Ernest Lawson was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and had his first artistic training at the Kansas City Art Institute under the guidance of Ella Holman, his future wife. At the age of seventeen, he traveled to Mexico City with his father, where he took a job as an engineering draftsman and enrolled in evening classes at the San Carlos Art School. He returned to the United States in 1891, and studied at the Art Students League with John Henry Twachtman. The following year, he enrolled at the school run by Twachtman and J. Alden Weir in Cos Cob, Connecticut. Twachtman was a major influence on the young artist's work and remained so throughout his career.
In 1893, Lawson traveled to Paris, where he worked with Jean-Paul Laurens and Benjamin Constant at the Académie Julian. During the summer months, he traveled and sketched in the French countryside. He remained in France for most of the next five years, exhibited twice at the Paris Salon and met the Impressionist Alfred Sisley whose “open air” style of landscape painting enthralled Lawson.
Lawson returned to America in 1896, and in 1898, moved with his family to Washington Heights, located on the northern tip of Manhattan, which, during the late 1800s and early 1900s, was known as Fort George. For the next eight years, he painted in Fort George or nearby Spuyten Duyvil where the Hudson and Harlem Rivers converge. At the time, these areas of New York were sparsely populated and spotted with small farms. He also ventured to rural areas in Vermont, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania, in search of material for his work.
In 1908, after four years of rejection by the National Academy of Design, Lawson and a group of artist friends held an independent exhibition of the newly formed "Eight" at the Macbeth Gallery in New York. This show was considered a bold secession from the art establishment represented by the National Academy. Ironically, Lawson and most other members of the Eight were later accepted as members of the National Academy. Lawson also became a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters. In 1913, he exhibited three paintings in the landmark Armory Show, and for the next two decades, exhibited very successfully at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Corcoran Gallery (now part of the National Gallery), the Pittsburgh International Exposition, and the Pan-Pacific Exposition, San Francisco.
In the present example, the artist has captured the sensation of a wintry day. The layering of paint not only acts to highlight, but in conjunction with visible broken brushstrokes and thick impasto, creates a highly tactile surface and gives the impression of a shimmering light throughout the composition. Beginning in the 1890s, Lawson became well known for his winter scenes and his subtle, monochromatic palette lent itself to this subject.
Although originally thought to depict Westport, Connecticut, it is most likely a view of northern Manhattan. Views of the Hudson and Harlem Rivers, High Bridge and the George Washington Bridge, and the rural landscapes of the Inwood, Morningside Heights, and Ft. George neighborhoods of upper Manhattan were Lawson’s frequent sources of inspiration during this period. He began to focus on the hilly area of Inwood beginning in 1912, and this is likely the location depicted in the current example.