Artist Ernest Lawson

by Cole Thompson

art-across-the-river-ernest-lawson-1910The natural beauty of the Spuyten Duyvil has long been the inspiration for artistic endeavors. Its marshland, slick currents, wildlife and humanity struck a particular chord within turn of the century painter Ernest Lawson.

Photo of artist Ernest Lawson who often pained scenes along the Spuyten Duyvil in Inwood, New York. Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1873, Lawson was one of “The Eight”, whose members included William Glackens, George Luks, Maurice Prendergast, Robert Henri, Everett Shinn, John Sloan and Arthur P. Davies.

"Shadows: Spuyten Duyvil Hill," 1910, by artist Ernest Lawson

"Shadows: Spuyten Duyvil Hill," 1910

Often painting landscapes, Lawson, for much of his life, focused his impressionistic brush strokes on that narrow spit of water separating Manhattan from the Bronx.

"The Old Tulip Tree of Long Island" by Ernest Lawson. Tree was actually in Inwood in northern Manhattan.

Of his many paintings of the area, Lawson seemed particularly enchanted by the landscape we now call Inwood Hill Park. July 1913 photo of the great Tulip tree in Inwood, New York on the site currently occupied by Inwood Hill Park. Ironically, his greatest tribute to the Inwood’s long history, an oil painting of the mighty tulip, is mislabeled and sits in a Tennessee museum under the name “The Old Tulip Tree,  Long Island.” While there is an Inwood, Long Island, a photo from the Library of Congress, taken in 1913 , clearly shows the spot from whence Lawson drew his inspiration.

Today, Lawson’s beautiful landscapes are both valued and cherished by Museums around the nation. He did, however, among his contemporaries, have his detractors. Said famed realist painter William Glackens, 1913 painting "Dyckman House" in Inwood, New York by artist Ernest Lawson. “Lawson was accused of failing to disguise the more rugged elements in his canvases. His rocks looked hard and harsh-in other words, like rocks, not cream puffs; and he often included some human sign-a tumbledown shack, a sagging jetty, an abandoned rowboat-which in those genteel days were evidently considered no better than ash cans, and no fit subjects for ‘art.’”

Over the course of Lawson’s colorful and prolific career he briefly shared an apartment with Somerset Maughan, summered in the South of France and, in his prime, saw his work displayed in the famous Group of Eight exhibition of 1908.

Following his paintbrush from Egypt to Kansas City Lawson often returned to his beloved Spuyten Duyvil and Inwood Valley.

In 1939 Lawson’s body was found on a Miami beach.

Below is a slideshow of Lawson’s paintings of Inwood and the Spuyten Duyvil.

or click here for more Inwood History

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Steve August 31, 2009 at 7:22 pm

We have a portrait that Lawson did of my great uncle. We believe it is called Portrait of a Gentleman. Lawson painted himself into this portrait by showing himself through a reflection in a mirror as he is painting the portrait. We are thinking of loaning it to a museum. If anybody is interested or can send us more information please contact me.

Cole Thompson August 31, 2009 at 11:05 pm

That sounds like a real treasure. I’ll post this and perhaps someone can steer you in the right direction. Cole

chris washington August 20, 2011 at 7:27 pm

Hello, I found a hand painted limoge signed by E. Lawson. Actually its a teapot that I found in a thrift store. I have researched his work and found his paintings are worth much money but no information on signed pieces of pottery that he painted during his career.

Jim Taylor June 12, 2012 at 7:04 pm

If you check the website of the Hunter Museum of American Art (located in Chattanooga, Tennessee), you’ll find that Lawson’s tulip tree painting no longer includes “Long Island” in the title. There’s a story behind this. On Feb. 28, 2001, the curator of the museum wrote to Tom Cahill and me that “The evidence that you have marshaled in favor of the location being Inwood, Manhattan rather than Long Island is very compelling.” The evidence in question included: (1) a copy Robert Bracklow’s photo of the tree, which I obtained from the NY Historical Society (the same photo that appears at of and (2) a painting Lawson did of the same locale, titled “Winter, Spuyten Duyvil,” which I photographed at the Wadsworth Atheneum, in Hartford, CT.
Tom Cahill deserves credit for immediately identifying the error in the title of the painting, which I posted, along with the two pictures mentioned above, at the Inwood@yahoodgroups site, administered by John McMullen. Cahill, McMullen and I all grew up in Inwood.
There is more information on this subject at (scroll down to “Tulip Tree”).

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