Artist Everett Shinn’s “Most Beautiful Spot”: Washington Square 1910 | P.s. Did the Park Shrink at Some Point?

Everett Shinn Washington Square Park 1910
Everett Shinn’s Washington Square Park 1910

Of the many New York City scenes artist Everett Shinn (1876-1953) painted, many were of parks and squares, and Washington Square Park was his favorite. This painting from 1910 depicts a rainy night just outside the park looking in.

The portrait was included as representative for a 1911 New York Times article, “What is the Most Beautiful Spot in New York?”. Shinn told the newspaper, “When I want to be sure to find beauty I go to Washington Square… No matter what the conditions may be under which I see it—no matter what my mood may be—I feel almost sure that it will appeal to me as beautiful.”

Now part of the collection at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, their site includes an excellent write up about Shinn by writer Janet L. Comey who also depicts Washington Square Park as 13.5 acres. Parks Department figures in more recent years have placed the park size at 9.75 acres. Did the park shrink at some point? Or is it really larger than 9.75 acres?

During the many years of controversial meetings “addressing” the redesign of the park, advocates wondered about the stated acreage. If the square measured 10 acres or larger, it was noted a more substantial review would have been required before the redesign went forth. Some said the sidewalks were not included in the number and the Parks Department should have included them – but 13.5 acres would be more than sidewalks.

My understanding was that the park retained the same footprint over the last 100 years, despite the redesigns. Sadly, the idea that the acreage was played with by Bloomberg Admin Parks officials (many of whom still have key roles at the agency) to bypass a certain review does not seem far-fetched.

About the artist Everett Shinn and painting via the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston:

Everett Shinn, a painter, muralist, and illustrator, arrived in New York City in 1897. A member of the Eight, a group of realist painters who would become known as the Ashcan School, he loved the spectacle of city life and, like his artistic colleagues, he preferred to seek his subject matter in the slums and middle-class café society. He painted tenement fires, bread lines, and theater scenes, but he especially liked to depict the parks and squares of the city; Washington Square, a 13.5 acre (5.5 hectare) park in the midst of New York City’s Greenwich Village, was his favorite.

During the early decades of the twentieth century, the streets surrounding Washington Square, once very exclusive, had become the home of a mixture of middle-class and wealthy old New York families, Italian immigrants, and numerous writers and artists, including Shinn.

(Very exclusive is pretty much how it is now, yes? Wonder if, when that will switch around again.)

This bustling nocturnal view of Washington Square is one of more than twenty images that Shinn created of the park between 1899 and 1951. He depicted the square under a variety of weather conditions and at different times of day. In this pastel Shinn rendered the park on a snowy evening as city dwellers rush through. …

Shinn used the snow to highlight the curve of the bicyclist’s wheel, the gnarled tree branches, and the details of Washington Arch (1892), a monument designed by his friend, the preeminent architect Stanford White.

It is interesting to learn more of the history of the artists at that time and the sensibility that existed then amongst them. You can read more about that here.

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2 thoughts on “Artist Everett Shinn’s “Most Beautiful Spot”: Washington Square 1910 | P.s. Did the Park Shrink at Some Point?”

  1. Should be easy to get an estimate by walking and measuring the perimeter of the park. I’d be interested to do this with you.

  2. Hey Georgia,

    That sounds great. Lets do that! I am curious. I got some feedback on Facebook which might be helpful too.

    Will be in touch – Thanks.



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