Winter beauty and misery at the arch at Washington Square

Dominating Washington Square Park and the imagination of painter Everett Shinn is the majestic marble Washington Arch, standing guard at the end of Fifth Avenue since 1892.

Here’s the spare beauty of a winter’s night at the arch: the gray-blue sky, and silvery, almost spooky tree branches. The low-rise buildings around the perimeter give the park the look of a town surrounding a village green—which makes sense, because Washington Square Park is the village green for the Village.

But then there’s the human misery of navigating cold, wet, windy weather. Shinn gives us a cab driver trying to control his vehicle, a pedestrian using her umbrella like a weapon, and various people with their heads down for protection against the fierce elements of a New York winter.

The one curious thing is the date of the painting: 1929, according to Christie’s, which auctioned it in 2016 for $47,500. The humans in the painting look like people from 1929. The horse-drawn streetcar and cab, however, must have been painted from memory.

[Source: Christie’s]

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6 Responses to “Winter beauty and misery at the arch at Washington Square”

  1. Magpie Mason Says:

    The absence of the second statue of Washington puts the scene at 1917-18.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Thanks MM, good eye; I didn’t notice that. The date makes me wonder if the painting has anything to do with the January 1917 storming of the arch by a group of bohemian “arch conspirators” who declared it part of the “free and independent Greenwich Village.” Perhaps Shinn is forecasting this event or has it in mind.

  2. Caroline Harary Says:

    Another clue, they didn’t have plastic see-through umbrellas until the 1940s

  3. Bob Says:

    The painting is signed ‘Everett Shinn’ with a date of 1929 written in what looks like different script in the lower left, next to the man with the pushcart.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      It just doesn’t look like 1929, with the horse-drawn streetcar and other pre-1929 details. it’s a mystery.

      • Bob Says:

        I agree that while it was dated 1929 it was likely based on Shinn’s prior observations. He lived near and on Washington Square for decades and painted many scenes of Washington Square over that time.

        From the July 18, 1911 New York Times:

        ” But it took Everett Shinn to sing the real paean of praise to Washington Square. To begin with, he loves it so that he lives in Waverley (sic) Place, just around the corner from it–and, to judge from the number of paintings adorning the walls of his home, this energetic member of ‘The Eight’ spends a good part of his time putting his favorite spot into art.

        ” ‘That north side of Washington Square with the Washington Arch is fine,’ he exclaimed. ‘There is nothing like it. The architecture of the row of houses is of the best–it is the only mark to be found in New York of a fine old city.

        ” ‘As architecture it is famous. The row of houses is well known abroad, as it has been picked out for special praise by foreign critics ‘ […]

        ” ‘Yes, when I want to be sure to find beauty I go to Washington Square. Of course, there are plenty of other fine spots in New York. But–when you want to be reasonably sure of getting a good meal, you prefer to go to your favorite restaurant, don’t you? Part of the meal you get may be bad, but the chances are that the rest of it will suit you, aren’t they?’

        ” ‘Well, the same sort of things happens to me with Washington Square. No matter what the conditions may be under which I see it–no matter what my mood may be–I feel almost sure that it will appeal to me as beautiful. So that’s where I go.'”

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