Ernest Lawson 1873 —1939
No fit subjects for art, no better than ashcans
Lawson was a member with of the Ashcan School - which included members of what is otherwise known as The Eight; Robert Henri, Arthur B. Davies, William Glackens, Ernest Lawson, George Luks, Maurice Prendergast, Everett Shinn and John Sloan.
"Lawson was accused of failing to disguise the more rugged elements in his canvases. His rocks looked hard and harsh-in other words, like rocks, not cream puffs; and he often included some human sign-a tumbledown shack, a sagging jetty, an abandoned rowboat-which in those genteel days were evidently considered no better than ashcans, and no fit subjects for 'art.'-William Glackens, quoted in Ira Glackens, William Glackens and the Ashcan Group (1957)" 1
A native of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Ernest Lawson grew up in Kingston, Ontario, Kansas City, and Mexico City, following his physician father's many peregrinations. He first studied art in 1888 at the Kansas City Art Institute. In 1891 he moved to New York City, where he continued his studies both at the Art Students League and at the Cos Cob, Connecticut, summer school of John Twachtman and J. Alden Weir. In 1893 he traveled to Paris, where he enrolled in the Académie Julian. He spent the summer of 1894 in Martigues, a fishing village in the south of France, returning to Paris in triumph, with two of his paintings accepted at the annual Salon des Artistes Françaises. At this point in his career, Lawson's paintings already manifested the influence not only of Twachtman but also of two French Impressionists, Camille Pissarro and Alfred Sisley. In the flush of success, Lawson returned to Connecticut in 1894, where he married Ella Holman, one of his art teachers in Kansas City. He immediately returned to France, where he stayed for two more years. In 1896 he and his wife moved to Toronto and settled permanently in New York City in 1898, with residences first in Washington Heights and then in Greenwich Village. After establishing himself in New York, Lawson developed close friendships with William Glackens, John Sloan, Everett Shinn, George Luks, and Robert Henri. This group of artists made up the core of The Eight, who first exhibited their work together at Macbeth Gallery in 1908 in response to the earlier rejection of some of their work by the National Academy of Design.
Though Lawson made trips to Spain in 1916 and Newfoundland and Nova Scotia in 1924, most of his subjects are drawn from his New York and New England experiences. A favorite subject was the scenery in the Berkshires. The Berkshires in Western Massachusetts, depicts a scene in early autumn . The trees are beginning to turn. Reds and golden yellows are spotted in the distant hillside vista. The evergreens in the near ground punctuate the canvas, made all the more prominent alongside trees already shorn of leaves. Wending its way back, along a path are a loosely connected row of homes, simple homes, little more than cabins - just the simple human detail so identified with the ‘ashcan' school.
The Berkshires is one of Ernest Lawson's most masterful summations of his singular landscape painting style. A second generation Impressionist, Lawson's practice of "stitching" short, rapid strokes of color into a tapestry-like whole recalls the works of Willard L. Metcalf, Twachtman, and Weir. His affinity with other members of The Eight is revealed in his insistence, underlying the flurry of broken brushwork, on the concreteness of nature and the continuing human presence within it. This tension between the gentle Impressionist poetry of hills and the clear trace of rural life makes up a large part of Lawson's unique vision as a landscape painter.
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View synoptic biography below.
Over 80 museums have the work of Ernest Lawson in their collection:
The Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts; Phoenix Art Museum; Arizona State University Art Museum; The University of Arizona Museum of Art; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; San Diego Museum of Art; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, MH De Young; Santa Barbara Museum of Art; National Gallery of Canada; Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center; Historical Society of the Town of Greenwich; Bush-Holley Historic Museum; Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art; New Britain Museum of American Art; Yale University Art Gallery; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; National Gallery of Art; Smithsonian American Art Museum; The Phillips Collection; The White House; Delaware Art Museum; Lowe Art Museum; Museum of Art, Inc.; Norton Museum of Art; Georgia Museum of Art; Georgia Museum of Art; High Museum of Art; Telfair Museum of Art; The Art Institute of Chicago; Rockford Art Museum; Indianapolis Museum of Art; New Orleans Museum of Art; New Orleans Museum of Art; Mead Art Museum; Addison Gallery of American Art; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Watson Gallery, Wheaton College; Washington County Museum of Fine Arts; Farnsworth Art Museum; The University of Michigan Museum of Art; The Detroit Institute of Arts; Muskegon Museum of Art; Minneapolis Institute of Arts; The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art; The Saint Louis Art Museum; Lauren Rogers Museum of Art; Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery; The Newark Museum; Museum of New Mexico; The Brooklyn Museum of Art; Canajoharie Library and Art Gallery; National Academy of Design Museum; New York University Collection; The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Whitney Museum of American Art; Memorial Art Gallery; The Parrish Art Museum; Everson Museum Of Art; Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute; The Cleveland Museum of Art; The Columbus Museum of Art; Allen Memorial Art Museum; The Toledo Museum of Art; Butler Institute of American Art; The Philbrook Museum of Art, Inc.; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts; Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh/Carnegie Institute; Reading Public Museum; Rhode Island School of Design-Museum of Art; Hunter Museum of American Art; Cheekwood Museum of Art & Botanical Garden; San Antonio Museum of Art; San Antonio Museum of Art; Museum of Art at Brigham Young University; Maier Museum of Art; The Chrysler Museum of Art; Tacoma Art Museum; University of Wyoming Art Museum; University of Wyoming Art Museum; The Columbus Museum; The Washington County Museum of Fine Arts; Art Gallery Of Nova Scotia; Oklahoma City Museum of Art; Marion Koogler McNay Art Museum.
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