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LOVELL BIRGE HARRISON
Madison Square Looking Toward the Flatiron Building, ca. 1910
oil on canvas
signed lower left "Birge Harrison"
oil on canvas
25 x 30 inches
Provenance: Godel & Co. Fine Art, New York, New York; A Connecticut estate.
Other notes: A copy of the purchase receipt accompanies this lot.
Framed dimensions: 36 3/4 x 41 1/2 x 3 inches
"If I were condemned to pass the rest of my life inside the limits of New York City, I should never be at a loss for magnificent subjects to paint. Why, there is material for an artist's lifetime within a quarter mile of Madison Squareâ€¦"
Lovell Birge Harrison trained with some of the best artists of the day and became an influential teacher and co-founder of the Art Students League Summer School in Woodstock, New York. As a painter, he is best known for his tonalist landscapes and cityscapes of Quebec and New York City. Art historian David Adams Cleveland noted of Harrison, "Perhaps no painter of his generation was able to combine such finesse of design, acuity of execution, and depth of emotionâ€¦"
Harrison was born in Philadelphia in 1854. His father was a wealthy and cultured man who appreciated the arts but wanted his children to pursue more lucrative careers. Despite this, Harrison enrolled at the Philadelphia Sketch Club under the tutelage of Thomas Eakins at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA).
At PAFA, in 1876, he met John Singer Sargeant who advised Harrison to pursue studies under Carolus-Duran in Parris. Harrison left for Paris that year and studied with Carolus-Duran, Jules Bastien-Lepage and at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. The French government recognized Harrison by purchasing one of his paintings from the Salon in 1881. The painting, November, was among the first American paintings purchased by France.
While abroad, Harrison traveled extensively in France, Europe and to India, Australia, Asia and Africa. He did illustrations for Scribner's, Century and Harper's magazines. When he returned to the United States, he moved first to California. After the death of his first wife, Eleanor Ritchie, he moved back to the East Coast. In 1904 he met Ralph Whitehead and worked as an instructor at Byrdcliffe. He soon moved to nearby Woodstock and eventually became the head of the Woodstock Art Colony. Harrison taught his students what he valued in his own paintings, soft lighting, muted colors, and emotion.
After his extensive training and travels, Harrison would return often to New York City subjects, saying; "â€¦I followed his advice [George Inness] from all my excursions out into the world I have returned time and again to the charm of New York streets for my subjects. In spite of the irregularity (because of it, perhaps) New York is certainly one of the most picturesque cities in the worldâ€“ a temperamental city also, of ever shifting and varying effects, with a mood to suit the brush of every painter who appreciates her."
The present canvas is a masterwork by the artist, synthesizing his understanding of Tonalism and Impressionism. In Madison Square Looking Toward the Flatiron Building Harrison captures a rare moment of quiet in the city. The cool serene scene is brought to life with the warm glow from the street lights reflecting on the wet pavement. Another version of this scene was recorded in The Craftsmen from 1908. Like many Impressionist artists, Harrison likely revisited the same scene to capture subtle differences in the atmosphere.
Harrison's paintings are in numerous public and private collections including the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the National Academy Museum, the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco and the Musee d'Orsay in Paris.
 "The Picturesqueness of New York Streets: Illustrated in the Paintings of Birge Harrison," in The Craftsmen, vol. XIII, no. 4, (January 1908), p. 398.
Tags: listed artist, oil painting, New York City, 20th century, American Impressionism, Tonalism
Condition: in overall very good condition; lined canvas; there are a few minor touch-ups and repairs visible under UV (additional UV photos available upon request)
Condition Report Note:
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