Editor's note: The following text was reprinted in Resource Library on December 15, 2009 with permission of the author. If you have questions or comments regarding the text, please contact The University of Virginia Art Museum (formerly the Bayly Art Museum) directly through either this phone number or web address:



 

Introduction: Shaping the Landscape Image

by Roger B. Stein

 

The exhibition of the works of John Douglas Woodward (1846 - 1924) and this accompanying catalogue bring to the attention of audiences at the end of the twentieth century the work of an artist who was a well-known figure in the art world a century ago but who has subsequently dropped almost completely out of sight. How could this have happened, and what has brought him back into view?

The second question is easier to answer than the first. After he died in 1924, Woodward's work was preserved by his wife, Maria Louise, who arranged to have an Art Hall constructed in 1940 at Shrine Mont, a conference center of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, in the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains. Some thousand of Woodward's drawings and watercolors, copies of many of the books into which these sketches had been translated as wood engravings, along with nearly ninety of his oil paintings were donated to Shrine Mont at that time. His nephew, Shrine Mont's founder the Reverend Edmund L. Woodward, carefully gathered the works on paper into twelve bound scrapbooks and in 1942 transcribed many of Douglas Woodward's letters to his family during his travels abroad in the 1870s and 1880s. This extraordinary archive of material has now been made available to a larger audience through the generosity of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, guided by the scholarly expertise of Sue Rainey, historian of American graphic arts, chair of the Shrine Mont Art Committee, and author of Creating Picturesque America: Monument to the Natural and Cultural Landscape (1994), which reintroduced Woodward to contemporary audiences.

Although some of Woodward's sketches have disappeared and some paintings publicly exhibited during his lifetime were presumably sold and have passed into private hands, including collateral descendants (Douglas and "Lu" had no children), what remains is a rare intact gathering of lovely visual material. The landscape drawings and watercolors, with their frequent tiny human figures sketched on the borders for later insertion in the final graphic versions, sometimes elaborate color notations, and indications for page design and formatting, were not created for public presentation. Instead, these images constitute an extraordinary laboratory, an opportunity to look behind the curtain, offering to later viewers insights into the stages of the creative process of a nineteenth-century artist and especially illustrator. They also illuminate the ways in which he negotiated his imaginative vision in relation to its accompanying texts to meet the demands of his publishers and their audiences of viewers and readers.

Which leads to the first question of how and why Woodward's name and reputation disappeared; and the answer to this lies both in the kind of work which Woodward produced and in the history of American art history, and how that story has been told in our century. It is a fact that some of the most important artists of the nineteenth century in Europe and the United States were illustrators and graphic artists as well as painters -- one thinks of Goya and Turner, of Daumier and Toulouse-Lautrec, of Whistler and Cassatt and Winslow Homer. It is also worth noting that at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago critics commented that printmaking was the greatest artistic achievement of the nineteenth century. But the old hierarchy of the fine arts did not disappear. Woodward himself aspired to "something higher" than his career as an illustrator, and, as we shall see, when he turned to painting rural landscapes, it was in what had become a fairly conservative Barbizon style.

Mid-twentieth century efforts to define an American art history worthy of being ranked with the masterpieces of Europe involved privileging oil painting and affirming a modernist history of art as the history of the avant-garde. On these counts, Woodward dropped below the art historical horizon. Illustration was deemed a lower and dependent form; the interrelation of image and text and increasingly any hint of referentiality in an image seemed an affront to formalist and abstract values of modernist aesthetics; and even those who argued for the "Americanness of American art" still talked largely in terms of painting. The late phases of Barbizon practice and the work of those Americans who followed their techniques and their vision mostly disappeared from twentieth century accounts. Woodward's fundamentally conservative values and pictorial practice were clearly at war with, for instance, the deconstructive energies of Picasso or Matisse's Fauvist attacks on mimesis.

It is evident today that American art has won its struggle for a place within the larger history of art; but that history itself is changing, and the function of the graphic arts is becoming clearer. American middle-class audiences of the nineteenth century experienced art primarily through the illustrated magazines and the sometimes beautifully bound volumes of picture and text which sat on parlor tables, rather than by becoming purchasers of expensive oil paintings and sculpture or visiting exhibitions at a few major urban centers. (The same is virtually true today.) Popular graphic images, we are coming to understand, need to be construed not as cultural "documents" or passive "reflections" of our culture. They were active forms which themselves helped to shape what Americans thought and felt about their land, both rural and urban, the new West and the older East, and about foreign places as well. In the case of Woodward, the latter included both Holy Land landscapes and their relation to belief and religious ideas and, at the end of his career, oil paintings of such popular tourist destinations as the Italian lakes and Venice. As the story which unfolds in the following pages and in the works of art themselves makes clear, the excitement, both aesthetic and cultural, of Douglas Woodward's work lies in the ways in which he fashioned images that extended the imaginative and spatial horizons of his audiences and located these images in relation to texts in an especially satisfying graphic arrangement.

Woodward's works and the magazines and books of picturesque travel in which they were published enabled American audiences to journey to distant places at home and abroad, to possess these places through the strategies of the artist's visual presentation, and all from the presumed comfort and security of their own firesides -- the "Hearth and Home" which was the title of the first magazine to which Woodward contributed in the early 1870s. The late nineteenth century was an era of enormous change: industrial and urban expansion as well as large-scale agriculture; conflict along class, racial, and gender lines; national muscle-flexing and military and economic imperialism in the Caribbean and the Pacific. But Woodward's images of American and foreign places, often meticulous in their topographical precision, were nevertheless reassuring, projecting a benign vision of the historical past and the landscape present from which conflict had been largely erased. As such, they offer insights into the ways in which American nationalism was marketed to a multitude of viewers and readers. Europe and the Middle East were imaged as places of pilgrimage -- whether spiritual or secular and aesthetic -- objects of cultural desire, but a desire which was seen as "exotic" and left national pride comfortably in place. To reinsert Douglas Woodward into the history of American art thus involves recasting the traditional narrative of that history to emphasize both the importance of illustration -- the relationship between pictures and texts -- and the role of a kind of painting which did not reinforce the avant-garde of modernism: a late-nineteenth-century version of French Barbizon style and meaning.

First, the question of picture and text; then, more briefly, the question of Barbizon. At this point it is well established that many nineteenth-century American painters began as graphic artists (Asher Durand, Fitz Hugh Lane, Thomas Moran, and, of course, Winslow Homer) or learned by copying from prints (the heritage of mezzotint borrowings for portraiture, the earliest work of William Sidney Mount or John Kensett, or Edward Hicks's Peaceable Kingdom and the frequent dependence of many "folk artists" upon popular print sources, to cite but a few examples).

It is also the case that gift books, illustrated books of picturesque travel and of poetry, and, beginning in the 1850s, illustrated magazines offered opportunities to artists that put their work in specific relationship to verbal texts, though the nature of that relationship varied widely. F. O. C. Darley became famous in the 1850s and thereafter as the illustrator of Fenimore Cooper, Washington Irving, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, interpreting their fictions as figural dramas. The close collaboration of the English illustrator William Henry Bartlett and the American writer-editor Nathaniel Parker Willis resulted in the immensely popular American Scenery, which was marketed in parts as a subscription series, gathered in book form in 1840, and reprinted in several languages; it was a specific precursor of the Picturesque America project in which Woodward was to be involved. T. Addison Richards was both travel essayist and landscape illustrator for the magazines and for his own version of American Scenery (1854); and The Home Book of the Picturesque (1852) was explicitly marketed by its publisher Putnam as a collection of images and texts beautifully bound for the parlor table. As for Winslow Homer, despite his 1878 statement ruing his lithographic apprenticeship as "slavery" and the tendency of much twentieth-century Homer criticism to isolate his first twenty years as graphic artist from his "real" achievement as a painter of oils and exhibition watercolors, his relationship to the texts which his magazine and book images accompanied or illustrated, to the narratives explicit or implied, completed in or ruptured by his visual dramas, was complex and changing.[1]

These examples encourage us to think of picture/text relations as dialogues, a series of negotiations between the visual and the verbal, between artist and writer, and between producers and their audiences of consumers. Rather than considering Woodward the illustrator as the passive "slave" of his texts or his landscape subjects or his editors and the audiences they served, we need to ask how his images actively participate in shaping the landscape and viewers' apprehension of its significance.

At the outset, in his apprenticeship sketches of individual trees and rocks, landscape fragments like the delicately drawn single clump of mullein (page 9), the linkage is yet to be forged. The Pre-Raphaelite or Ruskinian aesthetic which was alive in New York City of the 1860s, when Woodward studied at the National Academy of Design in its new Venetian Gothic building, emphasized the importance of "truth to nature" in the details of landscape. Woodward precisely cited date and place on the front of the sheet ("Mullein/Augst 20th/1870/Harper's Ferry/Va"), and made specific perceptual color notations on the back ("leaves warm green in the light -- cooler in shadow -- transmitted greens warmer and brighter...."). But how were such fragments to be related to one another and to some larger vision? One radical answer came in the fifth section of the "Song of Myself" which Walt Whitman was singing in these years, with its invitation to the soul, "the other I am," to "loafe with me on the grass" in what becomes an ecstatic moment of union:

Swiftly arose and spread around me the peace and joy and knowledge that pass all the art and argument of the earth,
And I know that the hand of God is the promise of my own,
And I know that the spirit of God is the brother of my own,
And that all the men ever born are also my brothers, and the women my sisters and lovers,
And that a kelson of the creation is love,
And limitless are leaves, stiff or drooping in the fields,
And brown ants in the little wells beneath them,
And mossy scabs of the worm-fence, and heaped stones, elder, mullen, and pokeweed. [1860 version, p. 28]

The extraordinary mystic union which the poem enacts between self and soul, between body and spirit, between the human and the natural and the divine is such that finally it is enough merely to name -- "elder, mullen, and pokeweed" -- in order to include the fragment within the grammatical and visionary structure, the design of the whole. For Douglas Woodward, however, defining the relation of these individual landscape fragments to some larger design was precisely the task at hand. It is worth noting that in 1870 Woodward the Virginian wanted no part of recent radical political associations with Harpers Ferry; in fact three years later he used one of these drawings for an Aldine magazine illustration of the landscape vista there from Jefferson's Rock (the touchstone sublime subject associated with the republican president in his 1787 Notes on the State of Virginia).

The need to find an overall design is apparent in Woodward's first commissioned Hearth and Home work. His drawings were either chosen to fill the page as cover images, like his other Jeffersonian sublime image of The Natural Bridge in Virginia (pages 91 and 26), or they were somewhat arbitrarily sprinkled through the rather earnest texts of the essays which accompanied his illustrations on Southern subjects. As Sue Rainey's essay points out, both images and text move between praise of picturesque old sights and of new commercial and agricultural activities. One exception is worth noting: his image of Lovers' Leap, French Broad River, N. C. (page 28), which is juxtaposed to a droll text informing readers how frequently steep rock promontories are named thus, each with its tale of an Indian maiden:

Do all Indian girls jump over cliffs? We confess we can not solve it, but here on page 248, is one of the places from which one of the girls, in one of her fits of melancholy, on account of one love affair, one day resolved to end the embarrassments of one maiden, and so leaped off. How many cliffs she had descended in this way before, we do not know, nor whether she got used to it after a while. (For the full text, see page 90.)

The deadpan humor of the verbal text, self-consciously anti-sentimental, drives a wedge between the viewer and the landscape viewed, opens (at least momentarily) a gap between Woodward's traditional picturesque image and the text. Whether this kind of disjunction was consciously planned or happenstance, whether the choices were controlled by the artist, the writer, the editor, or some combination thereof -- these are open questions, the answers to which vary over time. But the disjunction does undermine any easy notion of a one-way passive dependence of picture upon text or the reverse.

The complexity of these relations is clear if we look at Woodward's first contribution to Picturesque America, the section on "Mackinac," which Sue Rainey helps us to understand as Woodward's learning about technique from his more experienced colleague and later full collaborator, Harry Fenn. The thirteen pages of this chapter contain ten illustrations by Woodward, each with a differently designed format. The most inventive is the Arched Rock title page (page 10), with its bold disposition of image, title, and text. Others involve horizontally-oriented rectangular picture spaces (the most traditional format for landscape images) and vertical ones (for landscape towers), some with rounded corners. There are also centered vignettes, either without frame or contained within circles which break open toward the viewer at the bottom, inviting our imaginative entry.

The net effect of these experiments with page format is to foreground the process of design itself -- no coincidence, for the new "aesthetic" design was emerging in precisely these years around 1870. Owen Jones's Grammar of Ornament (1856) was an early touchstone. The works of Charles Lock Eastlake and Christopher Dresser's Principles of Decorative Design (1873) are among the other best-known English sources, and their impact upon graphic design extended from the high style of William Morris's Kelmscott Press and The Art Journal, The Aldine, and Century Magazine to the format of advertisements in Harper's Weekly and the American popular press.[2] The images in Picturesque America are not transparent topographical records of the world "out there," but active and self-conscious constructions of a view by the artist Woodward for the different viewers who scramble around on the rocks inside the pictures and serve as surrogates for us the viewers of the pictures. The large page format of Picturesque America facilitated the playful experimentation, but it could be found as well in the many gift book editions of poetry to which Woodward, Fenn, Homer, William J. Hennessy, and others contributed. It is important to note that most of these were, like Picturesque America, cooperative projects, quite the opposite of that romantic image of the artist-genius working alone in his garret creating masterpieces which has haunted the writing and thinking about art history into our own time. The artist-illustrator was inevitably a collaborator.

In the case of the "Mackinac" section, it is unlikely that the 32-year old writer Constance Fenimore Woolson travelled with Woodward in July 1872 to work up their visual and verbal copy for the publisher Appleton; but Woolson was also just finding her public voice during these years. Her first magazine piece had appeared in Harper's Monthly only two years earlier, though she had visited Mackinac Island in Lake Huron as early as 1855 and her family had a summer cottage there. The little figures added to Woodward's original sketches of Mackinac play summer tourists: they stare at or gaze through rock formations; one young man clambers up Fairy Arch (page 93, cat. 25a) while the nearby young women are decorously seated in the rowboat or poking at the shore. Beyond Woodward's fine sense of the geology and topography of the place in his initial sketch, proper gendered performance is encoded into the final public engraved version. Woolson's text, rather than reinforcing or guiding this visual touring, imbeds it in time, "venerable with the memories of more than two centuries," to define the stages of its history, before she too turns to Mackinac's geology and flora.

But Woolson can't quite work up the older picturesque rhetoric to wax rhapsodic. She is constantly on the edge of parody.[3] Her traveller is "weary of the soaring eagle"; the lack of any business life in the village since the end of the fur trade makes the traveller feel "as though he was walking through the streets of a New-World Pompeii." And Mackinac's version of Lovers' Leap leads her also to droll comments, attributed to another voice: "'One gets tired of thinking of all the girls who have leaped!' and enthusiasm flags over a heroine whose name is Me-che-ne-mock-e-nung-o-ne-qua!" However, this comic note needs to be seen against the final paragraph of the chapter, when she recovers the sublime rhetoric of an old Indian chieftain, the "original poetry of the Indian race before intercourse with the white man had corrupted its simplicity" (this from the niece of James Fenimore Cooper). To recover the shifting voice of the Woolson text is to become aware of the complex counterpoint enacted by the verbal narrative. The issue for Woolson, as for Woodward visually, is not recording or documenting but offering viewers and readers different points of view, angles of vision, ways of seeing and understanding. The "truth" of Mackinac is a function of how description is shaped for its audiences. Over time and space, Woodward would have other collaborators, and the relationships between pictures and texts would vary accordingly, for no one formula would fit all situations. What we must insist upon, however, is the active dynamic of these relationships as strategies for seeing and for engaging viewers and readers.

The droll and parodistic voice that we have noted, which unsettles the easy relation both between picture and text and between the object seen and the attitude of the perceiver, calls to mind the period's best-known American travel writer: Samuel Langhorne Clemens. From his first letters in the 1860s to the Alta California about his trip to Hawaii to his final visionary voyaging in the Mysterious Stranger manuscripts, the Mark Twain voice explored, extended, undercut, and finally exploded the tradition of travel writing, picturesque seeing, and guidebook dependence of a century and more. The comfortable possession of a place distant in time and culture from one's own as armchair traveller, the imaginative ownership exercised through word and image shaped on the pages of these books of travel, these were conventions which Twain both used and parodied. In Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mississippi River travel becomes, through the complex lens of the dispossessed boy narrator Huck, an extraordinary experience for its viewer/readers, who are at least in part trapped inside the boy's consciousness and forced to see freshly. In Twain's earlier Innocents Abroad the nationalistic American narrative voice waffles constantly between engagement in the stereotypical picturesque and employing broadly comic strategies out of his fear of being "put on," gulled, cheated. Yet in avoiding these pitfalls of the innocent traveller, he frequently misses the aesthetic beauty and the historical significance of what is before him. Most important, perhaps, such comic distancing serves to separate the picturesque viewer from alien peoples.

It is clear from his letters that Douglas Woodward knew Innocents Abroad, and there are drolleries and sarcasms in his verbal descriptions of his own Holy Land experience that walk in Mark Twain's footsteps. At their worst they are the distancing devices of white male Christians' smug condescension towards the Islamic inhabitants of the land (the romantic Bedouins sometimes excepted). This can be seen in some of the figural images of the "natives" in the final engravings, although most of these are not by Woodward but by his visual collaborator Harry Fenn. Woodward would safely play out a costume drama as disengaged, aestheticized artist-observer: "after working all day, Fenn and I would take our Arab cloaks and long pipe and wander through the ruins, or sit for hours on some fragment of former grandeur and enjoy the marvelous effects of light and shade, or pass the time telling yarns."[4] (See page 41.)

The texts of Picturesque Palestine, Sinai and Egypt (1881 - 83), commissioned subsequent to the images from "the most eminent Palestine explorers," were meticulous and sometimes plodding verbal records of travel routes, a sorting of archeological evidence, along with Biblical and later historical verbal sources. By contrast, Woodward and Fenn worked out a variety of points of view, ways of seeing and shaping the topographical vision. For example, on the page with the Gate of St. Stephen the Porter at the Convent of St. Catherine in Sinai (page 13), the words spill down the page in the spaces reserved for them by the artist in his original sketch (page 110), but the viewer moves up the stairs (past the Arab guard) from bottom towards the top, the image and words exploring in contrasting directions. The elucidating text, for its part, traces the pilgrim's route upward in space toward the sacred heights, and backward in spiritual time from the Arab present to the ritual process of Christian confession, to the Mosaic ascent, invoking finally Psalm 24: "Who shall ascend unto the hill of the Lord? Who shall stand in His holy place?"

Woodward's large watercolor image of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives (page 66) is incomplete, not just because some of the pencil-sketched details of the city are not filled in but because this rather traditional distanced picturesque vista absolutely depends, as Woodward's letters make clear, upon a memory of the Biblical texts which inform this place and give it meaning: "The words spoken by Jesus...have a realization that they would never have read anywhere else." The Christian Word is essential to give sublime spiritual closure to the aesthetic experience in time and space, at the same time that the topography "realizes" the Word.

To spot but one other complex configuration, Woodward's letters to his mother from London in August 1878 indicate that the flowers he brought back from the Holy Land will be sent to her, but also that they will be introduced throughout the book, at the publisher's specific suggestion. The personal and family souvenir is woven into the fabric of book production. In one such arrangement, a small Engedi landscape sketch and a sketch of a thistle around a picture frame are both re-framed onto the page and surrounded by text (page 112). In this case the sublimity of the scene and the grandeur of its Biblical historical and spiritual associations are reduced to a tiny image. Scale is inverted by the artist and the viewer's role reversed: the grand panoramas constructed by Frederic Edwin Church and other painters of Holy Land scenes in oil, which gave audiences visual possession and hence a kind of power over the land through their ability to identify with it, are here cleverly turned into a keepsake image for the aesthetic delectation of the viewer. The extraordinary strategies of picture/text experimentation in Picturesque Palestine thus extended from the transformation of site into spiritual experience to the triumph of aesthetic format, of artfulness over spiritual or social or even natural meaning.

The Engedi/floral pattern of imagery involves perhaps the most elaborate formatting in this book, but clearly it was a development growing out of the earlier play with Mackinac images. It was also a specific format which became familiar in the work of other artists of the period as well, especially in gift books of poetry. Such books often included the most experimental graphic designs of the period, and Woodward contributed to a number of them. We need to look at two cases in point, which demonstrate both the collaborative character of these projects -- Woodward was by no means unique in his illustrative work -- and that the pictorial pattern of these gift books encoded important conservative social meanings.

The first example makes this amply clear: the illustrations which he contributed to the popular British poet Jean Ingelow's The High Tide on the Coast of Lincolnshire. This handsomely bound green octavo volume of some seventy pages had forty illustrations by eleven different artists, including Harry Fenn, Frederick S. Church, J. Appleton Brown, J. Francis Murphy, and Childe Hassam, who was at the outset of a distinguished career which began here with popular graphic work. As with the earlier work of Woodward, The High Tide experiments with a variety of page formats. Hassam contributed the title page design and two sketchy images of bells. The first full page image is a vertical rectangle by F. B. Schell of St. Botolph Church by moonlight, followed by another Schell image which frames the opening stanza of the poem with a vista of the town below from the church tower rampart. Woodward's contributions include a storm scene within a trompe l'oeil frame and a page divided into two scenes that define tidal flow and ebb. The third is a page in which the poetic stanza is caught between a heavily framed upper border of a marsh scene and a lower unframed vignette of resting cattle (page 14). The poetic text, which recounts in archaized language the devastation of Lincolnshire in the high tide of 1571, transports its readers through appended notes from Boston, Lincolnshire, named after St. Botolph, to its New World namesake of the coming decades, and to the colonial history of the Massachusetts Bay province.

It is clear that in this work Woodward and his visual colleagues were helping to transform the picturesque vision in style, format, and meaning to meet new historical needs of the 1880s. These included the re-creation of a New England past, a "colonial revival" that had been only suggested by Woodward's earlier New England work for Picturesque America, but which had acquired increasing importance in the decade since. In the face of challenges from newer immigrant communities in the work force and the political process, the older Protestant elite was attempting to maintain its cultural control by emphasizing its English heritage and shaping a retrospective visual and verbal landscape that gave it aesthetic form. Roberts Brothers, who produced The High Tide, along with Houghton Mifflin, Estes and Lauriat, and other Boston publishers, were repackaging English poets to serve these American needs.

Estes and Lauriat's 1887 version of Song of the River, published both in a large deluxe and a smaller popular gift book edition, embellishes a brief poem by the British clergyman and writer Charles Kingsley, and through the sentimental device that Ruskin had branded the "Pathetic Fallacy" allows the river itself to address an audience of rural mother and child. In three stanzas the river moves past rural village scenery into visual and moral urban horror before it reaches, "strong and free," the floodgates of the open sea, inviting another -- and quite fashionable -- mother and child to play by the seaside. The fifteen full-page illustrations (along with decorative head- and tailpieces) offer visual versions of this iconography. Woodward's five include both a bending tree at the riverside "under the crag where the ouzel sings" and an image of "the ivied wall where the church-bell rings," as landscape counterparts to the rural maidens of the first part. He contributed a strong image (page 55) of belching factory smoke and rotting schooners for the "wharf and sewer and slimy bank" of the darkly dramatic second stanza. This section also juxtaposes images by other illustrators of a poor woman huddled beneath a Thames bridge with that of a middle-class mother and child on a parapet above, the dome of St. Paul's in the distance. Woodward's last two images, at the outset of the third stanza, are of ships and the sea, before we reach the seaside bathing scene that follows an image of the river's losing itself "in the infinite main,/ Like a soul that has sinned and is pardoned again." Clearly this slim volume takes Kingsley's poem and turns it into a moral and social fable: of the loss of rural innocence in a physically, socially, and spiritually polluted urban landscape, from which we -- mother and child -- are rescued at the end, morally reborn into a middle-class seaside resort.

But the particular kind of rural imagery in these 1880s books -- the marsh landscape and the lowing cattle intended to suggest English Lincolnshire in The High Tide or the rural peasant types in Song of the River -- are versions of a larger pattern of landscape depiction associated initially with the French countryside at Barbizon and extended to places like Pont-Aven in Brittany, where Woodward lived and worked as a painter in oils in the late 1870s and early eighties. The landscape and figure painters Camille Corot, Jean-François Millet, Jules Breton, the cattle painter Constant Troyon, and others had been the artistic and political radicals of the generation of 1830 in France, in rebellion against the classicizing, historicizing, and hierarchical academy and the political regime it had supported. But over time their revolutionary stances had been domesticated and co-opted. These "peasant painters" were awarded gold medals at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1867 and their works purchased by the Emperor for the Luxembourg Palace at the same time that he was suppressing industrial and agricultural protest.

Recent scholarship has at least partially recast the exclusively stylistic avant-garde history of late-nineteenth century art production and its widespread distribution. Barbizon landscapes remained enormously popular in France, England, and perhaps especially in the United States. Here Millet and Corot and others had had their most important early patronage, thanks especially to the marketing efforts of their American disciple William Morris Hunt in Boston; and American patronage continued into the Midwest and the West Coast well past the turn of the century. Sue Rainey's biographical account details for us how Douglas Woodward joined other Americans in the later phases of the Barbizon style, especially at the village of Pont-Aven (before Paul Gauguin's very different appearance there at the end of the 1880s). Woodward exhibited oil paintings not only from France but from various American locations that include his inland suburban home area of New Jersey, and coastal summer artist colonies and vacation spots like the Hamptons on Long Island, Annisquam in Massachusetts, and Perkins Cove, Maine.

Characteristic of this landscape mode was a strongly horizontal format, with a road or S-curving river leading diagonally into the background, often toward some grove of trees in the center. Woodward's landscapes in oils and related illustrations for gift books share many of these stylistic attributes. Indeed, although most are highly accomplished technically, there is a formulaic quality to them as a group, a repetitiveness, a narrowness of scope and vision, and, as Sue Rainey points out, they do not differ widely from works in this mode produced by his American colleagues and friends. Furthermore, they lack, for the most part, the human interest imparted by the strong peasant types who inhabit the paintings of his contemporaries. The Brittany Snail Catcher (page 74) is a notable exception to this, linked as it is to such works as John Singer Sargent's brilliant early Oyster Gatherers at Cancale (1878), Elizabeth Nourse's Fisher Girl of Picardy (1889), or the well-known 1881 and later British North Sea coastal images of mussel gatherers by Winslow Homer. What is clear in this other work and their French prototypes and parallels is the attempt to monumentalize the peasant. The agricultural workers and fisherfolk are larger-than-life types who may struggle some against the forces of nature but do not engage in class warfare against one another or the government.

The appeal of the Barbizon landscape in this context lay precisely in its erasure of most signs of conflict, its substitution of a sometimes energetic, sometimes quietly bucolic small-scale landscape that was universal, rather than historically particular. In an era when the American frontier was closing (as Frederick Jackson Turner announced in Chicago in 1893), when large-scale, highly capitalized and mechanized farming was driven by the demands of an international market, and individuals were moving off unproductive Eastern farms into the cities or, if they could afford it, the suburbs, Woodward turned from his role as promoter of picturesque landscape tourism and joined his colleagues in shaping a rural or marsh landscape with a path or stream off to some unknown space or over the hill, with still, reflecting pools, sometimes with cows grazing or obediently returning home -- a reassuring, conservative response to the world around him. If the popularity of these landscapes by Woodward and others lay in their strategies of avoidance of conflict, this may also help account for their disappearance from public view into such places as Art Hall at the Shrine Mont conference center in the much altered world of the twentieth century.

This disappearance, I am suggesting, is not just a function of changing stylistic preferences, though that is a part of the story. The newer, high-key impressionist palette had gained in popularity among American patrons by the turn of the century, especially when it was employed to create nostalgic views of the rural countryside or the fashionable seaside in the hands of a Hassam or William Merritt Chase, both of whom would become conservative opponents of the newer abstract versions of modernism coming from Europe after 1900. This new modernism, visible at Alfred Stieglitz's 291 Gallery and at the New York Armory Show of 1913, helped to change the course of American art history; but it also rewrote the history of the past. To recover the art and life of Douglas Woodward is thus not only to understand the complex role played by nineteenth-century illustrators in helping to give shape to American culture through the dialectic of picture/text relations; it is also to recover some elements of what we have come to call the anti-modernist strain in American art and hence to restore our sense of the larger dialectic of culture at a critical period.

 

Notes

1 I have pursued that question in "Picture and Text: The Literary World of Winslow Homer," Winslow Homer: A Symposium, ed. Nicolai Cikovsky, Jr. (Washington: National Gallery of Art, 1990), pp. 32 - 59.

2 For the context within which this graphic phenomenon needs to be seen, see Doreen Bolger Burke et al., In Pursuit of Beauty: Americans and the Aesthetic Movement (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art/Rizzoli, 1986).

3 In fact, at just this moment she was publishing a satirical piece, "In Search of the Picturesque," in Harper's Monthly, 45 (JuIy 1872), pp. 161 - 68.

4 See the typescript of Woodward's letter of June 21, 1878 to his mother, noted in Rainey footnote 4 below.

 

About the author

Roger B. Stein retired as a professor of the history of American art and culture at the University of Virginia in 1998. He has published on American aesthetic history, on painters like John Singleton Copley, Charles Willson Peale, and Winslow Homer, and has curated and consulted with the Metropolitan Museum of New York, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum and elsewhere, for exhibitions on American landscape, seascape, and the art of New England.

 

Resource Library editor's note:

The above text was reprinted in Resource Library on December 15, 2009, with permission of the author, which was granted to TFAO on October 13, 2009. It is the introduction to the exhibition catalogue Shaping the Landscape Image, 1865 - 1910: John Douglas Woodward, which was on view at the Bayly Art Museum, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia, March 28 - May 25, 1997.

Resource Library wishes to extend appreciation to Susan G. Harris of the University of Virginia and Shana Herb Johannessen for their help concerning permissions for reprinting the above text.

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