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Born in Nova Scotia, Ernest Lawson spent his boyhood in Ontario. In 1890, he went to New York to enroll in the Art Students League and spent time in the summers at Cos Cob, Connecticut, with his friends, the American impressionists John Twachtmann and J. Alden Weir. There, he first painted “en plein air.”
Lawson visited France during the years 1893 to ’98. He studied at the Academy Julian with Jean Paul Laurens and Benjamin Constant, but spent most of his time painting outdoors in the French countryside. Returning to New York City, he settled there for many years, living from 1898 in Washington Heights, which then was rural with trees and fields, and grazing animals. He painted the bucolic landscape around him, especially the Hudson River in winter, the subject for which he is best known.
In 1908, he participated in the 1908 exhibition of “The Eight” at Macbeth Gallery. Unlike Henri and the other Social Realists, Lawson preferred vistas to intimate views and was the only artist in that exhibition who painted landscapes rather than street life.
In 1912-1913, he was one of the founders of the National Association of Painters and Sculptors. This organization planned the 1913 Armory Show that remains famous in art history for being a large-scale introduction of modernist art to the American public. In 1917, he was elected a Full Member of the National Academy of Design.
When painting, Lawson did not work from preliminary drawings but put paint to canvas directly. His many-colored palette and heavy impasto gave his works, according to critics, a rich “crushed jewel” effect which you can see in the painting here.
In 1916 the Corcoran Gallery awarded Lawson a prize which afforded him the means to return to Europe. It was at this time that he painted the work we are offering here. This landscape of peasants at work below Segovia, harvesting and gleaning wheat, is weighted down with a rapidly applied, dense impasto. The dazzling Spanish sun has brightened Lawson’s palette, against which the black oxen at the center serve as a dramatic foil. The bulls of Segovia were famous in the ring.
Lawson’s later years were unfortunate, marked by increasing illness and concomitant penury. He died in Florida in 1939.
Ernest Lawson in selected collections:
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