Catalog Essay | October 24, 2019 | Lot 60
Paul Cornoyer was born in St. Louis, Missouri, and attended the city’s school of fine arts before traveling to Paris in 1889 to study with Jules Lefebvre, Benjamin Constant, and Louis Blanc. Upon returning to St. Louis in 1894, he established himself as a painter of urban subjects. His work attracted the attention of William Merritt Chase, who bought one of his paintings and advised Cornoyer to visit New York. Following Chase’s advice, he moved to New York City in 1899, and found success as a painter of the city’s streets and parks. Cornoyer was at the vanguard of artists who made the city their subject; William H. Gerdts wrote that he “contributed significantly to this relatively new genre.”1 Like Chase, Cornoyer was especially interested in the city’s parks and their juxtaposition with the surrounding architecture. He also took note of the parks’ value as urban oases, and his thoughts on their social significance are worth quoting in part:
It is in the parks that the spirit of metropolitan life most truly reveals itself. The call of nature is vibrant within us all, either consciously or subconsciously. There it finds its outlet. The bustle, the work, the tension—all that is an inevitable accompaniment of city life…. There you will find all classes. The children of the rich romp on the green side by side with the worn, haggard men for whom all hope has ceased; there shop-girls and working men pause for comfort on their way from toil; there all the people who go to make up New York’s diverse population at one time or another find their way. Under the soothing influence of nature’s green their troubles and worries seem lessened…. 2
In the current example of the artist’s work “Washington Square” Cornoyer depicts the mood and ambience of the park. The arch, designed by renowned architect Stanford White, glows is the center of the painting. Washington Square Park, abundant in its history, still provides a space for local residents, students, visitors from around the world.