History And Context
During his years in France, Preston Dickinson discovered modern art. His painting style was transformed by Cubism, but his exploration of modernism was personal, varied, and empirical. After returning to New York from Paris, Dickinson lived in the Bronx across the Harlem River from northern Manhattan. As he explored the city and its industrial regions, Dickinson, like his former teacher Ernest Lawson, utilized the structures along the Harlem River—the High Bridge, Washington Bridge (the first arched bridge with plated girders), and High Tower—as subject matter, but emphasized them as geometric elements set within the landscape.
In Winter, Harlem River, Dickinson depicts the Washington Bridge in the dead of winter. Along the banks of the river are tenement houses, reminding the viewer that with progress there is displacement. The juxtaposition of the shabby building set against the imposing piece of modern industry places a strong emphasis on the oppressive conditions of modernization. Dickinson combines abstraction and realism by utilizing geometry, ambiguous space, and the multiple viewpoints of Cubism. Dickinson’s interest in Japanese prints is also evident in his use of foreshortening, dark outlines, cropped objects, and a calligraphic lyricism.