Christopher Street, Greenwich Village

Media - 1965.18.7 - SAAM-1965.18.7_1 - 1996
Copied Beulah R. Bettersworth, Christopher Street, Greenwich Village, 1934, oil on canvas, 30 1824 14 in. (76.561.5 cm.), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1965.18.7

Artwork Details

Christopher Street, Greenwich Village
Not on view
30 1824 14 in. (76.561.5 cm.)
Credit Line
Transfer from the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service
Mediums Description
oil on canvas
  • Architecture Exterior — religious — church
  • Cityscape — New York — New York
  • Cityscape — New York — Greenwich Village
  • Architecture Exterior — commercial — store
  • Cityscape — street — Christopher Street
  • Figure group
Object Number

Artwork Description

A wintry corner of Greenwich Village lives in this painting as Beulah Bettersworth knew it when she and her husband inhabited 95 Christopher Street, a block away. Closely observed details draw the viewer into the painting to join Bettersworth's neighbors hurrying through the slushy snow, catching a whiff of tobacco from the cigar store in the foreground. Snow melts from the roof of St. Veronica's Catholic Church, whose towers are visible behind the Ninth Avenue "L" station. The elevated train station had been an elegant adaptation of a Swiss chalet when it was built in 1867, but by Bettersworth’s time it was an aging relic soon to be torn down. Like the rusting "L," the famous bohemian artistic colony that had enlivened Greenwich Village in the early twentieth century faded as the decades passed. Yet artists like Bettersworth still found homes there and with the advent of the Depression, low rents attracted a new generation of poverty-stricken young poets and painters to the Village’s storied garrets. Perhaps the colorful aura of the Village appealed to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who chose this modest canvas to hang in the White House.

1934: A New Deal for Artists exhibition label

Luce Center Label

Beulah Bettersworth lived on Christopher Street in New York's Greenwich Village. She worked for the Works Progress Administration during the Depression, and in this scene she captured the lively block of her street between Hudson and Greenwich avenues. Commuters bundled in winter coats make their way through the snow to catch trains bound for Newark and Hoboken. The steeples of St. Veronica's Catholic Church loom above the chalet-style El station on the Ninth Avenue line, constructed between 1867 and 1879. The elevated trains, the city's original rapid transit system, were displaced by the subway system during the 1930s. They were just beginning to be dismantled when Bettersworth painted this scene, and only six years later the station would be demolished. This canvas was included in a 1934 exhibition of WPA artists held at Washington's Corcoran Gallery of Art, where President Roosevelt selected it for display in the White House. It was transferred to the Smithsonian by the National Park Service in 1965.

Related Books

1934: A New Deal for Artists
During the Great Depression, president Franklin Delano Roosevelt promised a “new deal for the American people,” initiating government programs to foster economic recovery. Roosevelt’s pledge to help “the forgotten man” also embraced America’s artists. The Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) enlisted artists to capture “the American Scene” in works of art that would embellish public buildings across the country. Although it lasted less than one year, from December 1933 to June 1934, the PWAP provided employment for thousands of artists, giving them an important role in the country’s recovery. Their legacy, captured in more than fifteen thousand artworks, helped “the American Scene” become America seen.