By the late nineteenth century, concern arose that city children had insufficient access to the outdoors. The Playground Association of America, founded in 1906, was dedicated to promoting parks and recreation for urban children. George Luks’s “View of Beacon Street from Boston Common” illustrates this goal: two beautifully dressed young girls, accompanied by their governess, walk their dog in Boston Common, a large park in the center of the city. Although the common had been established in the seventeenth century for the communal pasturing of cows, by the nineteenth century it was an oasis of nature in the midst of the city.
Best known for his gritty images of street life in New York’s poorer districts, Luks painted more prosperous people and neighborhoods when he visited Boston from 1922 to 1923. He was a guest of Margarett Sargent, a cousin of the artist John Singer Sargent. Wealthy and socially prominent, Margarett Sargent had studied drawing and painting with Luks in New York. Because she was his guide to Boston, Luks became familiar with the more affluent areas of the city, such as Beacon Street and the adjacent Boston Common. Behind the girls who are enjoying fresh air and exercise in the park, Luks painted the graceful bow fronts of the early nineteenth-century townhouses on Beacon Street, architectural features popular in Boston and almost unknown in New York.