan near the Staten Island Ferry dock. McEntee depicts a building under construction, which will change the skyline permanently. Viewers of the painting see a skeleton of a short fat building that will eventually become Four New York Plaza. Finished in 1968, this building will go on to become a 21-story high-rise built in the international style.[2]


If one looks at one of McEntee’s later watercolors of the same view from six years later, entitled “Late Light,” one can see the entire New York Plaza completed. [3] Although McEntee was not striving to create a documentary of the skyline, she did manage to create one through the large amount of paintings she painted which were evidently very closely based on her real-life views of the skyline when she was painting them. In the 1973 painting, the Four New York Plaza is barely even visible because it is masked by the One New York Plaza building and the Two New York Plaza building.[4]

Now the title “Metamorphosis: Manhattan (From Brooklyn Heights Window)” implies that the skyline is under a process of transforming into something better or more complex, much like a caterpillar undergoes metamorphosis to become a butterfly. However, if one compares “Metamorphosis: Manhattan (From Brooklyn Heights Window)” and “Late Light,” it is easy to say that the depiction of the skyline in the 1968 “Metamorphosis: Manhattan (From Brooklyn Heights Window)” is much more aesthetically pleasing than the later 1973 “Late Light.” In “Late Light” we see a wall of large boxey buildings. Only about five buildings are visible in this watercolor, whereas in 1968, only six years previously, we can see almost three times that number from the same viewpoint. By 1973, the large box shaped buildings of the New York Plaza have blocked all of these other buildings from view, by dominating the skyline so close to the waterfront. This creates a much more bland skyline with only a handful of visible buildings. This “metamorphosis” of the skyline may lead to the creation of something more complex, however it does not necessarily lead to something more aesthetically pleasing.

In McEntee’s 1968 painting, “Changing Skyline from Brooklyn Heights Window”, [image 37] we clearly see the skyline changing yet again, this time in a completely different area of the skyline. [5] In the center of the watercolor there are the bones of a new building being constructed. This building is located at 111 Wall Street and it will house 24 floors. It will be in the international style architecture, made with a combination of glass, steel, and concrete.[6]


Unlike some of the skyscrapers next to it, this building does not cut into the sky and does not change the overall silhouette of the skyline, because at only 24 stories, the buildings surrounding it dwarf the new building at 111 Wall Street.[7] However, because the building is located right at the waterfront, the view of the skyline from Brooklyn is changed forever. But unlike the buildings of the New York Plaza, 111 Wall Street does not block all of the other buildings from view. Its placement allows for the buildings around it to be seen, while still altering the skyline and making into something new.


One thing is particularly interesting about this painting. 111 Wall Street was completed in 1966.[8] However, McEntee has dated her watercolor with the building at 111 Wall Street still under construction as 1968.[9] Perhaps she was painting from memory after the building was completed, or maybe she had started a draft of the painting before 1966 and came back to complete it in 1968.


Perhaps Dorothy is pointing to a deeper meaning. The Manhattan skyline is in a constant state of growth with new buildings popping up each year. Although certainly iconic, the skyline is never quite the same each time you look at it.

[1] "Dorothy McEntee: Realist in Watercolor," (Accession files for Dorothy Layng McEntee paintings, Brooklyn Historical Society, 1980), M.1991.36.29.

[2] “New York City Skyscraper Map,” Skyscraper Source Media, 2014, http://skyscraperpage.com/cities/maps/?cityID=8.

[3] "Dorothy McEntee: Realist in Watercolor," (Accession files for Dorothy Layng McEntee paintings, Brooklyn Historical Society, 1980),M1991.36.31.

[4] “New York City Skyscraper Map,” Skyscraper Source Media, 2014, http://skyscraperpage.com/cities/maps/?cityID=8.

[5] "Dorothy McEntee: Realist in Watercolor," (Accession files for Dorothy Layng McEntee paintings, Brooklyn Historical Society, 1980), M1991.36.37.

[6] “New York City Skyscraper Map,” Skyscraper Source Media, 2014, http://skyscraperpage.com/cities/maps/?cityID=8.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] "Dorothy McEntee: Realist in Watercolor," (Accession files for Dorothy Layng McEntee paintings, Brooklyn Historical Society, 1980), M1991.36.37.