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Winter Evening Stream Paintings


Redgate Studio in Winter
Redgate Studio in winter
Early in his career after recovering from his gunshot accident, Robert Strong Woodward began living and working in a studio he called Redgate. The building was the old "milk house" on the farm of his Uncle Bert and Aunt Tella Wells (his father's sister). He was having difficulty supporting both himself and his necessary hired help by just producing bookplates and small illuminations. He began to take up oil painting and produced a number of large oil paintings of the view out his studio windows. One of these views was of a winter scene of a pool of water fed by a small brook surrounded by trees.

We have found it impossible to accurately catalog the paintings made of this scene. His first paintings were done directly in the Redgate Studio, looking out the window. When Redgate Studio burned down, he continued to paint this same scene while working out of the Hiram Woodward studio. It is not known if he went back to the original location after Redgate burned down, or whether he simply copied an original painting from Redgate. Later still, he produced more copies at the Southwick Studio, sometimes destroying the original. It is unknown whether any of the painting names for which we have no pictures are ones that he personally destroyed.

This essay will attempt to describe these painting in somewhat chronological order. To our knowledge, one of the earliest, perhaps the first, painting of this scene was named Winter Mists.

"Winter Mists: Painted circa 1920 or 21. An upright woodland winter interior on a gray day with mist weaving through the woods painted from the window of my first little studio 'Redgate' (the first one to burn) just following the time when I had received the First Hallgarten Prize at the N. A. D. in 1919 when I painted many woodland interiors of similar type. Bought in the early 1920's by Mr. and Mrs. Wm. D. Vanderbilt of 527 West 121st Street, N. Y. C. according to them for their 3 young sons 'to grow up with.' Later they purchased a chalk drawing for each one of the sons as a wedding present when each one was married, a nice idea indeed!"

RSW Diary

After the Redgate studio burned down, and RSW continued to paint the same scene while based at the Hiram Woodward Studio.

"Evening Stream 1: Painted prior to 1930. One of my early paintings of a subject matter I often used from my first studio Redgate which burned. A large one 36 x 40 of the same subject, or similar subject (but reversed) which I called Winter Pool. Mr. and Mrs. Robert T Lee of Manchester, Vt. own a larger panel of the same subject matter."

RSW Diary

"Evening Glow: Painted in 1923. This painting of an evening stream in sunset glow I made soon after Redgate burned and sold to Mr. and Mrs. Walter D. Denèque of Washington, D. C. and Manchester, Mass. (Mr. Denèque is now dead.)"

RSW Diary

"Evening Stream 2: Painted in 1923. This painting, (size uncertain) like the above I made soon after Redgate burned and sold to Mrs. Charles E. Ulrick, 1808 Columbia Terrace, Peoria, Illinois. Now probably in possession of her daughter Lena Ulrick Belsley (Mrs. Ray Belsley) of Peoria, Il."

RSW Diary

Editor's note: We have concluded that the following diary entry refers to the painting Winter Silence, not Winter Pool as stated by RSW. It is known that RSW didn't start to write the diary until approximately 1940. He attempted to fill in earlier paintings by memory. We have found a few examples of mistakes, and believe this to be an example. We have the rotogravure and article in the Sunday Boston Herald, and the article lists the painting name as Winter Silence

Ed. Note: Winter Silence

"Winter Pool : Painted prior to 1930. A large early canvas of a theme I painted several times with slight variations and different compositions, tho the only one I made of it in this larger size, 36 x 42. A black turbulent pool of a stream flowing thru dark winter evening woods, curving about a large clump of flesh colored winter beeches in leaf on the snow-drifted bank. (Mr. and Mrs. Robert T Lee of Manchester, Vt., Mrs. Roger Smith of Gardner, etc, own other canvases of the similar theme). Largely exhibited about the country, given a very large rotogravure illustration by the Sunday Boston Herald (see my clipping book) and finally bought by Mrs. Wm. H. Moore to give to her sister, Mrs. Smith of Chicago. Mrs. Smith died around 1940 and the picture was taken and is now owned by her daughter, Mrs. Seller Bullard of 'Far Horizons' Stow Canyon Rd, Galeta, California."

RSW Diary

"Tranquility: Painted in 1943 - 44. An ice rimmed black winter snowbound stream flowing into dark tangled winter woods at evening time (just a glint of sunset showing through the tree boles and slightly reflecting in the stream), a heavy clump of winter beech tangle to the right of the canvas with clusters of the winter beech leaves (flesh colored) topped by an occasional touch of snow. A new canvas I made from a similar theme out of 'Redgate' woods in early days (the canvas owned by Mr. and Mrs. Robert T. Lee of Manchester, Vt., being one of them). Composed and painted in the studio from an old canvas (25 x 30) after which I destroyed the old canvas. Bought from the studio in the fall of 1945 by Mrs. Roger R. Smith of 75 Elm Street, Gardner, Mass. (who owns 3 other of my canvases) and named by her Tranquility. A canvas very perfect, technically."

RSW Diary


"Evening Mists: Painted in 1945. Woodland interior with black stream turning through snow banks, made during the winter of 1945 in the studio from an older upright of the same subject made many years ago, but technically imperfect. Original destroyed when above painting was completed. Evening sky from orange through yellow to blue, back of the openings in the trees. Sold in Dec., 1947, by Grand Central Art Galleries to...."

RSW Diary

For the next three paintings, we have found photographs and names, but do not have diary information. We do not know the date when they were painted. It is possible that they are in the diary under a different name.

"Woodland Mystery:   Painted 1951 Feb. or Mar. Next to last painting made before illness. Sold Aug. 1952 to Mr. and Mrs. Winfred Rhoades of Sudbury, Mass."

Notes from RSW

Woodland Mystery appears to be the final painting of the series. RSW hand wrote the title at the bottom of the sepia print. Apparently, even he, was confused about the title. As shown in the close-up below, it appears that he originally wrote "Woodland Mist," then corrected it to read "Woodland Mystery." At this time, we do not know if there is another painting named "Woodland Mist," but there are no diary entries, photographs, or mentions of it in any newspaper articles or exhibition notices.
Woodland Mystery
Woodland Mist or Woodland Mystery

The North Window of the Southwick Studio
The North Window of the Southwick Studio
Apparently this scene was one of his favorites. It was not only one of his earliest paintings, it was also one of his last. He made versions of the scene in at least three of his four studios. Some two decades after Redgate studio burned, I can remember RSW asking me to pull out one of the original paintings from the back storage room. This was during cold winter days of World War II, when he could not paint outside. He would place it under the natural light from the North window of his Southwick Studio, and then make a duplicate canvas. I am aware of at least two oil paintings made in this manner.                     

The large fireplace and schoolhouse stove in the Southwick Studio
The fireplace and schoolhouse stove in the Southwick Studio
I would keep the fireplace going full blast to make sure the studio was comfortable enough for him to keep working. Lena would bring out hot coffee. On especially cold days I would have to load up the schoolhouse stove (which stands just on the right of the fireplace) and keep fire logs burning in it also for extra heat. Most of these paintings were done when he was also suffering a lot of pain and shakiness. He often had to hold his right painting hand at the wrist with his left hand to keep it steady. There was nothing either he, nor we, nor I guess any doctor, could do for this. Usually, his FM radio was playing classical music softly in the background.

It was not common for Robert Strong Woodward to copy paintings such as this. There were times that this was done when he created a painting for sale on the west coast. He would then create a duplicate for sale locally. Another reason he would copy a painting is when he created a painting that was not acceptable to him. For reasons known only to him, he would mark the painting with a purple "D," and place it in the back storage room. Sometimes years later, usually during bad weather, he would pull out this painting and copy it, fixing whatever was unsatisfactory to him. Then the original would be destroyed. (Please see the essay on Purple "D" paintings.) Finally, there were several examples of a scene that simply worked so well, that he copied it several times. This is the case with the series of paintings in this essay, as well as those known as Through October Hills .                     

Mark Purinton
January 2011