Robert Henri’s energetic but stark image of New York in the snow deviates from impressionist urban snow scenes of the period in several ways: it represents a common side street rather than a major avenue; there is nothing narrative, anecdotal, or prettified about the image; the straightforward, one-point perspective composition is devoid of trivial details; the exceptionally daring, textured brushwork resembles a preparatory study rather than a finished oil painting; and the somber palette creates a dark, oppressive atmosphere. In his Record Book, Henri described Snow in New York as, “N.Y. down E. on 55th St. from 6 Ave. Brown houses at 5 Ave. storm effect. snow. wagon to right.”
Having returned to New York City in 1900 following an extended stay in Paris, Henri eventually established a studio and living quarters in the Sherwood Building on the corner of West 57th Street and Sixth Avenue. In March 1902 the dealer William Macbeth encouraged him to paint New York cityscapes for inclusion in a solo exhibition scheduled for the following month. Henri hoped to produce a painting for the occasion that would achieve a degree of critical acclaim comparable to that of La Neige (1899, Louvre, Paris), a snowy view of the rue de Sèvres in Paris that had been purchased for the Musée du Luxembourg in 1899. While a buyer was found for Snow in New York, only one other work sold, prompting Henri to turn his attention primarily to portraiture.
In the summer of 1900, Robert Henri returned from a lengthy stay in Paris and rented a house in New York City on East 58th Street overlooking the East River. By June 1901 he had established a studio in the Sherwood Building on the corner of West 57th Street and Sixth Avenue, and in September he began to live there. At this point in his career, the artist occupied himself with painting cityscapes similar to those he had recently executed in Paris. In March 1902 the dealer William Macbeth encouraged him to paint New York street scenes to be included in a solo exhibition scheduled for the following month. Henri hoped to produce a painting for the occasion that would achieve a degree of critical acclaim comparable to that of La Neige
Many of Henri’s early New York cityscapes were snow scenes. Examples include East River Embankment, Winter (1900, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington), East River, Snow (1900, The Archer M. Huntington Art Gallery, University of Texas, Austin), and Blackwell’s Island, East River (1901, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York).
Henri alluded to Snow in New York in a diary entry of March 5, 1902: “Painted snow storm. street. high houses with well of sky between. gray looming sky. brownish houses near horizon. figures. red note electric street lamp. snow.” He identified the exact subject in his Record Book: “N.Y. down E. on 55th St. from 6 Ave. Brown houses at 5 Ave. storm effect. snow. wagon to right.”
Record Book “A,” no. 54. A transcription of the text and copy of the artist’s sketch of the painting from the Record Book were sent June 28, 1968, to E. John Bullard III of the National Gallery of Art by Robert Chapellier of Chapellier Galleries, New York (in NGA curatorial files). The original Record Books are owned privately.
Leslie Katz, “The World of the Eight,” Arts Yearbook 1 (1957): 70.
For an interesting comparison, see Manet’s Effect of Snow on Petit-Montrouge, 1870, oil on canvas, National Museum Cardiff.
Those who reviewed the 1902 Macbeth Gallery exhibition evidently did not single out Snow in New York for discussion, but they did react to Henri’s bold technique. Arthur Hoeber complained that “not infrequently Mr. Henri leaves off where the real difficulties of picture-making begin.”
Arthur Hoeber, New York Commercial Advertiser, April 4, 1902, quoted in Bennard B. Perlman, Robert Henri: His Life and Art (New York, 1991), 49.
Charles FitzGerald, “Mr. Robert Henri and Some ‘Translators,’” New York Evening Sun, April 8, 1902, quoted in Bennard B. Perlman, Robert Henri: His Life and Art (New York, 1991), 49.
Samuel Swift, New York Mail & Express, April 8, 1902; the Brooklyn Eagle, April 4, 1902; both quoted in Bennard B. Perlman, Robert Henri: His Life and Art (New York, 1991), 49.
Because of its literal objectivity, Snow in New York has traditionally been interpreted by art historians as exemplifying Henri’s penchant for matter-of-fact reportage of urban subjects. Such a view is reflected in Milton W. Brown’s characterization of it as “a paradigm of the new realism in American painting of the turn of the century that became known as the Ashcan school.”
Milton W. Brown, One Hundred Masterpieces of American Painting from Public Collections in Washington, D.C. (Washington, DC, 1983), 124. John Walker, Paintings from America (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, 1951), 36, opined that Snow in New York was evidence that the Ashcan school painters were capable of “subtle tenderness” in addition to their reputation for painterly gusto and social protest, and noted its “mood of wistfulness, its nostalgia like that curious sadness which sometimes comes at twilight.”
Bruce Chambers, “Robert Henri’s Street Scene with Snow (57th Street, N.Y.C.): An Ideal of City ‘in Snow Effect,’” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin 39 (Winter 1986): 34–35. Henri listed and described Street Scene with Snow in his Record Book “A,” number 222; an entry in his diary of Dec. 5, 1902 documents that he painted the picture that afternoon.
Discouraged by the fact that his New York cityscapes failed to sell and increasingly attracted to figurative art, Henri ceased to paint urban subjects and resolved to become a portraitist late in 1902. In retrospect, the expressive intensity and painterly fluency of Snow in New York qualify it as one of Henri’s most accomplished works from this early period in his career. It exemplifies his advice that students should strive to capture “the romance of snow-filled atmosphere and the grimness of a house.”
Robert Henri, The Art Spirit, comp. Margery Ryerson (New York, 1923), 259; quoted in Mahonri Sharp Young, The Eight (New York, 1973), 24.
Van Wyck Brooks, John Sloan: A Painter's Life (New York, 1955), 126.
September 29, 2016
lower left: Robert Henri / Mar 5 1902
Sold 1902 to A.J. Crawford. (Sale, James P. Silo, New York, 20-21 February 1925, no. 268); Chester Dale [1883-1962], New York; gift 1954 to NGA.
- Exhibition of Pictures by Robert Henri, Macbeth Gallery, New York, 1902, no. 6.
- An Exhibition of American Paintings from the Chester Dale Collection, The Union League Club, New York, 1937, no. 45, as New York Street in Winter.
- New York Realists 1900-1914, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1937, no. 26, as New York Street in Winter.
- Paintings from the Chester Dale Collection, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1943-1951, unnumbered catalogue, repro., as New York Street in Winter.
- The Chester Dale Bequest, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1965, unnumbered checklist, as New York Street in Winter.
- From Impressionism to Modernism: The Chester Dale Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, January 2010-January 2012, unnumbered catalogue, repro.
- Paintings from the Chester Dale Collection. Philadelphia, 1943: unpaginated, repro.
- Walker, John. Paintings from America. Harmondsworth, England, 1951: 36, 43, pl. 43, as New York Street in Winter.
- Paintings other than French in the Chester Dale Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 47, repro., color repro. as frontispiece, as New York Street in Winter.
- American Paintings and Sculpture: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1970: 66, repro.
- Young, Mahonri Sharp. The Eight. New York, 1973: 24, repro.
- American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1980: 174, repro.
- Wilmerding, John. American Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Art. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1980: 134, repro.
- Williams, William James. A Heritage of American Paintings from the National Gallery of Art. New York, 1981: color repro. 167, 199, 201.
- Brown, Milton W. One Hundred Masterpieces of American Painting from Public Collections in Washington, D.C. Washington, D.C., 1983: 124-125, color pl.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 572, no. 875, color repro.
- Chambers, Bruce. “Robert Henri’s Street Scene with Snow (57th Street, N.Y.C.): An Ideal of City ‘in Snow Effect.’” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin 39 (Winter 1986): 30-39; 37-38, fig. 7.
- Wilmerding, John. American Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Art. Rev. ed. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1988: 154, repro.
- Perlman, Bennard B. Robert Henri: His Life and Art. New York, 1991: 55-56.
- American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 199, repro.
- Gerdts, William H. Impressionist New York. New York, 1994: 35, color pl. 22.
- Zurier, Rebecca, Robert W. Snyder, and Virginia M. Mecklenburg. Metropolitan Lives: The Ashcan Artists and Their New York. Exh. cat. National Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C., 1995: 69-70, fig. 68.
- Southgate, M. Therese. The Art of JAMA: One Hundred Covers and Essays from The Journal of the American Medical Association. St. Louis, 1997: 62, 202, color repro.
The plain-weave, medium-weight canvas support was glue-lined to a similar fabric and remounted on a non-original stretcher in 1952. The original tacking edges were removed at that time. The thin ground is brown-black and remains exposed in several areas. The artist freely applied paint in a thick paste with high impasto in the whites and bright colors. In the dark areas, the paint was applied in a thin wash so that the fabric weave remains visible. There are numerous small losses in the high impasto areas, scattered small areas of retouching at the top right, in the center around the street lamp, and at the bottom in the center. The surface was inpainted and coated with a synthetic resin varnish in 1981, after it was cleaned of a yellowed varnish and severely discolored retouching.