Painted circa 1915, Melting Snow exemplifies Ernest Lawson's approach to rural subject matter painted in an Impressionist style. With its richly textured paint application, bold compositional format and clear sense of light and atmosphere, Melting Snow forms a succinct bridge between his work as an urban realist and his efforts as a nascent American Impressionist.
After studying in Cos Cob, Connecticut with John Henry Twachtman and Julian Alden Weir, in 1899 Lawson moved with his wife to Washington Heights, on the northern tip of Manhattan. There he concentrated on painting subject matter around the confluence of the Hudson and Harlem Rivers through Spuyten Duyvil. At the same time he often ventured outside the city to Vermont, New Jersey and Pennsylvania to portray the rural landscape. Melting Snow was most likely painted outside of New York or Philadelphia, where Lawson found ample subject matter in the picturesque network of canals, milldams and waterways that were developed during the nineteenth century. Like his views of Manhattan from the same era, Lawson's landscapes such as Melting Snow reveal an artist sensitive to the changing face of the metropolitan environment.
Melting Snow lends much of its poetic charm to Lawson's close association with his teacher Julian Alden Weir and his friend and mentor John Henry Twachtman. Twachtman's nearly monochromatic compositions of the Connecticut countryside provided for Lawson an artistic foundation on which he could express his own love for the rural landscape. The soft brushwork in the background of Melting Snow, as well as the painting's overall tonal quality, recalls Twachtman's own approach to landscape painting. In adapting these characteristics, Lawson created an entirely new and highly personal vision of the winter landscape.
Melting Snow depicts a partially frozen milldam or canal house, as the winter snow begins to melt away. A well-traveled road follows the edge of the water, and as the snow recedes, it begins to reveal the soft ground beneath. More than just a depiction of a picturesque rural site, Melting Snow suggests the timeless passage from late winter into early spring. In works such as Melting Snow Lawson portrayed with great clarity and boldness the realities of modern life at the turn of the twentieth century. And as an Impressionist, he was able to depict these realities with a poetic charm and enduring vision.