With snow still on the ground throughout most of the Mid-Atlantic United States, and more on the way, I thought it appropriate to look at an American artist renowned for his scenes of snow and winter.
Edward Willis Redfield was one of the major figures among the artists who gathered in an artists colony in and around New Hope, Pennsylvania in the late 19th Century. Generally called the Pennsylvania Impressionists, this group included a number of artists who had absorbed some influence from the French Impressionists, but, like most painters called “American Impressionists”, took that influence and went their own individualistic way. (See my posts on Daniel Garber, Fern Coppedge and Art and the River.)
Redfield is often credited with co-founding the colony along with William Lathrop. Actually Lathrop was the driving force in establishing the colony, but Redfield, who was first to move to the area, was the star and seed around which the colony formed.
Born in Bridgeville, Delaware, Redfield studied with at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts with Thomas Anshutz, James Kelly and Thomas Hovendon. Anshutz and Kelly were carrying on the traditions of their teacher, Thomas Eakins, who had left the school shortly before Redfield arrived.
While at the Academy, Redfield struck up a friendship with Robert Henri that was to continue through the artist’s lifetimes.
After his time at the Academy, Redfield went to Paris with the intention of studying portraiture at the Académe Julian and the École des Beaux-Arts. At the latter, he studied with William Bouguereau and other classically trained painters. On his time off, however, he joined Henri and other young artists who were engaged in the newly popular practice of painting “en plein air“, and was exposed to the work of the young Impressionist painters.
Redfield frequented the Musée du Luxembourg in Paris, fascinated with the work of Monet, Pissarro, and Norwegian painter Frits Thaulow. Redfield became increasingly interested in the effects of light on snow, and had his first snow scene accepted in the Paris Salon of 1891.
On his return to the U.S., Redfield and his French bride settled in Center Bridge, Pennsylvania, on the Delaware River near New Hope.
Redfield took to painting the Pennsylvania landscape with bravura and abandon. His paintings are three dimensional marvels of spattered, heaped and piled on paint; with ridges and gullies in place of more genteel brushstrokes. It’s hard to see how remarkably tactile his canvasses are in reproduction. There is a zoomable image of Overlooking the Valley (image above, middle, with detail, bottom) on the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s site that gives you a hint, but only a hint.
By all accounts, Redfield was just as physical in the act of painting, often forgetting to eat his lunch as he blazed through large canvases in one sitting. Redfield painted in all kinds of weather; not only in the cold in search of his famous snow scenes, but in wind, strapping his canvas to a tree where easels would be blown away.
He was a harsh critic of his own work, on more than one occasion burning canvasses he thought were not up to his standards.
Redfield was the most recognized and awarded of the new Hope painters, garnering more awards than any American painter except John Singer Sargent, and his work is in a number of major museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
There is an in-print collection of his work, Just Values and Fine Seeing (Google Books extract here), and you can find many fine examples in Brian Peterson’s excellent book Pennsylvania Impressionism.