Ernest Lawson (1873-1939)

Queensboro Bridge

Ernest Lawson (1873-1939)
Queensboro Bridge
signed 'E. Lawson' lower right
oil on canvas laid down on board
20 x 24in. (50.8 x 61cm.)
Frank Crowninshield Collection, New York
M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., New York
F.N. Price Ernest Lawson, Canadian-American, New York, 1930, p. 22, illus.
G. Pne du Bois, Ernest Lawson, New York, 1932, pp. 38-39, illus. H. & S. Berry-Hill, Ernest Lawson - American Impressionist, 1873-1939, Leigh-on-Sea, England, 1968, no. 65, illus.

Lot Essay

Ernest Lawson was fascinated by the growing urban environment of early twentieth-century New York, a landscape of rapidly expanding population, proliferating skyscrapers and developing modes of transportation. In particular, Lawson, throughout his career was repeatedly drawn to the subject of bridges, viaducts and aqueducts. More importantly, his depictions of the famed bridges that spanned the East and Harlem Rivers were central to his most successful paintings. Queensboro Bridge from 1918 illustrates Lawson's continued intrigue with man-made structures and their relationship to the surrounding environment.

The Queensboro Bridge, originally referred to as the Long Island Bridge and then later as the Blackwell's Island Bridge (two of its massive piers are situated on this island which is currently known as Roosevelt Island) is now more commonly known as the 59th Street Bridge. Spanning the East River, the Queensboro Bridge enables transportation to Long Island City in Queens, and more importantly, is the first cantilevered bridge connected to Manhattan. Designed by engineer Gustav Lindenthal and decorated by architect Henry Hornbostel, the Queensboro Bridge was completed in 1909. The bridge represented some of the foremost advances in structural engineering and it became an important visual and technological statement to dwellers of the city. As William H. Gerdts observed: "Artists may have been attracted to the span because of the attention it received in the press. The attention in turn, was partly due to the impact of the increased flow of traffic and goods between the new areas of Queens and Long Island and Manhattan, and partly to the bridge's unusual cantilevered construction..." (Impressionist New York, New York, 1994, p. 173). The famous and awe- inspiring span of the Queensboro Bridge, with its monumental piers and far reaching spires, is dramatically documented in the present work. With bustling East River commerce at the foot of the bridge and the congested horizon of the city beyond, Lawson, with reverence, depicts the great bridge as not only a commercial lifeline, but as an aesthetic form.

Underscoring the impact of Queensboro Bridge is Lawson's unique handling of pigment, color and light. In 1916, Lawson traveled to Spain where he joined his friend Max Kuehne in Segovia. His painting technique was greatly influenced by the country's grand architecture, Mediterranean light and richness of color. Upon returning to the United States he exhibited a marked difference in his style. He incorporated into his painting a greater vigor seen both in his paint application, choice of color and handling of light. He applied his pigment with a brush and palette knife which in turn lent a unique tactile quality to the surface of his canvases. Lawson also began working with an expanded palette using brilliant blues, reds and greens reminiscent of the Spanish landscape affected by the brilliant southern sun. Executed two years after his sojourn to Spain, Queensboro Bridge clearly exhibits these newly expanded stylistic qualities that have become hallmarks of Lawson's finest works. Incorporating dramatic light and jewel-like blues, reds, greens and pinks coupled with a deliberate and heavy handed application of paint, Lawson, in Queensboro Bridge, creates an atmosphere charged with a frenetic energy common to a burgeoning city.

Though Lawson was a member of The Eight, characterized by his continual investigation into Realist subjects, his painting technique and practices were more aligned with the Impressionists. In his depiction of urban technological achievements, he was not propagating the cause of modern progress, but instead focusing on how these new structural wonders existed harmoniously within the surrounding landscape. Queensboro Bridge replete with icons of modern industry is idealized with the veiling effects of color and light.