New York City has hundreds of iconic landmarks, parks, monuments, streets, and buildings. During the early 20th century it was a bustling city, full of excitement, investment, and room for expansion and it quickly became a destination for travelers, immigrants, and artists. Art societies and academics became widely accepted and popular, and popped up all over the city. The depictions of New York increased dramatically throughout this time period. This metropolitan destination could not be missed by any one in the art world, and many moved there to be part of the burgeoning art scene. Therefore, it is no surprise that dozens of prominent artists in the NBMAA’s collection lived and worked in New York City, and derived endless inspiration from the city.
Of the numerous art societies in New York, the Art Students League is one that has produced many accomplished artists that are currently on view in NBMAA. These include Georgia O’Keeffe, Norman Rockwell, Milton Avery, Lee Krasner, William Glackens, Thomas Hart Benton, and Dean Cornwell. The school is one that has always prided itself on an artistic lifestyle without grades but with a looser structure of instruction which facilitates creativity. The 1960s brought academics back into the forefront of artistic instruction, but to this day the school continues on its visionary path, forger over 100 years ago. Another institution today that focuses on this tradition of art instruction is Bennington College in Bennington, Vermont. Certainly students here would gain inspiration from the city as well as the landscape around them.
One such place that inspired these young artists is Washington Square Park in Manhattan. This has been one of New York City’s best known public parks, and has a historical reputation for being a “cultural hangout” for artists in the 20th century. Today it is at the hear of New York University’s campus, but still is considered a public park. It is known visually by the various statues of George Washington (its namesake) and by a marble copy of the Arch de Triumph in Paris. Several ASLNY students painted this park, for example William Glackens and his Washington Square and Dean Cornwell and his Clancy made her way south across Washington Square.
These two paintings show the park under wintery conditions with people bundled up and enjoying the park . Glackens’ painting is reminiscent of Renoir, one of his key sources of inspiration. It is a great example of the Ashcan School and The Eight. In fact, this painting is currently featured in an exhibition at the National Gallery, London, that focuses on these visionary artists entitled “An American Experiment.”
No singular person is focused on and we feel as if we’re looking off into the distance onto a typical winter scene in New York City. Cornwell’s illustration on the other hand is much more personal. We see how a young woman, presumably a student, interacts with her surroundings and draws us in because of her close proximity. The green trolleys in both pieces break up their relatively neutral compositions, although they are more imposing in Cornwell’s illustration because of their size.
Have you ever been to Washington Square Park? Next time you are in NYC take a stroll around, and just think about how many times this iconic park has been depicted in artworks. How would you depict it today? What has changed? What has stayed the same? Who caught its essence better?
Cornwell’s illustration is one of over a dozen artworks that are little-seen highlights of the Sanford B. D. Low Illustration Collection currently on view, and should not be missed!
Washington Square (1910). William James Glackens (1870-1938). Oil on canvas, 25 x 30 in. New Britain Museum of American Art, Charles F. Smith Fund, 1944.03.
Clancy made her way south across Washington Square (1920). Dean Cornwell (1892-1960). Oil on paper, 15 1/2 x 37 ¾ in. New Britain Museum of American Art, Gift of Arthur William Brown, 1966.13 LIC.