Important American Paintings - September 2010
Charles Austin Needham
Park Snows, c. 1900
Oil on canvas, 28 1/2 × 40 1/2 inches
Exhibited: "Exposition Universelle," April 15–November 12, 1900, Paris, no. 25, as "Neiges du Parc." Exhibition of Fine Arts, Pan-American Exposition, Buffalo, New York, May 1–November 2, 1901, no. 489. "69th Exhibition, Oil Paintings and Sculpture," Boston Art Club, January 1–30, 1904, no. 57. "First Biennial Exhibition," Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., February 7–March 9, 1907, no. 392. "Oils and Watercolors by Charles A. Needham," Salmagundi Club, New York, April 1907.

RS 5543

Charles Austin Needham was born in Buffalo, New York, the son of Elias P. Needham, the "first American manufacturer of reed organs and the inventor of many of the appliances which have made those instruments popular."1 Charles Needham studied with the German-born landscape and portrait painter August Will (1834–1910) in Buffalo before attending the Art Students’ League in New York. He exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago from 1891 to 1915, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts from 1892 to 1906, the National Academy of Design in New York from 1890 to 1906, the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the Boston Art Club between 1892 and 1907. Needham was also a member of the American Water Color Society, the New York Watercolor Club, the National Arts Club, and especially the Salmagundi Club, which held a major retrospective of his work in 1907). Three of Needham’s paintings were included in the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893, and he won awards at the Atlanta Exposition in 1895, Agricultural Exposition in New York in 1898, Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900, and the Charleston Exposition in 1902. He died in Palenville, New York, after accidentally falling from a ladder.2 Though largely forgotten today, during his lifetime Needham was well known in New York art circles for painting impressionist landscapes and urban views that also reflected the influence of Ash Can School realism. An observant critic who reviewed Needham’s exhibition at the Salmagundi Club in 1907 noted his "vigorous and, at times, positively austere search after truth. It is as if he left mere sensuous tone to take care of itself and strove with all his powers for just the very grain and lifeblood of nature." The writer praised Park Snows, which won a bronze medal at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900, as an example of how Needham "begins by impressing you with the accuracy of his work, and ends by touching you with its beauty."3 This snowy winter scene represents the popular New York City landmark Madison Square Park, bounded by Madison and Fifth Avenues and Twenty-third and Twenty-sixth Streets. Officially designated as a public space in 1847, by the end of the century Madison Square became one of Manhattan’s most fashionable residential and commercial neighborhoods. The area was especially noted for the presence of Madison Square Garden, a popular concert hall, amphitheater, and roof garden that was designed in a distinctive Moorish style by Stanford White and built in 1889. Other significant structures in the area were Daniel Burnham’s Flatiron Building (which was erected at the intersection of Broadway and Fifth Avenue around the time that Needham painted this view) and the luxurious Fifth Avenue Hotel. The park was a natural subject for the artist because he lived nearby at 145 East Twenty-third Street from 1890 to 1921. At the Boston Art Club’s 1904 annual show Needham exhibited another view of the park along with Park Snows, titled Winter in Madison Square, but its location is unknown.


1. Obituary of the artist’s mother Lorana Needham, New York Times, April 18, 1900.

2. For biographical information see Carolyn Kinder Carr and George Gurney, Revisiting the White City: American Art at the 1893 World’s Fair (Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1993), p. 294. The artist’s obituary was published in the New York Times, November 25, 1922.

3. "Art Exhibitions," New-York Daily Tribune, April 6, 1907; I am indebted to Bob Mueller of the Salmagundi Club for this reference. See also "A Romantic City Painter, Remarkable Oils and Watercolors by Charles A. Needham," New York Times, April 7, 1907.


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