Colin Campbell Copper’s Columbus Circle, painted just four years after the completion of the famous intersection at the southwest corner of Central Park in Manhattan, contains a bounty of information for those interested in the development of New York City. Sure, old photographs from the time might provide more solid evidence from the scene, but even then we’re limited to only what could’ve been captured through the lens. Perhaps better than a photograph, Copper treats us to his own vivid depiction of the city.
I am to assume Columbus Circle shouldn’t be observed as if it were a snapshot but rather as an assemblage of details used to illustrate this busy metropolitan scene. Even considering Cooper's somewhat hazy brushwork, which unfortunately obfuscates items such as the billboard adverts, his painting still possesses some great observations along with a rousing energy, obviously aided by his vibrant use of color.
Cooper's point-of-view here is perfect. Looking northwest, his scene is far enough that it allows us to briefly follow each street as they meet in the circle, like tributaries flowing into a lake, but close enough that it still invites us in to explore. I love the clotheslines, cast in shadow in the lower-left, as well as the puffs of smoke found throughout the scene, which seem to compliment his rendering of the Hudson River in the background. The real treat though is he how he commands our attention to the top of the Columbus statue, as it is positioned directly in front of that shoddy dark billboard. Isn't it neat when such variables, one grand and the other incidental, are united to create an picturesque image? If not for the board then our statue would be left to stand out against the orange brick of the building. Yes, the image would still work, but it would lose some of its eloquence.
With today's modern skyscrapers and other tall fixtures, intimate views of the city such as Columbus Circle are now increasingly rare. If one were to observe this street scene today from this exact vantage point, our view of the intersection would likely be obscured by new structures in the foreground. The city is constantly changing, through the years offering so many wonderful views, and Cooper captured a unique portrait of Columbus Circle before this particular view was gone.