The 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.
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.
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.
Of his many paintings of the area, Lawson seemed particularly enchanted by the landscape we now call 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, “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.