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Painting Central Park

Roger F. Pasquier ’69 explores a beloved landmark through the lens of art
Julius Bien, after John Bachmann, Central Park (Summer), 1865; Color lithograph on paper; Museum of the City of New York (pp. 36–37)

Julius Bien, after John Bachmann, Central Park (Summer), 1865; Color lithograph on paper; Museum of the City of New York (pp. 36–37)

PAINTING BY ROGER F. PASQUIER '69

Roger F. Pasquier ’69, whose Painting Central Park (Vendome Press, $60) is excerpted here, has also authored several books on birds, including Masterpieces of Bird Art: 700 Years of Ornithological Illustration (Abbeville Press, 1991). A longtime birder and conservationist, Pasquier spends hours in Central Park, the same park where he played as a child and a park that, as a recent Wall Street Journal profile of Pasquier notes, is many New Yorkers’ “real backyard.” Pasquier’s newest volume includes a range of artful depictions of this green refuge from sometime New Yorkers (or New York transients) such as Marc Chagall, Edward Hopper, Childe Hassam, Richard Estes, David Hockney, George Grosz and Helen Frankenthaler.

— Rose Kernochan BC’82


Painting Central Park

I have spent much of my life in Central Park, first as an infant in a perambulator, then as a child climbing on the rock outcrops and roller skating around the Conservatory Water, later exploring the Ramble when I was old enough to be allowed to go alone, and watching birds throughout the park ever since my early teens. Having studied art history in college and graduate school, I have long wanted to explore Central Park through the lens of art. But I first thought seriously of the possibilities during the few years I lived far from it, in Washington, D.C. There, nothing made me more homesick than looking at George Bellows’s Bethesda Fountai at the Hirshhorn Museum. When I finally found the time to take up the subject, I first wondered whether there were in fact enough really good paintings of the park, by enough artists, throughout the years since the park was created in the 1860s. To my happy amazement, I rapidly found more than eighty well-known painters who have depicted Central Park. (And what fun it was to discover their depictions of the stages of my own park life — as an infant with a nursemaid, as a child climbing the rocks and watching the model boats on the Conservatory Water, even as a birdwatcher.)

Roger F. Pasquier ’69

Roger F. Pasquier ’69

ELLEN WARNER

Not all of the painters I found are included here — some, in fact, did much better work elsewhere — and I have featured some less familiar artists whose paintings have historic value documenting the park’s evolving landscape and popular activities. I took photocopies of many paintings into Central Park, in the hope of finding precisely where the artists stood. I enjoyed thinking of myself as following, on a small scale, the advice of the author of The Oregon Trail, Francis Parkman, who said that the historian must always see firsthand the places in his narrative. I was surprised at how often I could quite literally put myself in the painter’s place. And I enjoyed discovering how some artists deliberately rearranged pieces of the landscape for their own expressive purposes.

The whole process of searching for the artists, their paintings, and the places they painted, and then looking for the broader patterns or historic interest the paintings may reveal, has given me a new appreciation for the park I thought I knew so well.

George Bellows, A Day in June, 1913; Oil on canvas; Detroit Institute of Arts (pp. 146–147)

George Bellows, A Day in June, 1913; Oil on canvas; Detroit Institute of Arts (pp. 146–147)

Richard Estes, Sunday Afternoon in the Park, 1989; Oil on canvas; Private collection (pp. 166–167)

Richard Estes, Sunday Afternoon in the Park, 1989; Oil on canvas; Private collection (pp. 166–167)

Edward Hopper, Bridle Path, 1939; Oil on canvas; Private collection (pp. 118–119)

Edward Hopper, Bridle Path, 1939; Oil on canvas; Private collection (pp. 118–119)

Alex Katz, Bicycle Rider (Bicycling in Central Park), 1982; Color lithograph; Metropolitan Museum of Art (p. 121)

Alex Katz, Bicycle Rider (Bicycling in Central Park), 1982; Color lithograph; Metropolitan Museum of Art (p. 121)