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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

“Skating in Central Park” by Agnes Tait

Skating in Central Park by Agnes Tait

“Skating in Central Park” by Agnes Tait

“Skating in Central Park” by Agnes Tait is a large, festive scene of winter revellers in Central Park, New York City. It depicts skaters and sledders on the frozen lake and the snowy slopes of the park. It is late afternoon, the sun is setting behind the Manhattan skyline, and the contrast between the snow and the dark branches of the bare trees is delightful. Tait has combined stylistic elements inspired from American Primitive Art merged with influences drawn from Pieter Breughel the Elder’s artistic universe.

Agnes Tait was a painter, artist, lithographer, book illustrator and muralist. She began work on “Skating in Central Park”, under the employment from the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP). This program employed artists, as part of the New Deal, during the Great Depression. The purpose of the program was:

“to give work to artists”.

The program employed 3,749 artists and 15,663 works were produced. The subject had to be related to the “American scene”. Artworks from the project were shown in many government facilities, including the White House and House of Representatives. This work’s success led to further employment for Tait under the Federal Art Project, including small lithographic editions and mural work.

Central Park

Central Park is an urban park in Manhattan, New York City and is the most visited urban park in the United States, with over 40 million visitors annually, and one of the most filmed locations in the world. A non-profit organisation contributes 75 per cent of Central Park’s $65 million annual budget and is responsible for all primary care of the park.

Central Park was first approved in 1853 as a 778-acre (315 ha) park. Today the main attractions of the park include the Ramble and Lake; several amusement attractions including an ice rink, Central Park Carousel, and the Central Park Zoo; Sheep Meadow; the Central Park Mall; Bethesda Terrace; the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir; and the Delacorte Theater that hosts Shakespeare in the Park programs in the summertime. The park also has sports facilities, including basketball courts, baseball fields, and soccer fields.

Agnes Tait

Agnes Tait (1894–1981) was an American painter and dancer. Tait began exhibiting at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1915, and her determination to succeed in her artistic endeavours prompted her to study in Paris. Tait’s fondness for travel and adventure led her on many trips, which she documented with her art. After spending time in Italy, Ireland, and Florida, she settled in Santa Fe to live out the rest of her life until her death in 1981.

Skating in Central Park

  • Title:                 Skating in Central Park
  • Artist:               Agnes Tait
  • Year:                 1934
  • Medium:          Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions     33 3/4 x 48 in. (85.8 x 121.8 cm)
  • Museum:          Smithsonian American Art Museum

Agnes Tait

  • Name:              Agnes Tait
  • Born:                1894 – New York City
  • Died:                1981 (aged 87) – Santa Fe, New Mexico
  • Nationality:      American
  • Notable works:

Facts About Central Park

  • In the mid-19th century, New York City’s elite who had experienced Europe’s popular public parks proposed a similar space for their city that would provide inhabitants with culture, fresh air, and exercise.
  • Central Park was America’s first major landscaped public park.
  • Central Park covers an area of 341 hectares (843 acres). It is 4 kilometres (2.5 miles) long and 0.8 kilometres (0.5 miles) wide.
  • Central Park in New York is one of the most filmed locations in the world. Movies include Romeo and Juliet, An Affair to Remember, When Harry Meets Sally, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
  • To build the park, a whole village called ‘Seneca’ with 1600 people, which was founded in 1825 by free African-Americans had to be first cleared.
  • Central Park includes the US’ biggest Carousel, which is a 54-horse merry-go-round.
  • There are 51 sculptures, 36 bridges & arches, seven ornamental fountains and 125 drinking fountains.
  • The park was landscaped from mud, swamps, and rocks to include about 25,000 trees; seven bodies of water; 136 acres of woodlands; 250 acres of lawns; 58 miles of walking paths; and 36 bridges and arches.
  • Trees and plants couldn’t grow in the original soil, so 500,000 cubic feet of topsoil was imported from New Jersey.
  • The park was covered with rocks, which had to be blown up with gunpowder and carted out via carriage. The project’s 20,000 labourers used more gunpowder than was used in the Battle of Gettysburg.
  • The vast majority of Central Park has been professionally landscaped, despite appearing natural.
  • The Egyptian obelisk inscribed with Hieroglyphs that is referred to as “Cleopatra’s Needle” dates to 1440 BC and is one of the pair, the other is by River Thames in London. The obelisk is approximately 68 feet tall and weighs about 180 tons. They originally were erected at the Temple of Ra in Heliopolis in Ancient Egypt by the pharaoh Thutmose III.
  • The bronze statue of Christopher, in the park, was unveiled in 1894 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of him discovering America.
  • The Strawberry Field Memorial is dedicated to the memory of Beatles’ John Lennon and was named after the Beatles’ song “Strawberry Fields Forever”.
  • Central Park receives over 40 million visitors annually and is open all year.
  • Central Park has over 9,000 benches which would stretch 7 miles if placed end to end.
  • Bow Bridge is one of the most photographed and filmed locations in Central Park. It was the first cast-iron bridge in the Park and was built between 1859 and 1862.

Reflections

  • Can you see the influence of Pieter Breughel in this painting?
  • What influences do you see in this painting?

Explore the Smithsonian American Art Museum

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“I just want to go through Central Park and watch folks passing by.
Spend the whole day watching people.
I miss that.”

– Barack Obama

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Photo Credit: 1) By Wikipedia Loves Art participant “trish” [CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

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