Posts Tagged ‘Ernest Lawson Washington Heights’

An Impressionist artist captures the rural feel of early 1900s Upper Manhattan

December 27, 2021

Throughout his life, painter Ernest Lawson lived in many places. Born in Halifax in 1873, Lawson moved to New York at 18 to take classes at the Art Students League.

“High Bridge at Night, New York City”

Over the years he studied and worked in Connecticut, Paris, Colorado, Spain, New Mexico, and finally Florida, where his body was found on Miami Beach in 1939—possibly a homicide or suicide.

“Shadows, Spuyten Duyvil Hill”

But if there was one location that seemed to intrigue him, it was Upper Manhattan—the bridges and houses, the woods, rugged terrain, and of course, the rivers.

“Ice in the RIver”

From 1898 to about 1908, while fellow Ashcan School artists focused their attention on crowded sidewalks and gritty tenements, Lawson lived in sparsely populated Washington Heights, drawing out the rural beauty and charm of the last part of Manhattan to be subsumed into the cityscape.

“Boathouse, Winter, Harlem River”

“Less committed to social realism than his peers, his works are more remarkable for their treatment of color and light than their social relevance,” states the National Gallery of Canada.

“A House in the Snow, the Dyckman House”

Lawson’s Upper Manhattan is an enchanting, often romantic place, which he rendered in “thick impasto, strong outlines, and bold colors,” according to Artsy.com. His nocturnes reflect the seasonal beauty of still-extant spots like the High Bridge, Harlem River, Spuyten Duyvil, and the Dyckman Farmhouse (the last Dutch colonial-style farmhouse in Manhattan).

“The Harlem River (Rivershacks)”

Though one critic described him as “a painter of crushed jewels,” according to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA), and another noted his “peculiar power of finding sensuous beauty in dreary places,” Lawson never found fame like Ashcan painters George Luks and John Sloan.

Portrait of Ernest Lawson by fellow Ashcan artist William Glackens

“Despite great acclaim from certain critics, Lawson remained under-appreciated in his lifetime, and was often depressed and struggling financially,” per PAFA. His name may not be well-known, but Lawson captured the mood and feel of Upper Manhattan’s landmarks and landscape just before urbanization arrived.