Winter Snow Scene At Washington Square Painted By Paul Cornoyer
& A Brief History Of The Life Of The Artist
Impressionist and tonalist, Paul Cornoyer (August 15, 1864 – June 17, 1923) depicts Washington Square Park after a snowstorm circa 1908. Cornoyer’s strength lies in his ability to celebrate wet days. Many of his paintings feature rain or snow and its aftereffects. Cornoyer was a master at evoking a gloomy mood with interesting lighting effects bringing about an emotional response from the viewer.
With all the snow New York has been getting in 2021, this scene, barring the pedestrian fashions shown here, is remarkably similar to today. The Washington Arch and many surrounding buildings remain.
“I love the glowing irregular beauty of New York; it is as elusive as a woman’s charm.” Cornoyer once said of his favorite subject, New York City.
A St. Louis Native
Growing up in St. Louis, MO, Cornoyer had a strong attraction to art and drawing. His mother related that she did not hope he would become an artist one day – she knew it. Seeing his pencil sketches she realized her son possessed natural artistic talent. At age 17 Cornoyer attended the St. Louis School of Fine Art and worked as a cartoonist and a reporter at the St. Louis Republican newspaper to fund his studies.
Cornoyer saved enough money to eventually go abroad to further his education at the Julian Academy in Paris. Instead of concentrating on painting pictures and getting “showings,” Cornoyer focused upon mastering the principles of his craft.
If his early output was not commensurate with his talent, he still produced enough paintings to win awards. Cornoyer won the first prize at the American Art Association exhibit of 1892 with his painting of the Paris Observatory on a rainy day. He won first prize at the Artist’s Club in Paris that same year. Cornoyer was also awarded a gold medal at the St. Louis Association of Painters and Sculptors in 1895. While in Paris, commission’s came in from St. Louis collectors and the artist was able to support himself.
Reading Cornoyer’s words in an interview, he sounds the way he paints.
Discussing his Paris stay from 1889 through 1894, Cornoyer told a St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter upon his return to the United States:
I could live there and dream my life away on $40 a month.
Everything is so swell. The streets, the churches, the cafes, the people are also different. They know how to live. One can be unconventional without being dissipated. Many a night I have sat and watched the sun rise over the big city at a table in some little cafe with a number or friends, slowly sipping our wine, and there was no thought that we were doing anything but what was entirely proper. ‘They appreciate the sun over there so much more anyway. If a number of young men were to stay up all night in America everyone would insist that they were out on a spree, They would be lucky indeed to find a nice place to spend the night this way in comfort.
The delightful freedom of that life is hard to understand. You do just as you please with no one to bother and annoy you, You may do your work at midnight, dawn or midday. You may wear what you please, no matter how outrageously ludicrous a get up you put on you can walk down the street with the assurance that no one will pay the slightest attention to you. You see there are some 10,000 or 20,000 students in the quarter, and they got used to the different styles of all kinds of geniuses.
Cornoyer was trying to make a go of it in St. Louis, but he was struggling to sell his paintings. In 1897, the celebrated artist William Merritt Chase bought Cornoyer’s painting of Place Denfert, Paris at the Fine Arts Exhibition in Philadelphia, lauding it with praise. Chase began corresponding with Cornoyer and told Cornoyer that artistically, he did not belong in St. Louis and should come to work in New York City.
In 1899 Cornoyer came to live in New York and began painting street scenes. In addition to painting he began teaching four nights a week at the Mechanics’ Institute, a school similar to Cooper Union in scope, though concentrating on the arts.
For nearly twenty years Cornoyer would paint the New York cityscape, continually returning to favorite spots, especially Madison Square.
A long feature about Cornoyer by The St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1911 had a headline, concurring with what many critics believed, “Best Paintings of New York Are From A St. Louisan.”
Through the remaining years of Cornoyer’s life his work was displayed at galleries and exhibitions, always earning high praise from the public and art critics.
When Cornoyer died suddenly in Gloucester, MA on June 17, 1923 the New York Times and other newspapers summed up his life in just one paragraph, proving once again that fame is fleeting.