As depicted here in 1890, Fifth Avenue north of the Washington Arch represented wealth and fashion; Washington Square itself stood for the "old New York" of Henry James and Edith Wharton. By 1913, when Wharton's The Custom of the Country was published, the square had long since come down on the scale of fashion and social pretensions. Having married into an old family of Washington Square, the heroine Undine comes to realize that, disastrously, "she has given herself to the exclusive and the dowdy when the future belonged to the showy and the promiscuous." Fifth Avenue is her mecca, a goal achieved when she remarries Moffatt, who builds her a home on Fifth Avenue that is an exact replica of the Pitti Palace in Florence.
Like Edith Wharton, the American impressionist Childe Hassam was a keen social observer. In this painting, several figures animate and characterize the scene: a street cleaner, a nurse pushing a perambulator, a driver and his coach at the curb, and a fashionably dressed woman, her arms crooked in the mode of the day.