Weather and The Framing on the Skyline of Dorothy McEntee’s Paintings

By Katie Ott

Skylines are a visual art form, and since they are located outside, are often reshaped by the surrounding weather. A building on a bright cloudless day appears much different than that same building in the middle of a snowstorm. Similarly, a conglomeration of buildings would appear much different under certain weather conditions. In her paintings of the New York City skyline, Dorothy McEntee utilizes the theme of weather and the frame of the water and sky to create mood and expression in her paintings, while still focusing on her central subject of the skyline of lower Manhattan from Brooklyn.

In her 1967 painting, “Feathery Clouds,” McEntee creates an image of the skyline during an overcast and rainy day. One can almost see the fog invading the picturesque skyline in the watercolor from the blurred buildings and swirls of the clouds above.[1] Within her 1968 “Low Ceiling” watercolor, Dorothy McEntee perfectly displays the skyline on a dark and stormy day. The title of the painting impeccably captions the display; there is a dark masking fog covering the tops of the skyscrapers, a low ceiling that the tallest buildings manage to break through. The points of these skyscrapers puncture the dark ceiling above, further illustrating their magnitude and the contrasting height between the buildings. The clouds coming down over the buildings also signify nature’s dominion over humanity and the skyscraper. Although humans may think they are in control, nature is still able to dominate over them.[2]

In her 1968 watercolors entitled “Arrival #2”, and “Arrival #3”, McEntee really focuses on the atmospheric frame of the skyline. [image 18 and 19] In fact, the frame actually overpowers the actual skyline subject in these three images. “Arrival #3” displays large cumulonimbus clouds dominating the upper portion of the skyline. The buildings almost look small in comparison to the giant billowing clouds above them, furthering the idea that although humans are powerful, nature still dominates. The water in the bottom of the watercolor even reflects these clouds, creating an even more perfectly symmetrical frame of the skyline. The buildings that compose the skyline in 1968 appear to “net” the sky. There is a sense of balance between the buildings reaching up and the sky reaching down.[3] The heights of the buildings contrast in an aesthetically pleasing way, leaving areas of openness in the view of the skyline. This contrast of buildings and open space creates a sense of rhythm in the skyline.[4]



“Arrival #2” is very similar to “Arrival #3;” it has the large puffy clouds in the top frame and the reflection of the clouds in water of the lower frame. The main differences between the two watercolors are that the clouds in “Arrival #2” have a sort of peach underlay, and that the entire painting is shown from a lower vantage point. The buildings in “Arrival #2” are closer and are more clearly defined than in “Arrival #3.” The color tones in “Arrival #2” are warmer; creating a sense of light that is also reflected in the peach underlay of the clouds.[5]

Also painted in 1968, “Night in Port from Brooklyn Heights Window” portrays the image of the skyline from Brooklyn Heights at night. The sky above the buildings is black, and yet the buildings shine light onto the dark sky. The lights from the buildings can also be seen in their reflections on the water.[6]


One of McEntee’s untitled [image 13] watercolor pieces painted in an unknown year specifically has a very distinctive characteristic. In the top left hand corner of the painting, there is a large shining star. The light from this star protrudes down onto the buildings, giving them some color during the dark night. There are beams coming off of the star that further define its presence. Why would Dorothy McEntee want to add such a comically stereotypical star to her otherwise apparently realistic painting? None of her other images contain anything so blatantly unrealistic. Perhaps she wanted to emphases the height and magnitude of these buildings, several of which reach the height of the star. In fact, some of the skyscrapers surpass the star by climbing even higher into the sky. This may point to the theme of humanity’s power to outshine nature. The star also may be a biblical reference, referring to the star of Bethlehem, and accordingly referencing Christmas.[7]

Although not a direct portrait of the skyline, “Rotting Pier,”[image 3] displays another context under which the skyline of lower Manhattan can be viewed. An image of a rotting pier off of the Brooklyn waterfront is the focus of this watercolor, with the skyline looming behind the water. In this image, the skyline serves an unusual and unconventional purpose; it frames the water. Often, the skyline is framed by the water below and the sky above, but in “Rotting Pier,” McEntee choses to not focus on the skyline, instead capturing this rotting pier. Although the painting clearly depicts a bright sunny day from the reflections on the water and the shadows coming off of the buildings in the foreground of the painting, the skyline itself is dark. In fact, a good three-quarters of the buildings shown in the skyline are completely blacked out by the smoke of a passing tug boat. But this does not diminish the power of the skyline. Although dark and barely visible, the skyline stands firm and strong, creating a sharp contrast between the pier rotting off of Brooklyn. Although the pier may melt away, the powerful skyline continues to grow.[8]

Towards the end of her life, McEntee painted from her home at 57 Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights. One of the last paintings she produced in Brooklyn was entitled “Chess Castle Tugboat.” This watercolor depicts the skyline on a clear afternoon in 1983.[9] One can tell it is the afternoon because the light from the sun is coming from behind the buildings, from the West Side of Manhattan Island. The light coming over the buildings, as opposed to coming from in front of them or overtop them, creates a sort of familiarity between the viewer and the skyline. Another element that creates this familiar feeling is the frame surrounding the skyline. This frame is no other than Dorothy’s own window at 57 Montague Street in apartment 9B. Viewers of the painting can glimpse back into what Dorothy saw from her very own window. They can see an image of the 1983 skyline through the familiarity of windowpanes and blinds. [10]

Dorothy McEntee utilizes the weather in her watercolor paintings of the lower Manhattan skyline in order to create a sense of the emotion of the skyline and to capture its energy and vibrancy. McEntee not only painted the specific buildings of the skyline and their surroundings, but aimed to capture the emotion behind the skyline. The distinct weathers displayed in each of paintings assist in depicting that emotion.

[1] "Dorothy McEntee: Realist in Watercolor," (Accession files for Dorothy Layng McEntee paintings, Brooklyn Historical Society, 1980), M1991.36.28.

[2] "Dorothy McEntee: Realist in Watercolor," (Accession files for Dorothy Layng McEntee paintings, Brooklyn Historical Society, 1980), M1991.36.30.

[3] Skylines, 57.

[4] Skylines, 51.

[5] "Dorothy McEntee: Realist in Watercolor," (Accession files for Dorothy Layng McEntee paintings, Brooklyn Historical Society, 1980), M1991.36.18-19.

[6] "Dorothy McEntee: Realist in Watercolor," (Accession files for Dorothy Layng McEntee paintings, Brooklyn Historical Society, 1980), M.1991.36.17.

[7] "Dorothy McEntee: Realist in Watercolor," (Accession files for Dorothy Layng McEntee paintings, Brooklyn Historical Society, 1980), M1991.36.13.

[8] "Dorothy McEntee: Realist in Watercolor," (Accession files for Dorothy Layng McEntee paintings, Brooklyn Historical Society, 1980), M1991.36.3.

[9] "Dorothy McEntee: Realist in Watercolor," (Accession files for Dorothy Layng McEntee paintings, Brooklyn Historical Society, 1980), M.1991.36.49.

[10] "Dorothy McEntee: Realist in Watercolor," (Accession files for Dorothy Layng McEntee paintings, Brooklyn Historical Society, 1980), M1991.36.26.