Thomas Birch was a member of the Hudson River School, a term loosely applied to a group of nineteenth-century artists who sought to establish an American landscape painting tradition independent from that of Europe, and whose favored subjects included the Hudson River region, as well as the Catskill, Adirondack, White, and Green Mountains, and coastal New England. "The Narrows, New York Bay" likely depicts Staten Island, as seen from the grassy shores of Brooklyn. Birch’s painting presents a quiet, inspiring vision of America’s future. The cows grazing in the foreground symbolize the importance of agriculture, while the sailboats in the background underscore New York’s position as a vibrant hub for commerce and trade.
By zooming in, one can see that at the center of this scene Birch depicted laborers unloading a smaller boat that may have sailed across the bay from Manhattan.