Gifford Beal was born in New York City on January 24, 1879. He enrolled in art classes while attending Barnard Military School, New York, and spent summers studying with William Merritt Chase in Shinnecock Hills, Long Island. His Classmates included Edward Hopper and Rockwell Kent.
On the Hudson at Newburgh depicts a World War I scene in Newburgh, New York—a small town on the Hudson River sixty miles north of New York City where the artist’s parents had a summer home overlooking the river. In this scene, a woman and her children face the soft morning light and watch, from a distance, as a group of soldiers march down to the waiting train—identified by the puff of smoke in the center of the canvas. Unlike most World War I-related paintings which feature parades and celebrations, Beal’s canvas has a more sentimental spirit in its focus on the idealized American family’s personal sacrifice played out in small towns across the country.
This painting was only discovered in 1999 when The Phillips Collection’s conservation staff removed a separate painted canvas dated 1924—Parade of Elephants—that was on the same stretcher. Although it is possible that Beal only “borrowed” the large stretcher with the World War I scene, it seems more likely that the artist rejected the 1918 picture because it depicted a difficult subject on such a grand scale that the moment to find a buyer was gone by 1924. Instead, Beal covered it with a new canvas and painted one of his popular circus subjects which found a buyer (Duncan Phillips) right away.