Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Ernest Lawson spent his childhood in Canada and moved to Kansas City, Missouri, in 1888. He began his art studies there but moved to New York in 1891 to pursue more serious training. A student of John Twachtman at the Art Students League, Lawson also studied with Twachtman in Cos Cob, Connecticut, where an Impressionist art colony was flourishing. In 1893, he completed his art education in Paris where he studied at the Academie Julian.
Lawson married in 1894, and his family settled in upper Manhattan. Many of his paintings from the 1890s through the first decade of the 1900s are depictions of this section of northern New York City, where the Hudson and Harlem Rivers converge. Scholars have identified this early period in Lawson’s career as his Harlem River Period. The artist’s Middle Period is loosely associated with a family trip to Spain in 1916, and a Florida Period, from 1927 until his death in 1939, marks his final years, years dampened by the artist’s depression and ill health.
Lawson, along with William Glackens, John Sloan, George Luks, Everett Shinn, Arthur B. Davies, Robert Henri, and Maurice Prendergast established an artistic union known as “The Eight,” founded in reaction to the revered National Academy’s conservatism. The artist’s brand of realism, which at times might appear to be a form of social realism, affiliates him with a modern current in American art and specifically the Ashcan School.