Ernest Lawson Canada

3-22-1873 Halifax, CAN – 12-18-1939 Miami Beach, USA

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Lawson, Ernest

Ernest Lawson arrived in the United States in 1888 and settled in Kansas City. In 1891, he went to live in New York and enrolled in classes at the Art Students League, studying under John Twachtman, who introduced him to Impressionism and was the central influence of his formative years. Lawson visited France in 1893 and studied at the Académie Julian with Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant and Jean-Paul Laurens. He practiced plein air painting in southern France and at Moret-sur-Loing, where he met the English Impressionist Alfred Sisley.

Upon his return to the United States in 1896, Ernest Lawson began developing his own aesthetic. He was further encouraged by Robert Henri, William Glackens, and the other independent artists with whom he began to associate around 1903. Lawson moved to Washington Heights in Upper Manhattan in 1898, and his work for the next two decades focused on subjects from that still-unpopulated part of the metropolis.

In many ways, Ernest Lawson was an unlikely rebel. A soft-spoken, gracious, and undramatic man, he had no flair for self-promotion and little inclination to paint the rougher aspects of modern city life, which was a hallmark of five of the most significant members of the Eight. (Henri, Glackens, Sloan, Luks, and Shinn were all founding members of what became known as the Ashcan school of American art.)

The exhibition of The Eight was the "success de scandal" its organizers hoped for. If sales did not quite measure up to their expectations, the painters nonetheless became centers of media attention for some time. The show later traveled to Chicago and Boston, where it occasioned more press coverage and public discussion of the direction American art should take. Lawson and his friends had played a role in an important cultural event and in initiating debate about a needed diversity of style and subject matter in American art.

Ernest Lawson was invited to contribute three paintings to the landmark Armory Show of 1913.

Depressed and in declining health, he drowned under mysterious circumstances in 1939, apparently while swimming on Miami Beach. Friends wondered if Lawson's death had been a suicide.

Lawson's work is little-known today compared to that of many of his friends and associates, but his best paintings can be found in the collections of many American art museums. Robert Henri insisted that, among landscape artists, he was "the biggest we have had since Winslow Homer." Aside from their qualities as well-made landscapes, Ernest Lawson's works have an interesting secondary life today as a record of the twilight of pastoral Manhattan.

Art Movement: Impressionism
Influences: John Henry Twachtman, J. Alden Weir, Alfred Sisley, Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant, Jean-Paul Laurens
Traveled: USA, France, Spain
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