William Glackens was a keen observer and able recorder of the rhythm and details that comprised daily life for urban dwellers in early twentieth-century America. As a young man he earned a living as an artist-reporter for several newspapers and magazines, first in his native Philadelphia, then in his adopted home of New York after 1896. His recording of the episodic drama of everyday occurrences served him well in his other career as a painter, in which he was able to capture the smallest details of gesture and incident, thus endowing his canvases with a sense of spontaneity and life.
In his early years in Philadelphia, Glackens came into contact with some of the artists who, with him, became known as The Eight, later called the Ashcan School: Robert Henri, John Sloan, Everett Shinn, George Luks, Ernest Lawson, Maurice Prendergast, and Arthur B. Davis. He gained recognition for his paintings in The Eight's only exhibition, held at the Macbeth Gallery in Manhattan in 1908. The group shocked the art establishment with its preference for painting contemporary urban scenes in a forthright manner, rather than traditional academic subject matter. Of all the members, Glackens was most obviously influenced by Impressionist paintings, which he had seen during trips to France in 1895–96 and 1906, particularly the feathery brushwork and high-keyed palette of Pierre-Auguste Renoir.
Glackens had a studio on Washington Square Park in New York City's bohemian Greenwich Village, from which he painted "The Green Car." In this picture, a green trolley car rounds the corner at the south side of the park on its way to pick up a lady standing by the snowy curb. Dressed smartly in a long coat, hat, and muff, she signals to the conductor. In viewing this carefully structured composition, our eye moves from front to back, following the route of the trolley and the converging pathways through the park until we reach the row of three-story brick buildings in the background. The overall effect of the picture is one of energy and movement enhanced by the consistently animated brushwork and bright mix of colors used throughout the composition.