So much sky here!
This scene is especially beautiful because the artist was capturing a scene of early Brooklyn and during that time there were no high-rise buildings or skyscrapers in Brooklyn or New York City, so much more sky is visible than now. Also, he was capturing a scene from his own window and remaining true to what he saw on a daily basis.
What streets are these?
Those are Old Fulton Street and Front Street
in what is today Downtown Brooklyn, right by the Brooklyn Bridge. Front Street was a fashionable street lined with upper-class residences. At this time, Front Street was at the Brooklyn waterfront. The view is not entirely accurate however: Guy greatly accentuated the curve of Front Street in order to bring the houses along its outer edges into view. He also altered the angle of James Street to accommodate a broad wedge of houses.
Are any of these buildings still standing?
I love this work by Francis Guy! Those are Old Fulton Streets and Front Streets in what is today Downtown Brooklyn, right by the Brooklyn Bridge. I don't think any of those building are still there.
At this time, Front Street was at the Brooklyn waterfront. The view is not entirely accurate however: Guy greatly accentuated the curve of Front Street in order to bring the houses along its outer edges into view. He also altered the angle of James Street to accommodate a broad wedge of houses. Many visitors ask about the lack of women in the painting, any theories?
1820, hmm, 'twas a different time.
Ye' be right!
Did women not venture outside or were they just not in the painting?
The picture features the prominent white men in the neighborhood that the artist knew, so he would not have depicted as many women or African American people as affluent, white men. It is an indication of both the artist's choices and the time (in another American Identities gallery, you can see many depictions of women, but in interior scenes). At the time women were obviously limited in what they could do and were mostly encouraged to stay home and tend to children and domestic things. Guy actually staged the models and painted them one at a time, so he deliberately chose not to include many women or African Americans at the time.
So, this is what the Dumbo area once looked like?
Yes, that is Old Fulton Street and Front Street in what is today Downtown Brooklyn, right by the Brooklyn Bridge. Front Street was a fashionable street lined with upper-class residences. At this time, Front Street was at the Brooklyn waterfront. The view is not entirely accurate however: Guy greatly accentuated the curve of Front Street in order to bring the houses along its outer edges into view. He also altered the angle of James Street to accommodate a broad wedge of houses.
Is this a skeleton?
You're looking at a work by Francis Guy called "Winter Scene in Brooklyn." Francis Guy was an English-born artist who worked in Baltimore and then Brooklyn. He specialized in topographical scenes, depicting towns and neighborhoods in a realistic and highly detailed manner.
Hm, that figure does look skeletal but I don't think he is in fact a skeleton. Where most of the figures and buildings in the painting are well identified this figure at the well is unknown.
The individuals in the picture were readily recognizable by Guy's contemporaries and neighbors in Brooklyn, and he completed this work while looking from his studio window. One participant recalled, "Guy, as he painted, would sometimes call out of the window, to his subjects, as he caught sight of them on their customary ground, to stand still while he put in the characteristic strokes."
Hello. My 3-year-old wants to know why there is lots of chopped-down wood here.
Hello! That's a great question! This painting shows a scene in present-day downtown Brooklyn during the winter of 1819!
The artist, Francis Guy, created a scene based on what he could see from his window, so it's very close to the day-to-day life of Brooklyn about 100 years ago.
Back then, wood-burning fireplaces would have been the main way to keep warm, so people needed lots of wood!
Lucy says "Thanks."
Lucy is very welcome! We'd love more questions as you explore!
How many people lived in Brooklyn at this time?
That's a great question! I've had to look it up, but according to a 1820 census of 61 urban locations, there were about 7,000 people living in Brooklyn in 1820. At that time, Brooklyn was its own city, separate from Manhattan.
Can you tell me more about this?
"Winter Scene in Brooklyn" shows us how much was going on everyday in early 19th century Brooklyn. There is a diagram on the wall identifying all the people.
Painting scenes like this were what Francis Guy was known for. This is the view from the artist's second story studio window on Front Street in downtown Brooklyn.
Was this really Brooklyn?
This was DUMBO circa 1820! Francis Guy was capturing Brooklyn before there were high-rise buildings and skyscrapers. So much more of the sky is visible that we see now!
He actually captured this scene from his own window and the people and the activities they're engaging in is what he saw on a daily basis.
Could you tell me about this painting?
In this painting, the artist was capturing a scene of early Brooklyn. The view is from the artist's second story window in downtown Brooklyn. The buildings in this scene include a farm, stables, a blacksmith, a carpenter's shop, and so much more! There's actually a guy lying on his back who slipped on the ice/snow and fell. Do you see him?
Where is this painting set?
This is the view from the artist's second story studio window in downtown Brooklyn. The view is not entirely accurate, however. Guy accentuated the curve of Front Street to bring the houses along its outer edges into view. This would have been what modern-day DUMBO would have looked like in 1820.
Who is this man who fell? Is there a meaning associated with the fallen man?
The view is showing a typical winter's day in Brooklyn. As far as I know, the fallen man does not have any meaning.
Is there any significance to him being African American?
I asked myself the same question when I was first researching the painting. Although some figures are identified, the fallen man is not. However, we have no further explanation from the artist. I suppose that in itself has significance---we can only guess that whoever he was, he unfortunately wasn't considered significant enough for identification at the time.
Why are the women smaller than the men?
All the people in the painting are actual residents who participated willingly in Guy's painting, they would be recognizable to to his contemporaries and neighbors in Brooklyn. Their relative height to one another represents what they really looked like.
Was it common to have a key like this?
Relatively! Large scale paintings like this were a major form of entertainment in the 19th century. They were often displayed alone or with a few of the artist's other works in dramatic lighting like a theatrical experience. Diagrams and pamphlets helped viewers engage with the work! A prime example of these dramatic paintings is the Museum's "A Storm in the Rocky Mountains" by Albert Bierstadt.