A detail of an iconic nineteenth-century landscape by Francis Guy graces the front of the 2008 holiday card from the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
. Winter Scene in Brooklyn, which depicts a busy street scene from the artist’s neighborhood, is the most recent work to be announced as part of the museum’s permanent collection. A section from the lower right-hand corner of this wintry landscape appears on the front of the card, and an image of the full painting appears on the back.
Winter Scene in Brooklyn was painted between 1818 and 1820 and is one of two large works that depict a view of Guy’s neighborhood from the second floor of his Brooklyn home. The view captures a section of Front Street between Main and Fulton Streets, in an area that is now under the Brooklyn Bridge. The other painting of this scene, also titled Winter Scene in Brooklyn, is part of the Brooklyn Museum’s permanent collection.
“Francis Guy’s Winter Scene in Brooklyn, a view from the artist’s window, documents a particular intersection in Brooklyn and celebrates growing national prosperity increasingly centered in the urban milieu and specifically in and around New York,” said Chris Crosman, chief curator for the museum. “Moreover, the painting suggests the origins of our unique national identity including a diversity of economic activities, social status, national origins and race.”
The painting is notable for its accurate depiction of the area’s architecture and its cultural diversity. The people in the painting are actual residents; in fact, some scholars believe that the man in the top hat in the lower center of the painting is a self-portrait of Guy with an easel under his arm. The cultural richness of the neighborhood is reflected by the people in the painting as well as in the architecture. People of varying ages, occupations and race are represented, including Dutch and African American. This area in Brooklyn was commonly thought to be the most developed part of the city at that time.
Although Guy was known as the “grandfather of American landscape painting,” he had no formal art training. He began painting in 1800 at a time when interest in landscape painting was still relatively new but growing. Guy’s style was a precursor to the Hudson River School, which became popular in the middle of the century. By then, landscape painting had become a significant part of American art.