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Edward W. Redfield: Just Values and Fine Seeing


(above: Edward W. Redfield, Spring Veil, ca. 1928, oil on canvas, 50 x 56 inches, Collection of Malcolm and Eleanor Polis)


This summer the James A. Michener Art Museum is proud to present a retrospective exhibition of works by leading Pennsylvania Impressionist artist Edward W. Redfield in the Carol and Louis Della Penna Gallery at its New Hope location. Edward W. Redfield: Just Values and Fine Seeing will feature more than 50 works -- some for the first time on public view -- spanning the full length of the artist's career. The exhibition runs from May 1, 2004 through January 9, 2005.

The exhibition is one of three major shows celebrating leading artists of the Pennsylvania Impressionist school at the Michener Art Museum this summer -- two of which are accompanied by significant new publications, copublished by the University of Pennsylvania Press and the Michener Art Museum. Edward W. Redfield: Just Values and Fine Seeing, by Curator of Collections Constance Kimmerle, Ph.D., features new scholarship and insights into Redfield's life and work, at 144 pages with more than 60 color illustrations. The Cities, the Towns, the Crowds: The Paintings of Robert Spencer will open in the Wachovia Gallery in Doylestown on June 5, and The Lenfest Exhibition of Pennsylvania Impressionism is on long-term display in the Putman/Smith Gallery in Doylestown. (right: Edward W. Redfield, The Upper Delaware; ca. 1924; oil on canvas; 38 x 50 inches; In Trust to the JAMAM from Marguerite and Gerry Lenfest)

The exhibition Edward W. Redfield: Just Values and Fine Seeing includes the artist's early student drawings, a personal journal dating to 1889, landscapes painted in France, seascapes, nocturnal cityscapes of Brooklyn and New York City, as well as the Bucks County seasonal landscapes for which the artist is best remembered. Additionally, hooked rugs, furniture, and other craft items produced by the artist will be on view.

The exhibition title derives from a comment made by fellow artist Albert Sterner after viewing one of Redfield's landscapes in 1939. Sterner told Redfield that the work, "painted as you always paint, from the shoulder," impressed him with its "just values and fine seeing." Among the major institutions who have loaned works to this exhibition are the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the National Academy of Design in New York, and the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Kentucky.

By 1910 Redfield was recognized as one of the foremost landscape painters in the United States. Though he preferred not to think of himself as a member of any colony or school of artists -- he worked in isolation and was reputed to be a curmudgeon -- Redfield would arguably become known as the stylistic leader of the Pennsylvania Impressionist school of painting that flourished in Bucks County in the early decades of the twentieth century. As exhibition curator Constance Kimmerle notes, "Redfield's success was solidly grounded in his ability to paint distinctive aspects of the American landscape in clear and immediate terms that dissolved the boundaries between man and nature. Redfield knew that the power of landscape painting lay in its ability to bring individuals so close to nature that they would feel the currents of its life as strongly as they feel those of their own bodies."

A rugged outdoorsman, his method of plein air painting meant braving the elements on an almost daily basis, often enduring tremendous physical hardship in the process. F. Newlin Price, a friend of Redfield, said in describing the artist's character: "There is a strange hostility about Redfield. He will fight the winter's hardest weather, and struggle through the deepest depths to paint. When the fever is on, it's mighty hard for anyone near him."

During the opening decade of the twentieth century, Redfield earned a reputation as one of America's leading landscape painters. Born in Bridgeville, Delaware in 1869, he was raised in Camden, New Jersey, where he demonstrated a prodigious talent for the visual arts even as a young boy. (right: Edward W. Redfield, The Trout Brook, ca. 1916, oil on canvas, 50 x 56 inches. In Trust to the James A. Michener Art Museum from Marguerite and Gerry Lenfest )      

Redfield attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts from 1887 until 1889, where he studied under Thomas Anshutz, James Kelly, and Thomas Hovenden. While at the academy, he began a lifelong friendship with fellow student Robert Henri, who would become leader of the Ashcan school of American realist painters. Although Thomas Eakins had left the academy in 1886, his realist teaching methods remained a great influence. Students were urged to capture natural effects through close observation and immediate experience.

Redfield traveled to Paris in 1889 with the intention of becoming a portrait painter, but quickly took an interest in painting landscapes directly from nature. He was fascinated with the evanescence of the natural world as it appeared to him, and as an artist he committed himself to recreating the experience of a particular moment or scene, carefully recording the details of light and weather. His early winter scenes display a vigorous realism in which the facts of nature remain solid even when painted under an atmospheric veil. Redfield was particularly interested in the anatomy of snow and its receptivity to light in the brilliant sun of midday.

Redfield was among the first of the New Hope group of painters to settle in the area and paint the surrounding landscape. In 1898 he and his wife purchased a tract of land in Center Bridge, Pennsylvania, by the Delaware River, where they would reside for their remainder of their lives.

The Redfield family also spent many summers in Boothbay, Maine, where he explored the forms of nature unique to the Maine seacoast. During the late 1910s Redfield began to focus on impressionistic spring scenes, which are among his most beautiful works and reflect the same painterly methods and rapid, spontaneous handling of paint seen in his snow scenes. In addition to painting, his creative output included hooked rugs, Windsor furniture and painted chests.

Redfield was one of the most widely exhibited landscape painters of his era. During a period of dramatic national transition from an agrarian to a modern and largely industrialized society, both the artist and his work seemed to embody the values of rugged individualism, authenticity and craftsmanship that were celebrated and admired by the American public. As early as 1899, he was given a solo exhibition at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. In 1915, when he served as a juror for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, he was given his own gallery to exhibit twenty-one of his works. By the time he stopped painting in the 1940s -- when his failing eyesight could no longer meet the demanding conditions of plein air work -- Redfield had won almost every significant award available to an American artist, and his paintings were in dozens of major American museums.

Redfield's method of 'in-one-go' painting had resulted in a remarkably prolific output over the course of his life. Always a harsh self-critic, he was determined to be remembered only for his best work, and in the 1940s and 50s Redfield burned a great many of his paintings - to the dismay of his friends and family. The artist himself dismissed the gesture, saying, "They are battles lost." He died in October 1965, at the age of ninety-six. (right: Edward W. Redfield, Early Spring, 1920, oil on canvas, 38 x 50 inches, In Trust to the James A. Michener Art Museum from Marguerite and Gerry Lenfest, with assistance from First Union Bank)

The exhibition is sponsored by Journal Register Company/Intercounty Newspapers; Little River Resort, Pinehurst, NC; Penn Valley Constructors, Inc.; with additional support from Amy & Joe Luccaro, HollyHedge Estate.

The Cities, the Towns, the Crowds: The Paintings of Robert Spencer, another exhibition highlighting a major artist from the Pennsylvania Impressionist school, will open in the Wachovia Gallery in Doylestown on June 5, and continue through September 19. It is accompanied by Senior Curator Brian H. Peterson's catalog of the same name. The Lenfest Exhibition of Pennsylvania Impressionism, on long-term display in the Putman/Smith Gallery in Doylestown, features several outstanding examples from the 59 Pennsylvania Impressionist paintings that were given to the Museum in 2000 by Marguerite and Gerry Lenfest.


Editor's note: For Pennsylvania artists see Earth, River, and Light: Masterworks of Pennsylvania Impressionism (1/21/04), A Matter of Style: Artistic Influences and Directions in 20th-Century Pennsylvania Painting, an essay by Michael A. Tomor; Art and Industry in Philadelphia: Origins of the Philadelphia School of Design for Women, an article by Nina de Angeli Walls; Introduction to "Along the Juniata: Thomas Cole and the Dissemination of American Landscape Imagery", an essay by Nancy Siegel, and Pennsylvania Painters and the Roots of Realism, an essay by Judith Hansen O'Toole. Also see Edward Redfield at Michener Art Museum (12/18/98) and The Lenfest Exhibition of Pennsylvania Impressionism (12/16/00). For the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco see The 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition of San Francisco; An Art-Lover's Guide to the Exposition, by Sheldon Cheney (reprint of an entire book covering the San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exhibition of 1915); The Art of the Exposition, by Eugen Neuhaus (reprint of an entire book covering the San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exhibition of 1915); The Sculpture And Mural Decorations Of The Exposition, by Stella George Stern Perry (reprint of an entire book covering the San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exhibition of 1915).


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