Ernest Lawson, a progressive artist and member of a group of artists called The Eight, achieved early recognition with his impressionist landscape paintings but later in life experienced personal tragedy and artistic isolation. Born in Nova Scotia in 1873, Lawson studied at the Art Students League, New York, from 1891 to 1892 and took summer classes in Cos Cob, Connecticut, under J. Alden Weirand John Twachtman. Lawson’s early work has delicate tones and harmonious textures reminiscent of Twachtman’s style. While living in France from 1893 to 1896, Lawson briefly attended the Académie Julian. During this time, he met the Impressionist painter Alfred Sisley, an encounter that confirmed Lawson’s love of painting outdoors, and his first success came when the Paris Salon accepted two paintings in 1894. Returning to New York in 1898, Lawson concentrated on certain sites of upper Manhattan—their light, seasons, and times of day—a body of work that marked the height of his career. These characteristic works depicting the semi-industrial landscape of New York and the lower Hudson River employ thick impasto, strong contour lines, and areas of bold, yet harmonious color to create highly structured compositions that appeared quite progressive at the time. They are often constructed of horizontal bands denoting land, water, and sky, while a delicate network of vertical lines creates foreground grasses and trees that reach past the middle ground toward a hazy horizon.
Lawson joined the rebellion against the National Academy of Design when his work was rejected in 1905 and through his friend William Glackens, became a member of The Eight, a group of American artists who were dedicated to challenging the dominance of the Academy. Lawson also participated in the Independent Artists exhibition in 1910 and the Armory Show in 1913. He won numerous awards including gold medals at the Pennsylvania Academy (1907) and Panama Pacific Exposition (1915). A year’s stay in Spain in 1916 with his wife and two daughters may have been the highlight of his private life, but financial troubles and bouts of alcoholism subsequently caused him to lose his family and many patrons. Impoverished and in ill health, Lawson accepted teaching positions in Kansas City and Colorado Springs during the 1920s. In 1936 he moved to Florida, where he died of an apparent heart attack in 1939.