Editor's note: The following essay was reprinted in Resource Library on June 17, 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:
Drawn to Nature: John Douglas Woodward's Career in Art
by Sue Rainey
John Douglas Woodward produced hundreds of landscape images of the United States, Europe, and the Holy Land for popular books and magazines in the decades following the Civil War. For the many thousands of Americans who were intensely curious about their newly reunited and westward-expanding nation and how it compared with its trans-Atlantic neighbors, his compositions provided welcome answers. The wood and steel engravings based on his drawings were so widely disseminated that near the end of the century he was termed one of the country's "best-known painters and illustrators" and, along with Thomas Moran and Harry Fenn, one of "the pioneers of American landscape illustration."
From the beginning of his fifty-year career as an artist, Woodward's goal was to be a painter in oils, the calling long viewed as the most significant and prestigious among the visual arts and, indeed, often still so regarded today. Yet to earn a living as a painter in the late 1860s and early 1870s was highly problematic compared to the opportunities afforded by the flourishing market for black-and-white illustrations. The demand for drawings to serve as the basis for wood engravings had increased dramatically since the advent in the 1850s of illustrated weekly newspapers such as Harper's Weekly and Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper. A number of artists some ten years older than Woodward, including Winslow Homer, Thomas Moran, William Ludwell Sheppard, John La Farge, and James D. Smillie, had already taken the illustrator's path.
The wood engraving process was the first of the modern mass media, and in an age when images were comparatively scarce, their impact was magnified. Printed in relief from the raised areas left after the engraver gouged out the voids in the end-grain of boxwood blocks -- or from stereotypes or electrotypes of such blocks -- wood engravings were less expensive than prints produced by lithography or intaglio engraving on steel. They were also less costly than stereographic cards, the primary medium for disseminating photographs before the development of the halftone printing process. Wood engravings were the printed images most numerous in modest as well as elegant homes.
By "drawing on wood," as he described it, Woodward was able to share his interpretations of landscapes at home and abroad with thousands who might have few opportunities to see, much less own, oil paintings. His greatest recognition during his lifetime resulted from such work -- although he himself continued to regard it as less important than painting -- and from the time of his death in 1924 until recently, if remembered at all, it has been primarily for his illustrations. Now, however, some one hundred years after their creation, we have the opportunity to view a previously unknown group of his works -- the original drawings that were the basis of his illustrations. Whereas his nineteenth-century audiences saw only the final printed images, we can compare his superb preliminary sketches with the published versions, often gleaning insights about his intentions and concerns and a better understanding of his artistic choices. This opportunity is rare, since most artists producing illustrations discarded the preliminary sketches after they had been redrawn on the boxwood block in preparation for the engraver. Fortunately Woodward's habit was to save his. In turn, his widow Maria Louise Woodward, rather than disbursing the contents of his studio, donated a large number of works to Shrine Mont and had Art Hall built there to serve as her husband's memorial.
These works, together with the many Woodward letters now at the Valentine Museum in Richmond, Virginia, provide an unusually comprehensive record of the career of an artist-illustrator whose work both shaped and responded to the particular interests and values of his era. Woodward reached maturity at a time when most Americans thought the highest role of art was to represent nature with fidelity and thereby to reveal the Creator's beneficence and power through depictions of the landscape. Committing himself to this mission, he developed an exceptional ability to record what he saw in pencil, watercolor, and oil studies. Thereafter he recomposed these detailed renderings into illustrations or oil paintings that celebrated nature's beauty and variety and some of the monuments of human history.
His first commissions were to illustrate regions of great interest to many Americans -- the South soon after the Civil War and the West after the completion of the transcontinental railroad. He quickly learned to combine innovative viewpoints and fresh approaches to composition with familiar picturesque conventions, creating images that appealed to a wide public. His successes led to work farther afield in the late 1870s, in Russia and Scandinavia, as well as the Holy Land and Egypt.
In the 1880s, although still dependent on income from illustrations, his resolve to become a painter strengthened. Joining artists' colonies in Brittany, France, and East Hampton, Long Island, he experimented with new ways of seeing and composing, different from the approaches he had used with illustration. Like many other landscape artists of the time, he emphasized the quiet intensity of the fleeting effects of weather and changing seasons on unnamed meadows, marshes, roads, and ponds, rather than panoramic vistas or scenic landmarks. When an inheritance in 1895 freed him from the need to seek commissions and sales, he chose to paint in the Italian Lake District and Venice, as well as areas close to the home he built in New Rochelle, New York. It was a personally fulfilling end to a career dedicated to communicating his vision of the landscape.
The Apprenticeship Years
Woodward's first twenty-five years were marked by his steady growth as an artist, yet other aspects of his life were disrupted by the turbulent events of the Civil War. Born July 12, 1846, at "Montebello," a substantial plantation house in Middlesex County, Virginia, the three-year-old Douglas accompanied his parents, John Pitt Lee Woodward and Mary Mildred Minor Woodward, and his older brother, Warner Minor, westward, where his father planned to help settle the Kentucky frontier. Although Kentucky had long attracted Virginians seeking new land and opportunity, by 1849 the town of Covington, where J. P. L. Woodward became a prominent hardware merchant, was definitely not frontier. It was just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, a center of culture and commerce that had quickly grown to be the largest city west of the Alleghenies, with a population of more than 115,000.
Perhaps seeing art exhibitions in Cincinnati nourished Douglas's desire to paint and draw, which was reportedly strong by the age of 12. By 1860, Cincinnati's artistic community included the German painter Feodor Charles Welsch (1828 - 1904), whose works had been recognized by inclusion in National Academy of Design exhibitions in New York in 1858 and 1860 and in the Paris Salon of 1859. The titles of his landscapes, such as Prairies de l'Illinois, effet du soir (Paris Salon, 1859), Sunrise, near the Island of Capri (NAD, 1861) and Moonrise, -- coast of France (NAD, 1861), suggest his strong interest in capturing dramatic light effects on canvas. Soon after Welsch opened a gallery in Cincinnati and joined the local Sketch Club in early 1861, the fifteen-year-old Douglas began art lessons with him, taking advantage of the opportunity to hone his drawing and painting skills under the tutelage of an established artist. The young man's artistic promise was duly noted by his Covington neighbors.
The instruction was not to continue long, however. The Civil War brought bitter strife to the border state of Kentucky, which was home to many fervent abolitionists as well as transplanted Southerners. After attempting to remain neutral, the state passed from Union to Confederate and back to Union control by 1862. The Woodward family, which in 1854 at least had owned a slave, had strong ties to the South, and their oldest son Minor joined General John Hunt Morgan's Confederate Cavalry in 1862. Like his general, Minor was captured, precipitating his family's departure in 1863 from their home of the past fourteen years. The family, now including Douglas's seven-year-old brother Dick, travelled to Canada to join Minor near Toronto in a Southern refugee colony to which he had escaped. As they passed through Ohio, Douglas reportedly carried the entire family fortune "in Federal greenbacks" hidden in a belt around his waist.
Despite these distressing and tumultuous events, within a few months after their removal to Canada, Douglas had found a way to continue his artistic training -- in New York City, which must have seemed somewhat alien territory to the brother of an escaped Confederate prisoner. In 1863 - 64, he enrolled in both the National Academy of Design, drawing from casts of sculpture in the "Antique Class," and in Cooper Union's Free Night School of Science and Art, learning "Drawing from the flat," presumably by copying prints, under Constantine Herzberg. Where his family was during this period is not known. It is clear, however, that after the war ended in 1865 they went back to Virginia, establishing residence in Richmond, where J. P. L. Woodward and Minor became lumber merchants.
In 1866, Douglas was in New York, enrolled in Cooper Union's "Perspective Drawing" class, and trying to make his way as an artist. At the age of twenty, in the spring of 1867, he exhibited a painting titled View in Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, VA (unlocated) at the National Academy of Design. Despite this success, a letter to the Richmond sculptor Edward Valentine (1838 - 1930) reveals that the winter of 1867 - 68 was very difficult for him and other young artists. He pieced together a living by doing drawing on wood, mostly of architectural subjects, and some painting. Yet he wrote Valentine that he tired of living among "these cussed Yankees" and only stayed in New York because of the opportunities to see and study art. The artworks on exhibit in early 1868, which he described as a "feast," included the American paintings shown at the 1867 Paris Exposition (at the National Academy of Design) as well as some of the works by Europeans. Woodward specifically mentioned to Valentine Frederic E. Church's Rainy Season in the Tropics and Niagara, which were "grand and excellent," Jean-Léon Gérôme's Death of Caesar, George H. Boughton's Pilgrims Going to Church, and works by Ernest Meissonier and Gustave Doré.
Although these comments indicate that he, like the leading collectors of the day, admired some genre and historical paintings as well as grand landscapes, his own early works focused on particular elements of the natural and cultural landscape. For example, his NAD exhibition piece in 1868 was titled In the Fields (unlocated), and he won praise for a "cabinet picture" of the Brewer Fountain in Boston Common displayed at Childs & Co. in Boston in 1869. His extant sketches during these early years of struggle to establish himself as an artist indicate he followed the advice of both Asher B. Durand in his 1855 "Letters on Landscape Painting" and John Ruskin in Modern Painters to be "truthful" to the natural world. In minute pencil studies of plants, careful renderings of rocks and trees, and pastel and oil studies of clouds at particular times of day, Woodward, like many landscape artists of the period, approached the precision of a botanist, geologist, or meteorologist (page 9). In so doing, he aligned himself with such predecessors as Frederic E. Church, John F. Kensett, Worthington Whittredge, and Jasper F. Cropsey, who had strongly articulated their conviction that by accurately depicting the intricacy and variety of nature they revealed the wonders of divine creation. Woodward felt that nature was "the only true test of a picture" and would formulate his lifelong artistic credo in terms of the distinction between the "Ideal" and the "simply natural," based on a quotation from James Russell Lowell:
Woodward's method in the late 1860s and early 1870s was to sketch outdoors in the warmer months. But, instead of heading for the Catskills, the White Mountains, or Maine like most landscape artists in New York, he went home to Virginia. Then he returned with his portfolio of sketches to New York, or, in 1869, to Boston, for the winter, where he would work on exhibition pieces in oils. The earliest of his landscapes in oils that has been located, Luray, Va. July 1870, a Blue Ridge Mountain vista, demonstrates how skillful he had already become in constructing a panoramic scene with depth mediated by the effects of atmosphere (cover). Another painting of Virginia scenery, an autumn view of the James River winding through hills (unlocated), was praised for the way "the rays of sunlight seem to disperse the mist," giving "great depth to the picture."
The Earliest Commission -- Touring the South for Hearth and Home
About this time Woodward turned increasingly to illustration as a means of earning a living. He had apparently spent much of 1870 in Richmond, for he was listed in that year's City Directory as an "Artist" working from a studio in his parents' home. Woodward found the opportunities there very limited, although he did become well acquainted with some of Richmond's leading artists, including Edward Valentine, who had studied sculpture in Paris, Florence, and Berlin, and William Ludwell Sheppard (1833 - 1912). Sheppard had gone to New York to study art in 1858 and after the war, based in Richmond, became an illustrator of primarily Southern genre scenes for such popular New York periodicals as Harper's Weekly, Frank Leslie's Illustrated Weekly, and Appletons' Journal. He likely served Woodward as an advisor or mentor for this career path, perhaps opening doors for him in New York. At any rate, shortly after the two men travelled together in March of 1871 to Virginia's Great Dismal Swamp, drawing some of the same scenes, Woodward undertook his first major commission -- a sketching tour of the South for Hearth and Home, a New York-based weekly aimed at improving and "refining" the lives of farm families all over the country.
This important assignment gave Woodward the opportunity to observe and depict a region recently off-limits and less familiar to many Northerners than some parts of Europe -- and also the subject of intense controversy over the proper treatment of the former Confederates and the role of the federal government in Reconstruction. By 1871 several periodicals had already sent reporters and artists South in response to the public's great interest, but the resulting graphic images represented only a small sampling of the possible subjects. Hearth and Home's previous coverage in 1869 and 1870, its first years of publication, included co-editor Harriet Beecher Stowe's letters from Florida, describing the potentials and pitfalls of fruit-tree cultivation, the gradual return of Northern investors, and her hope that "negroes" would be allowed to settle on their own small farms -- and thus provide a steady supply of wage laborers.
The decision to send an artist South in 1871 made good business sense, for it enabled Hearth and Home to treat a timely subject while fulfilling its new publisher's promise to provide more and better illustrations. Woodward travelled from April to September 1871, first in Florida and Louisiana, then in South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia. His usual practice was to send sketches to the Hearth and Home office in New York, where someone else redrew his compositions on the woodblock. The resulting wood engravings appeared from May 1871 through November 1872. In keeping with the magazine's market, Woodward's specific charge was "to give special attention to the agricultural industries." This he did, but he also depicted a number of the region's historic sites and scenic wonders, subjects more typical of the long tradition of illustrated travel accounts.
Florida was a popular new winter destination for Northerners, especially those recuperating from illness, and Woodward's striking Hearth and Home front cover for August 12, 1871, emphasized the tropical sun and vegetation. The graceful palms towering above the tall house and the black woman washing in Cocoa-Nut Trees at Key West, Florida (page 23) immediately signaled a scene in "the extreme South." Woodward's pencil drawing of the washerwoman in the wood engraving's foreground (cat. 11, page 85) depicts a graceful figure intent on her work, with no hint of the derisive type of caricature that would soon become so popular. Yet by choosing to enhance the foreground with this figure and to separate her from the precinct of the big house by the fence, he participated in the contemporary tendency to set blacks apart as "other," as somehow of a different order. The treatment makes an interesting parallel with another Woodward front cover featuring Florida's distinctive vegetation in a backyard scene, The Cherry-Fig or American Banyan Tree (left). In this case a small white girl, apparently inside rather than outside the fence, was added to the woodblock. Both images were very different from the scenes of dark, eerie Florida swamps devoid of people, drawn by Harry Fenn for the rival Appletons' Journal in 1870. Perhaps largely as a result of his charge, Woodward's Hearth and Home illustrations focused more on how the semi-tropical fecundity benefitted humanity than on its weird and Gothic aspects.
An important but ambivalent message of the images and texts was that the South was both more blessed by nature and more primitive and backward than the North. Woodward's numerous small wood engravings depicted agricultural and marine industries made possible by the region's mild climate and fertile soils and waters, such as Florida orange groves, South Carolina peach orchards, cypress shingle-making in the swamps (cat. 16, page 87), turtle and sponge pens in Key West (cat. 17, page 88), and shrimp fishing on the Mississippi. Such industries were presented as characteristic of the South, in implied contrast to the steam-powered factories of the North. Only the images of a technologically advanced marine elevator in New Orleans (cat. 19, page 88) and a Louisiana sugar mill (cat. 18, page 89) suggested a South that was using modern technology in the recovery and to speed or increase production and distribution.
The more frequent type of image, in concert with the texts -- some by unnamed writers and some by Woodward himself -- presented the South as a cornucopia that could supply other parts of the nation with delicacies, rather like a colony. In addition, the abundance was so pronounced that little work was required:
This emphasis on the ease of obtaining sustenance in the South could well have functioned to help justify and reinforce the growing sentiment in the North, especially among Liberal Republicans, that the federal government had already done all it could for African Americans and they would have to fend for themselves in the future. In so bountiful a region, clearly this would not be difficult. Yet most of the "agricultural industries" Woodward chose to feature were large-scale enterprises owned by whites and dependent upon a black labor force to pick oranges, dry peaches, and work in sugar mills and salt factories -- hardly the easy life described in the text and not so different from the situation before the war. Even the "quarters" Woodward depicted on a Louisiana sugar plantation were unchanged, although he did mention in his accompanying text that many planters were "introducing new and better cabins for their hands." Image and text together suggested that in so naturally productive a region recovery was well underway and most former slaves already were or soon would be incorporated into the wage labor system.
In addition to depicting agricultural industries, Woodward chose other subjects more typical of a traditional tour "in search of the picturesque." This approach to travel inspired by eighteenth-century British models had spread throughout the popular culture of the United States, becoming all-pervasive by midcentury, and still popular in the 1860s and 70s. Based on the notion that it was a pleasurable and worthwhile activity for everyone, not just artists, to search for views that would make appealing pictures, such touring involved classifying scenery according to the three long-established aesthetic categories -- the sublime, the beautiful, and the picturesque. Hearth and Home's audience would have immediately recognized the Natural Bridge, in Woodward's June 15, 1872, front-page depiction (below), as one of the country's foremost examples of sublimity -- long celebrated for its awe-inspiring height. Similarly, they would have recognized such lesser-known rock formations as those of the Cave of the Fountains (cat. 20, 21, page 89) and the Cyclopean Towers, in their irregular forms and uniqueness, as examples of the picturesque, whose appeal was further enhanced by their revelations about the earth's history. Similarly, sites associated with human history or legend, such as the Lovers' Leap on the French Broad, the old fort at St. Augustine, Williamsburg, Mount Vernon, and Monticello, partook of the picturesque, as did those associated with the passage of time, or mortality, such as the tombs of Washington and Jefferson and the above-ground cemeteries in New Orleans. By demonstrating that the South was an appropriate region to engage in the national pastime of picturesque touring, Woodward helped reinstate it in the national consciousness.
In sum, his seventy-odd illustrations published in Hearth and Home in 1871 and 1872 presented a South that was appealing and unique among the regions of the United States for its mild climate, vegetation, and fertility and natural abundance, and therefore its agricultural potential, and that rivalled other regions in scenic beauty and historic sites. The proliferation of positive images -- and the omission of references to the region's poverty and economic stagnation, recent Ku Klux Klan violence, and disputed state governments -- made a strong case for welcoming the region back into the Union. Especially with his three striking front-page illustrations celebrating some of these positive aspects -- those of the palms at Key West, the Banyan tree, and the Natural Bridge -- Woodward came to the attention of a large audience, including other publishers and artists. Soon he would be engaged in an even more prestigious assignment, one that would require him to function less as a reporter and more as a landscape artist in search of the picturesque.
A Career Breakthrough -- The Picturesque America Commission
The firm of D. Appleton and Company, New York's second largest publisher, after Harper and Brothers, launched a costly new project in mid-1872 billed as "The most Magnificent Illustrated Work ever produced in America" -- the subscription book Picturesque America. Its more comprehensive coverage of the entire continental nation -- from Maine to Florida to the West Coast -- would distinguish it from its predecessors in the tradition of view books -- most notably American Scenery, published in London 1837 - 39 with steel engravings after the British artist William Henry Bartlett. Picturesque America was issued from mid-1872 to mid-1874 in 48 parts of 24 pages each. Each part contained one steel engraving -- still the more prestigious type of print -- and numerous wood engravings and cost 50 cents, for a total of $24 over the two-year period.
The project was hugely successful. When completed, the two hefty volumes were displayed in hundreds of thousands of homes across the nation, signaling the family's appreciation of both picturesque travel and art. In a sense, subscribing to it allowed those of moderate means to become patrons of art like their wealthier neighbors. For those striving to learn the mores of "polite society," it provided didactic models -- of leisurely touring that would yield spiritual benefits and of orderly behavior and fashionable dress. It functioned in numerous other ways: It promoted both actual and arm-chair travel and a national self-image incorporating both the South and the West. Its multifaceted contents testified to the variety, uniqueness, and potential wealth of the American landscape and the advanced civilization of its cities, serving to counteract deep-seated inferiority feelings in relation to Europe and contribute to the confidence and pride that would find expression in the Centennial Exposition of 1876. In the face of accelerating change, it reassured Americans that their landscape was still picturesque and that they could embrace rather than fear technological "progress." Furthermore the widespread admiration of its illustrations, both at home and abroad, fostered pride in American artists and American art publications. The opportunity to participate in this project was a highly significant career breakthrough for Woodward.
He joined the project just as the first numbers were appearing on the market -- featuring views of Maine's Mount Desert Island and Florida's St. John's and Oklawaha rivers by the slightly older and considerably more established artist Harry Fenn. Fenn had been commissioned first in mid-1870 to do a series of views titled "Picturesque America" for Appletons' Journal, the firm's weekly magazine of literature, art, and science. By early 1872, however, they had decided to expand the series in the more costly and permanent format of a book in parts. The revered William Cullen Bryant agreed to serve as editor and write a preface.
Building upon Fenn's series of images for Appletons' Journal, under the direction of project editor Oliver B. Bunce the firm commissioned several artists in addition to Fenn, including Alfred R. Waud, Granville Perkins, and Thomas Moran. While many choice assignments involving the most dramatic and unusual scenery had already gone to Fenn, numerous lesser-known and less spectacular areas were still to be covered. Woodward was first commissioned to illustrate sections on Lake Erie and on Mackinac Island in Lake Huron, the farthest west he would go for the project, and he travelled in those regions from early June through mid-July 1872. Bunce and the Appletons were obviously well pleased with his efforts, for after completing these sections for Volume I, Woodward was asked to illustrate eight more sections -- all in the Northeast -- for Volume II (and a ninth shared with Fenn). This necessitated further travel August through October 1872 and June through September 1873. He was thus the most prolific contributor to Volume II, as Fenn had been to Volume I, in part because the Appleton firm had sent Fenn to England in 1873 to begin work on Picturesque Europe, a companion work inspired by the great success of Picturesque America. Woodward's additional commissions included the Connecticut River valley (between Vermont and New Hampshire); Boston; the valley of the Housatonic River (Massachusetts and Connecticut); the valley of the Genesee River (New York); the Eastern shore from Boston to Portland, Maine; Lake Memphremagog (Vermont); the Upper Delaware River (between Pennsylvania and New York); the Mohawk River, Albany and Troy (New York; shared with Fenn); and the waterfalls at Cayuga Lake (New York). Woodward eventually contributed 154 of the more than 900 wood engravings in the book, as well as 3 of the 48 steel engravings. Some 140 of his original drawings for the project are in Shrine Mont's collection. In some cases he travelled with the writer commissioned by Bunce to cover a particular area, but more often he appears to have travelled alone, with the text being provided by someone already familiar with the region.
Woodward's choices of subject matter were in keeping with the Picturesque America project as a whole. Many of his images highlighted towering old oaks or maples, rugged waterfalls, rocky coasts or cliffs, or such mountains as Mount Holyoke and Mount Tom, long-famous for the views from the summits. In the Northeast he gave particular attention to villages that appeared reassuringly unchanged from earlier in the century, contributing to the contemporary nostalgia for the family farm and rugged New England self-sufficiency. While largely ignoring the new factories that were transforming the region's landscape and providing employment for numerous former farm dwellers and immigrants, he frequently depicted old mills and forges -- the familiar technology of the past. His illustrations of both older cities, such as Boston, and newer cities, such as Detroit, emphasized their cultural amenities and growing sophistication -- and side-stepped all problems -- showing fashionably dressed men and women strolling in parks and squares and gathering near fountains and impressive public buildings.
This assignment offered Woodward the chance to establish himself as a significant landscape illustrator, provided he could measure up to the standard already set by Fenn. Although he worked independently, it seems clear from the changes in Woodward's approach that he was aware of Fenn's images and sought to emulate them in numerous ways. The two artists had, in fact, already depicted several of the same subjects, including Natural Bridge, the French Broad (NC), and St. Augustine -- Woodward for Hearth and Home and Fenn for the "Picturesque America" magazine series and the later book. It is only logical to assume that the younger artist would have compared and contrasted his work with Fenn's and attempted to learn from the differences, especially before he commenced work on a project Fenn had initiated and dominated to that point.
To understand how such a comparison could have suggested new, more dramatic approaches to Woodward, we may note the differences between his Hearth and Home image of The Natural Bridge in Virginia (page 26) and Fenn's assymmetrical rendering that opened Picturesque America's section on the bridge, sharing the page with a "stepped down" column of type (page 27). Fenn's close-up, with its intricate delineation of both rocks and foliage, is at the same time more Ruskinian in its "truth to nature" and more dramatic in emphasizing -- probably exaggerating -- the height of the arch. Woodward's bridge, in contrast, is imposing in its flat expanse, echoed in the dark and light bands of the foreground. His original vignetted sketch had more verticality and lightness (cat. 23, page 91). Its interpretation as a wood engraving filling a large rectangular block did not retain these qualities, however, either because another hand reinterpreted his sketch on the woodblock, or because Woodward was not yet adept at the particular approaches that would result in effective wood engravings. Fenn, on the other hand, was a master at exploiting the linear possibilities of the medium, having learned wood engraving at the prominent London firm of the Dalziel Brothers before immigrating to the United States in 1857. The results suggest that in redrawing his images for Picturesque America on the whitened block, he carefully put down intricate and varied lines to guide the wood engraver in conveying both form and texture. The minute lines defining the rock surface in Fenn's Natural Bridge contrast greatly with the relatively uniform parallel lines of Woodward's version.
The very first of Woodward's contributions to Picturesque America clearly suggests the use of Fenn's Natural Bridge image as a model both in composition and in intricate use of line. The Arched Rock that opened the "Mackinac" section is strikingly similar to Fenn's Natural Bridge, but in reverse (page 10). Woodward has made effective use of the column of type to lead into a highlighted standpoint, in effect inviting the viewer to enter the composition, and thus enhancing the experience of vicarious travel. He has also placed two tiny figures at the base (as had Fenn in the version that appeared in Appletons' Journal) and used receding boats to create the illusion of great distance.
This example demonstrates how Woodward's work for Picturesque America allowed -- or perhaps, challenged -- him to experiment with less conventional formats and more striking approaches to composition. With the emphases on depicting scenery and cities as "picturesque" and on producing a monument of art, the artists were expected to design illustrations that appealed by virtue of their variety, fresh viewpoints, dramatic light effects, and appealing associations. The book's extensive use of the relief process of wood engraving facilitated some of these tasks, since image and text could be combined on the same page. This allowed artists to create a wide variety of page layouts and image shapes -- very different from the usual rectangle or oval vignette formats of the separately-printed intaglio steel engravings in earlier books such as American Scenery. They were also very different from most of Woodward's Hearth and Home illustrations that had fit into rectangular or almost square boxes. A number of illustrators had already used irregular formats in books of poetry and periodicals, and in his early work for Picturesque America Fenn took advantage of the opportunity to experiment further. His Picturesque America illustrations popularized such integrated page layouts, and they became a hallmark of book design in the 1870s and 1880s. Woodward followed his example, creating page designs that must have seemed fresh and engaging to contemporary viewers.
Further comparisons of Woodward's work with Fenn's suggest other lessons Woodward may have learned: about increasing drama through high or low viewpoints, focusing attention on the primary subject, and creating the illusion of depth. Both artists had drawn the rock formation called "Lovers' Leap," with its romantic associations as the site of an American Indian maiden's leap to her death. Woodward's wood engraving includes variety and contrast, but, as with other of his Hearth and Home images, the composition is constructed in a way that diminishes the illusion of depth (page 28). The row of lighted trees and the rather decrepit covered wagon almost parallel to the picture plane obstruct the view into the distance, as did the fences in both the Key West and Banyan tree front pages. Comparing this image with Fenn's "The Lovers' Leap " -- At Early Sunrise (page 29) reveals the advantages of Fenn's closer viewpoint and use of light to highlight the rock's stratifications. The rock is both more monumental, and thus more important, and more particular, as more of its geologic history is revealed. The more clearly defined sunlit road leads the eye to the base of the rock and beyond, contributing to the appeal and interest of the image, as does the wagon team purposefully moving toward the viewer -- unlike the apparently random arrangement of ox, wagon, and hunter in Woodward's image. Furthermore the artist's umbrella and easel, lower right, advertise this as an accurate, on-site rendering. Woodward's subsequent drawings of rock formations for Picturesque America, like those of Mackinac Island, are similar to Fenn's Lovers' Leap in their viewpoints and attention to geologic detail. This approach is consistent with the contemporary enthusiasm for understanding natural history, identifying mineral resources, and finding "sermons in stones."
Woodward might have gleaned similar strategies for depicting elements of the cultural landscape by comparing Fenn's St. Augustine compositions with his own. The two artists had treated the old gateway to the town quite differently. Woodward drew the gate from an oblique angle, with the road moving across the image (page 30), while Fenn drew it head-on and used the road to carry the viewer deep into the town (page 31). The more dramatic effect was not lost on Woodward. In his drawings for Picturesque America he frequently used framing devices, such as city gates, bell towers, and the like to bracket views. He also employed roads, piers, rivers, or railroad tracks to create the illusion of depth and engage the viewer more effectively than in many of his earlier works. For example, in the image opening the section on "The South Shore of Lake Erie" (left), the second region he illustrated for Picturesque America, he skillfully highlighted the pier of the Erie Canal Basin in Buffalo to move the eye past the ships to the steam-powered grain elevator -- an emblem of the city's technological know-how and importance as a grain-distributing port. Thus he integrated the foreground and background, and the past and present, for the viewer. Woodward's boldness in the use of such devices increased with practice and continued in his work for subsequent projects.
Woodward also exploited the compositional possibilities suggested in many of Fenn's works in which a close-up view of an architectural or natural feature occupies one side of the image, with the other side given to a dramatic progression from foreground to distant horizon. He used this approach in a beautiful rendering in pencil with gouache of a tree in Lake Erie from Mouth of Rocky River (page 33, left). In its precision this drawing is reminiscent of Woodward's early nature studies. He frequently used trees as a main subject or a framing device in his Picturesque America images, and they would remain a favorite subject throughout his career.
Comparison of this drawing with the wood engraving based on it (page 33, right) reveals further ways Woodward sought to make his works conform to Fenn's model and to the expectations of the Picturesque America project. At the same time they tried fresh approaches in terms of layout and composition, Woodward and the other artists adopted the conventions of earlier picturesque viewbooks by including all sorts of details -- foreground figures, boats, carts, and animals -- as well as depicting dramatic effects of light and weather, such as sunrises, sunsets, storms, and rainbows. They made such changes when reinterpreting their preliminary sketches on the woodblock in preparation for the wood engraver. In the case of Lake Erie, from Bluff, Mouth of Rocky River, Woodward added a dock, boats, men on the bluff, and dramatic rays of sunlight and clouds. Sometimes he drew such details in the margins of the sketch, but apparently also worked from memory, imagination, or perhaps even drawing books. Finally, to render the image both more monumental and more accessible, he arched the top and vignetted the bottom.
Thus in "drawing on wood," he could manipulate his composition as he chose, deciding what to add or delete, highlight or diminish, often achieving a result that struck contemporary audiences as dynamic and appealing while at the same time part of a popular and enduring tradition. Only the actual cutting of the block was out of his hands. The Appleton firm hired some of the finest wood engravers, however -- including F. W. Quartley, John Karst, [Joseph S.?] Harley, and W. J. Linton -- and Woodward's designs were in most instances skillfully engraved. Although his letters indicate the redrawing on wood sometimes became a tedious chore, it also allowed him greater artistic control.
Depicting the Hudson River and the West for The Art Journal
During the two years he worked on Picturesque America, Woodward became highly proficient in creating the lively, varied images that made the book so popular. Many of his designs ranked with Fenn's and Thomas Moran's as among the most successful. The Appletons were so pleased with Woodward's contributions that they employed him as the primary landscape illustrator for a new publishing venture, The Art Journal, an American version of the monthly published in London since 1839 by Virtue & Co. This new periodical was doubtless seen as a competitor to The Aldine, The Art Journal of America, a large-format monthly known for the excellence of its wood engravings. Woodward had already been published in the prestigious Aldine, contributing illustrations of Virginia scenery, Harpers Ferry, and Florida in 1873 and 1874.
Anticipating a January 1875 initial number for The Art Journal, editor Oliver Bunce commissioned Woodward to do a series of views of the Hudson River, long a favorite destination for artists and travellers and the only American river thought to rival the Rhine in terms of both natural and architectural features. Woodward turned to this project in the summer of 1874, soon after completing his work for Picturesque America. Bunce and the Appleton firm may have been aware that he was also preparing views of the Hudson for The Aldine. Especially striking was the full-page Aldine image of The Pinnacles of the Palisades (August 1874), which was similar to some of his Picturesque America illustrations but considerably larger and very finely engraved (page 35). To meet such competition The Art Journal offered greater depth of coverage in an eight-part series depicting the varied aspects of the river from Hoboken to Troy.
This series gave Woodward the opportunity to give careful attention to the many types of boats on the river, from up-to-date steamboats to traditional schooners, sloops, skiffs, and barges. His detailed renderings suggest a familiarity with boats that might date back to his days in Covington where his father's business as a merchant surely brought him in contact with Ohio River traffic. In later years boats remained a favorite subject, especially those on the Nile and in Italy. The Appleton firm thought highly enough of Woodward's Hudson views to publish them late in 1875 in a guidebook titled The Hudson Illustrated, or, on the title page, The Hudson River, by Pen and Pencil.
The winter following the Hudson commission, on February 4, 1875, the twenty-eight-year-old artist married Maria Louise Simmons, daughter of a prominent Baltimore merchant. Woodward's earnings had been sufficient to buy property and establish residence in South Orange, New Jersey, one of the new suburbs accessible by ferry and rail from New York City. Mrs. Woodward was a cousin of the artists Hugh Bolton Jones (1848 - 1927) and Francis Coates Jones (1857 - 1932), who had introduced her to her future husband. The relationship with the Jones brothers would prove important for Woodward throughout his life -- both personally and professionally. This was especially true of Bolton, who painted landscapes; Frank, on the other hand, was primarily a figure painter.
Not long after his marriage, Woodward was once again commissioned by the Appletons to supply illustrations for The Art Journal. This time, instead of following the course of an Eastern river, he would travel to San Francisco on the transcontinental railroad completed just five years earlier, in 1869, depicting for The Art Journal's readers the scenery and settlements they might encounter on such a journey. The West's scenic wonders and economic potential were of great interest at the time, especially to those with the means to travel, as would have been the case with many Art Journal subscribers. The timing and the targetting of the audience were appropriate, just as had been Woodward's depictions of the South's "agricultural industries" for Hearth and Home's more rural audience in 1871. Woodward travelled from mid-June to early September 1875, making side trips to Denver and Salt Lake City via railroad links from Cheyenne, Wyoming Territory, and Ogden, Utah Territory. Wood engravings based on his drawings illustrated two Art Journal series written by William H. Rideing: "Colorado," appearing in April, May, and June of 1876, the year Colorado became "the Centennial State," and "Scenery of the Pacific Railway," in eight parts, from January to August 1877. As with the Hudson River series, D. Appleton and Company subsequently published this material in revised and expanded form in a guidebook, Scenery of the Pacific Railways and Colorado (1878). Woodward used compositions and formats similar to those in Picturesque America, but most of the wood engravings are somewhat smaller in scale, and none occupies an entire page.
The eighty extant drawings from Woodward's western journey show him moving toward greater use of color -- through both watercolor washes and tinted paper -- despite the fact that his objective still was to produce wood engravings in black and white. The watercolor medium was increasingly popular in these years and Woodward was experimenting with it. (He would exhibit with the American Watercolor Society in 1876.) The pale blue paper he often used was especially well suited to depictions of mountains, forests, and waterfalls -- supplying the middle tones, while pencil and white gouache produced the darks and lights. He often supplemented these with blue or brown washes as in Donner Lake from the Snow Sheds (page 65), and occasionally with a full watercolor palette, as in San Francisco and Bay from Goat Island (cat. 44, page 101).
Like most artists before him, Woodward found few subjects in the vast barren plains and deserts crossed by the train. After reaching the Rocky Mountains, he often selected trees and lakes or streams for his foregrounds, features more familiar and appealing to those accustomed to the verdant mountains of the eastern United States and Europe. Yet he also spent much time drawing the richly colored and unusual rock formations and canyons along the route -- adding to the inventories of the picturesque and the sublime. His images reinforced the text's claim that the railroad journey afforded the traveller the opportunity to see examples of almost all the types of scenery just becoming known in the two rising stars of the American landscape, the newly established Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Canyon of the Colorado, both of which were still relatively inaccessible. In depicting western cities, on the other hand, he emphasized either their picturesque features -- as with Salt Lake City -- or their cosmopolitan nature -- as with San Francisco. On the whole, his images fostered pride in the scenery of the West and presented a strong case for making the western journey. They showed it would satisfy the traveller in search of memorable encounters with nature -- even if only glimpsed from the train window.
Soon after his return, the Boston Daily Evening Transcript noted, "J. D. Woodward, the celebrated drawer on wood and illustrator of 'Picturesque America,' has recently returned to [New York] with a portfolio full of sketches made the past summer along the Pacific coast in California and in Colorado." Clearly Picturesque America had established his national reputation. Much of the fall and winter was devoted to reworking his sketches on the woodblocks for The Art Journal. He also found time in 1875 to prepare eighteen illustrations for a celebratory book marking the centennial of Philadelphia and the nation, anticipating the Centennial Exposition of 1876, A Century After: Picturesque Glimpses of Philadelphia. The fact that Woodward's name appeared third in a list of seven illustrators named on this book's title page, after Thomas Moran and F. O. C. Darley, and before W. L. Sheppard, further indicates his growing reputation.
Experiencing and Drawing Europe
By the spring of 1876 the Appleton firm asked Woodward to go to England to help Fenn gather material for Picturesque Europe (1875 - 79). It was being published in parts jointly with the British firm of Cassell, Petter and Galpin, edited by the well-known American poet and travel writer Bayard Taylor. This was an opportunity for travel and professional advancement that Woodward could not turn down. Arriving May 1, 1876, he was delighted with England's scenery and found London "magnificent." His assignments would be farther afield, however, for Fenn and a number of British contributors had already covered the most celebrated regions in the British Isles and central and southern Europe. Woodward's task would be to fill in some of the areas to be featured in the third volume of the book. Unfortunately his original drawings for Picturesque Europe have not been located.
After a period of resolute bargaining with the London publisher to shorten his itinerary and increase his pay, with one of the Appletons acting as mediator, Woodward set out in mid-May. He was promised 24 pounds a week, slightly more than the 20 pounds Fenn had been receiving, since greater expenses were anticipated. His journey took him to northern Germany, Russia, Poland, Sebastopol, and Yalta. The return trip, after Vienna, was rather precarious because of fighting between the Serbian and Turkish armies. Although the Danube was a neutral zone, his steamer passed burning villages, gunboats, and batteries of artillery. His wife Lu joined him in London in early August. The following summer they travelled together to Norway, much relieved not to be adhering to an earlier plan to go to Constantinople, since war had been declared between Russia and Turkey in April 1877.
The three years from mid-1876 to mid-1879 are the best documented of Woodward's life, for many letters record details of his experiences, attitudes, and aspirations, as well as information about the work of a landscape illustrator not available elsewhere. On Sundays his custom was to abstain from drawing or painting in observance of the Sabbath and to write to his mother, and to his wife when they were apart. His letters also show the American artist's response to seeing England and Europe for the first time, as he juggles admiration for Europe's historic civilization with pride in the accomplishments and confidence in the future of his young county. Compared to the United States, where "everything is so new," in Europe "even the new houses look old." Moscow was "the most interesting place" he had been. Although he sometimes complained about the food, the fleas, or the dirt, or the tendency to overcharge or expect tips, after three months in Europe he startled his mother by writing, "I do not think I can stand America again. It will be so barren after living" in London. Yet he reassured her several letters later that he was not serious:
Clearly, by this time the transplanted Southerner was setting roots in New York among those he had earlier called "cussed Yankees."
Similarly, he noted with satisfaction the use of American inventions "in the most remote corners of Russia, Germany, Roumania, etc." -- "our mowers & reapers, American ploughs, street cars, wood cuts, and Frank Leslie papers." The last two "inventions" indicate Woodward's pride in his profession as well as his nation. When a Russian gentleman he met at a dinner compared the age of Russia and the United States, Woodward could not resist pointing out that despite Russia's advantage in years, "in civilization he could reverse the figures," for
A strong anti-Catholic bias led him to blame the "Greek," or Russian Orthodox, Church for what he considered backwardness or lack of initiative in Russia, an attitude typical of American Protestants that would resurface on his trip to the Holy Land. Woodward also contrasted the "mass of ruins" still in Sebastapol twenty years after the Crimean War with American cities rebuilt after fires; surely, Richmond and Chicago were in his mind.
When evaluating natural scenery, the more usual domain of the landscape artist, Woodward's responses similarly ranged from admiration to disappointment, mixed with national pride. Travelling along the Crimean coast, he was disappointed at first that the scenery did not live up to the "glowing terms" of his guidebook. After passing the Baidar Gate, however, he wrote:
Woodward was so taken with the views that he twice retraced his steps. The wood engravings he designed for Picturesque Europe attempt to capture the height of the cliffs (above), in compositions resembling those he used for the Palisades of the Hudson (page 35). Similarly, after steaming through Norway's Hardanger Fjord the next summer, where snow-capped mountains abruptly rose three to five thousand feet above the water, he wrote his mother, "The scenery is simply sublime.... I have seen nothing in America that approaches the scenery of this country. The Rocky Mountains and the Sierras are tame in comparison."
The Rhine, on the other hand, he considered overrated. The famous river had been the scenic feature he most wanted to see, always having heard it compared to the Hudson with which he was "so familiar":
This mixture of admiration and disappointment is also evident in Woodward's attitudes toward European art of both the past and present: in keeping with his strong preference for the "simply natural" over the "Ideal," he appreciated many of the "modern pictures" but did not care for many of the works he saw by Benjamin West, Sir Joshua Reynolds, and "other old humbugs," especially Raphael.
Soon after his arrival in London, he sought out the works of J. M. W. Turner (1775 - 1851) in the South Kensington Museum. Woodward apparently had a special interest in Turner, who was well-known to Americans through engravings after his works and widely admired, following Ruskin's lead, as the landscape painter best able to combine accuracy with poetic interpretation. Woodward considered some of Turner's works "very fine," while others were "unmistakably bad." The latter, in his opinion, Turner never intended to exhibit "in their present state -- merely rubbed in for some suggestion of color." Like many Americans he found Turner's highly poetic, indistinct late works unappealing. Holding "nature" as the "only true test of a picture," he admired works that seemed to him "simple, true, and masterly," with "no strain after effect or affectation." One recent work he thought lived up to these criteria admirably was Balaclava (1876) by Elizabeth Thompson (later Lady Butler, 1846 - 1933), which depicted survivors of the disastrous Charge of the Light Brigade in meticulous detail, without heroics or melodrama. These criteria also led him to criticize Gainsborough and Constable, writing "either these men are wrong or I do not see nature." Perhaps their works seemed to him contrived or to "strain after effect," an opinion that could have been nourished by Ruskin's comments in Modern Painters I. Ruskin admired Gainsborough as a colorist, but faulted his Royal Academy painting with having "careless and ineffective" tree forms and with "violently exaggerating" the "gloom" of certain parts to bring out the light in others. Regarding Constable, he belittled his ability to draw and suggested his works lacked "rest and refinement," with sunbeams "piercing painfully through clouds" and foliage "shaken by the wind."
To see the "modern pictures" that he appreciated, the place to go was the Paris Salon, and Woodward made a point of doing so whenever feasible. After visiting the Spring 1877 exhibition, he wrote that it was "very fine, for the French are the strongest people in Art in the world." He was surprised and pleased to see among the engravings exhibited one based on his drawing of Balcony Falls, Virginia, submitted by the engraver, Charles Maurand, but with his name "in big letters under it." This must have strengthened his growing confidence in his abilities as an illustrator, or "draughtsman on wood." Encouragement had also come in 1876 from Josiah Wood Whymper (1813 - 1903), the English engraver in charge of the illustrations for Picturesque Europe. Although he had objected strongly to Woodward's being hired, he was so pleased with his Russian sketches that he used more than he had intended. Furthermore, Woodward observed, "There seems to be a great scarcity of good draughtsmen in England, and they promise me no end of work if I will stay."
Despite his obvious success as a landscape illustrator, Woodward's correspondence reveals that he often dreaded his sketching trips and that the occupation failed to satisfy his artistic aspirations -- both because of the tedium of accurately rendering architectural subjects and of redrawing on the woodblock and because of the limitations of the black-and-white medium. He was greatly relieved when sent to Norway rather than Greece and Turkey because he would avoid both the dangers of war and the necessity of drawing mainly "street scenes, complicated architecture, etc."; whereas in Norway his subjects would be primarily landscapes. After the trip to Norway and anticipating his next major assignment, an extended trip to the Holy Land, he wrote his mother, "I wish I had time to do more sketching, but I must get to work on my wood in order to be ready to go off again in January, if they persist in doing that book. I wish that I had money enough to stay at home some.''
His persistent desire to paint in oils -- and his conviction that doing so would be of greater importance than the work he was engaged in -- is a recurring theme. He wrote his aunt that he hoped to stay in Europe for a time to study,
Similarly, he called his Richmond friend W. L. Sheppard a "happy man" for being able to give up drawing on wood for a time to study color and said he hoped "to do the same some day." Yet, for the next two decades, the need to support himself and his wife, and perhaps the very momentum of his great success as an illustrator, led him to continue to produce book and magazine illustrations. And his commissions afforded him further opportunities for travel that would otherwise have been beyond his means. His trips were perceived as enviable assignments by others, such as the writer of the 1889 article about Woodward:
For him the charms were definitely mixed, although Woodward did find ways to do more painting even as he carried out his commissions. For example, in the fall of 1876, with the major task before him of redrawing his sketches from the Russian trip on woodblocks, he and his wife decided to join her cousins Bolton and Frank Jones and their artist friend Thomas Hovenden (1840 - 1895) for the winter in Pont-Aven, Brittany. From the mid-1860s this small village, newly accessible by train from Paris, attracted many American, English, and French, artists, who perceived the region as a picturesque survival from earlier times, untouched by industrialization. There Woodward could observe and learn from others, including the acknowledged leader, Philadelphian Robert Wylie (1839 - 1877), while also working on his woodblocks. Similarly, he and Lu spent the fall of 1877 in Lynmouth, Devonshire, where he could paint the picturesque scenery and houses when taking breaks from his work on the Norway drawings. Furthermore, even when working on preparatory drawings for black-and-white illustrations, as on his next assignment, he increasingly used more and more
Journeys to the Holy Land -- Picturesque Palestine, Sinai and Egypt
After the completion of his work for Picturesque Europe, despite his protestations that he preferred to stay with his wife and paint, Woodward committed himself to provide illustrations for another major project of D. Appleton and Co., Picturesque Palestine, Sinai and Egypt (1881 - 83). This time the Appletons worked in conjunction with a different British publisher, James S. Virtue, who issued the London Art Journal and was, in Woodward's opinion, much more generous and "gentlemanly" than those connected with Cassell, Petter and Galpin. The third in Appleton's "picturesque" series was to be illustrated by Woodward and Harry Fenn and would require two extended journeys to the Holy Land. The subject was of intense interest, especially to American Protestants, and had long been a pet project of George S. Appleton, who unfortunately died in 1878, soon after the project got underway. Like Picturesque America and Picturesque Europe, it would be published in parts by subscription over two years. Woodward's increased status by 1878 is clear from his involvement as an equal collaborator from the beginning, rather than becoming attached late in the game to a project in which Fenn was clearly chief artist, as had been the case previously. At first Woodward felt somewhat intimidated. Perhaps assuming that Fenn would end up with the more appealing subjects, he thought it would not work well for them to travel together unless they both sketched the same things. But he got to know Fenn as they prepared for a February 1878 departure, and he wrote his mother, "I think I will find him an excellent travelling companion," as indeed he did. They ended up drawing lots to choose subjects.
Preparations for their trip included visiting Virtue's home, where they looked over his books and photographs of Palestine. Very likely these works included several the firm had published on the Holy Land or Egypt in the 1840s and 1850s when led by James's father, George, such as Walks about the City and Environs of Jerusalem (1844) and Forty Days in the Desert (1848), both of which were written and illustrated by William Henry Bartlett, and an important early series of photographs by Francis Frith, Egypt and Palestine (1858 - 60). They may also have examined works of other publishers, such as the annual Biblical Keepsake published in 1835, 1836, and 1837 by John Murray, London, with steel engravings after J. M. W. Turner, and the spectacular set of prints after paintings by David Roberts, The Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, and Arabia, lithographed by Louis Haghe, London, 1842 - 44.
Woodward's account confirms that they followed a practice widely assumed to have been common among topographical artists, landscape painters, and photographers: that is, that before visiting a region they familiarized themselves with images of the sites previous artists and travellers had selected as notable. This in turn led to further attention to those sites and the establishment of a scenic canon of places not to be missed. In the Holy Land, the artist's role was more to depict those sites already distinguished by religious and historic significance than to canonize the best scenery. Yet, as with Picturesque America, even when depicting the most famous sites, Fenn and Woodward often developed a fresh viewpoint and/or unconventional format. Indeed an additional reason to familiarize themselves with previous depictions may have been to avoid too much similarity. For example, Woodward's steel-engraved image of the fifth-century Greek Orthodox monastery above the Brook Kedron differs markedly from two earlier versions of the same site. For the 1835 Biblical Keepsake, Turner, who never visited the Holy Land, reworked a sketch by Charles Barry into a rather fantastic image appropriate for a heavenly vision (above). Bartlett's horizontal composition was truer to the site (page 45) but less dramatic than Woodward's vertical one, which emphasized the depth of the gorge -- rendering it sublime (page 46). And in Woodward's version, the precariously perched buildings are even more picturesque than in Bartlett's.
Plans for the trip were complicated in the winter of 1877 - 78 by uncertainties over the effects of the Russo-Turkish War, as the British Parliament debated whether to become Turkey's ally after the fall of Pleven. Conferring with a representative of Thomas Cook's agency about the itinerary and travel arrangements, the publishers decided to go ahead with the trip. Woodward and Fenn left London by steamship on February 15, 1878, arriving in Jaffa (Joppa) March 3. Their four months of travel took them to Jerusalem and the surrounding regions, north to the Sea of Galilee, and eventually to Damascus and Baalbeck. On July 3 Woodward was reunited with his wife in Lucerne, Switzerland.
While it is clear that Woodward was a reluctant pilgrim, he was better prepared than many to understand and appreciate what he would see. He was quite familiar with the people and events described in both the Old and New Testaments, as is clear from his frequent citations of Biblical passages in his letters. He was also aware of the recent attempts, primarily by British and American explorers, to identify Biblical sites accurately through excavation and sifting of historical evidence. Even before going to London he had provided a few illustrations based on photographs for The Lord's Land (1876) by Henry B. Ridgaway. Like the authors of such books, he was highly skeptical of some of the venerable Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox traditions about where particular events occurred. And like Mark Twain, whose account of visiting the Holy Land with the first large contingent of American tourists after the Civil War in The Innocents Abroad (1869) was well known to Woodward, he frequently poked fun at those making incredible claims -- a guide who knew the spot in Beirut where St. George killed the dragon or a priest who wanted to show them Jesus' footprint in the stone from which he ascended to heaven. Mimicking Twainian deadpan, he wrote his wife that he "liked" the Roman Catholics for never having the slightest doubt about sites: "they show you the exact spot, where everybody stood. At first I doubted but when I find that these things are always revealed in dreams to priests, I believe." In fact, when he happened upon a view of Jerusalem that he thought must be the one from which Jesus wept over the city, he was more certain of his judgment "from the fact that no priestly tradition makes it the place." Occasionally he lost his sense of humor entirely, as when he wrote, "If I stay much longer in the Holy Land I will doubt every event recorded in the Holy Writ -- at least the Roman Catholic version of it."
On the whole, although he went to carry out a commission rather than a spiritual quest and bore no resemblance to the American tourists Twain satirized who wept at almost every turn and greatly exaggerated the beauty of the landscape, Woodward found that experiencing this landscape made the Bible come alive for him. As he wrote his mother from Jerusalem:
On their very first Sunday in Jerusalem, after attending the service at the English Church, they went up on the Mount of Olives and "read aloud parts of the New Testament" that took place there. They also read the description of the panorama before them in their guidebook, very likely the popular Murray's Hand-Book for Travellers in Syria and Palestine, which conveniently provided an index listing the Biblical passages relevant to each site. Woodward's largest pencil and watercolor sketch from this trip is of the view from the Mount of Olives (page 66). He gave great attention to the ancient olive trees that many thought could have been there since Jesus' time, but left the city unfinished, appropriate to his observation that while the landscape had endured, the city was much changed.
With their guidebook and a long list of sites to depict, Woodward and Fenn kept moving, and kept drawing, eventually assembling the most comprehensive visual survey to date of the sites mentioned in the Bible. Often the contemporary reality of the place did not meet their expectations or their picturesque criteria, and ingenuity was required to create interesting compositions. Places of particular importance in the Bible, such as Jesus' home, Nazareth, could be especially disappointing:
Similarly, on their return to Bethlehem on the second journey, they found so many new buildings they decided the town could not provide attractive subject matter. Clearly expressing the preference for ruins and visual disarray that were part of the picturesque aesthetic, Woodward wrote: "strange as it may seem we never find anything worth doing in Christian villages like this and Nazareth. They lack the dirt, squalor and picturesqueness of Oriental Mohammedan towns." So, much as he had when working on Picturesque America, Woodward avoided drawing new buildings and recent alterations to the landscape, and gave attention to older parts of towns that seemed unchanged since Biblical times. It was, after all, the Biblical landscape that interested their audience and that they sought to present.
In the barren hills and valleys that lacked the trees, waterfalls, and lakes he had so often used to animate his landscapes of the Eastern United States and Europe, Woodward frequently selected architectural ruins and rock formations to add interest to the foreground. In a few cases, he was able to create vistas not unlike more verdant areas; for example, his panoramic view from the top of Mt. Tabor toward the snow-capped Mt. Hermon features flowers and trees as well as a chapel in the foreground and uses atmospheric effects to create a feeling of distance (page 69). Woodward's watercolor rendering beautifully captures a great range of colors in the receding hills. His interpretations of the vivid colors and striking forms in the rock formations and mountains of the Sinai Peninsula, such as Jebel Suna (cat. 66, page 111), bear similarities to geologic formations he and other artists had drawn or painted in the Western United States, and match the text's description of the district: "very fantastic are the shapes and gorgeous is the colouring of the mountains" (Pict. Pal., II, 251).
To enliven otherwise rather dull scenes, Woodward also occasionally resorted to the picturesque convention of using dark or stormy skies (see Pict. Pal., I, 287; II, 36, 104). An alternate strategy for creating interesting compositions used extensively by Woodward and Fenn for the first time in this book was to combine landscape images with the flowers of the Holy Land, which they found especially beautiful and, like the stones, presumably unchanged since Biblical times. As Roger Stein has discussed, this strategy aestheticized and miniaturized the vista, turning it into a "keepsake."
As with the sites, the artists' experiences with the local people were mixed. It is not surprising that they -- Woodward, an Episcopalian, and Fenn, a Congregationalist -- found the primarily Christian population of Nazareth "civil and pleasant." Similarly, they found the largely Christian Bethlehemites "much better looking in every respect" than the people anywhere else in the region, a judgment common at the time among travellers from Europe and the United States, including the writer of the Picturesque Palestine sections on Bethlehem and Nazareth, who attributed their good looks to "the Norman blood in their veins." Of the very few of Woodward's drawings devoted to figures, one is of a man of Bethlehem. Yet it is more a costume study than a portrait. Woodward typically gives primary attention to dress or occupation and fails to portray the individual's face. As with the previous publications in the "picturesque" series, the focus was on place -- whether historic site, picturesque old city, or dramatic scenery -- rather than on people.
Yet to a much greater extent than during his earlier travels, in the Holy Land Woodward confronted a great mix of previously unfamiliar ethnic groups -- practicing different religions, speaking different languages, and observing customs that seemed to have survived from Biblical times. His strongest first impression of Jerusalem was of the smell of garbage and dead animals, and of the dirt. Greatly troubled by the poverty and disease he encountered, he liberally bestowed "coppers" or oranges on beggars and lepers. At first he was shocked by the brutal way many Westerners, including Cook's agents, treated the locals, particularly those scrambling for "baksheesh" or trying to prevent the artists -- "dirty Christian dogs" -- from drawing mosques and other Islamic sites. Not surprisingly, but sadly, he eventually came to feel that harsh treatment, or at least the threat of it, was necessary:
Thus, although he approached the contemporary residents of the Holy Land with more compassion than many other travellers from the West, Woodward's attitude came to resemble the prevailing one among American Protestants and British Anglicans: that because they better understood and appreciated its history and religious significance, the Holy Land more rightfully belonged to them than to the current inhabitants. The conviction that "Jerusaleum is the common property of the whole Christian world" was expressed in The Land and the Book, by American missionary William M. Thomson. Similarly, at a meeting of the Palestine Exploration Fund Archbishop Thompson said, "This country of Palestine belongs to you and to me, it is essentially ours."
Despite such attitudes and the hostile circumstances under which many of the drawings were executed, few of the depictions of members of different religious and ethnic groups in Picturesque Palestine are openly derogatory. Rather, they show a variety of stereotypes: some as quaintly picturesque, such as some of the Ashkenazi Jews or traditional craftsmen; some as recklessly gallant or fearsome, such as the Bedouin horsemen with their long spears; and some as simply devout, such as the Moslem men at prayer, added by Woodward to the woodblock in several instances (pages 47 and 49). Many engage in activities that are unchanged from Biblical times, including women drawing water at wells, shepherds, ploughmen, and camel drivers. With one exception, no Western tourists are depicted; nor are artists, as in Picturesque America -- omissions that downplay notions of the region as a contemporary tourist destination or artistic subject. The images stress the continuity with and importance of the ancient past, rather than the present conditions of extreme poverty, disputed hegemony, and antipathy between different religious and ethnic groups. In doing so they provided a picture no less reassuring than Picturesque America had been to its audiences, albeit of a very different land: They presented the region as The Holy Land of the Bible, a region in which all in the Judeo-Christian tradition had a stake, but especially contemporary American Protestants and British Anglicans who were undertaking the scientific survey of the region.
Back in London in late July, Fenn and Woodward spent several hours with William ("Willy") Appleton, Jr., and Frederick Daldy of the Virtue firm looking over their sketches and "selecting those suitable for steel." The publishers were extremely pleased with their work -- it "far exceeded their expectations as to subject, variety, style, and so forth" -- and decided to leave the second portion of the book, that covering Sinai and Egypt, entirely in their hands. They also authorized Fenn and Woodward to approve engravers' work by signing the proofs to indicate payment should be made. Mr. Appleton had asked Woodward to become artistic editor of the project and oversee the production of the engravings, but, although surprised to be offered "such an important trust," he declined because it would have required staying in England two or three years longer.
Woodward found it difficult to be so far from his family, especially in the late fall of 1878, when he learned that his younger brother Dick had died of typhoid fever. His letters express his strong desire to return to the United States as soon as possible after their second trip to the Holy Land. Health concerns were a frequent preoccupation in this time before antibiotics. The same year that Woodward's brother died several members of Fenn's family also contracted typhoid fever, but fortunately they survived. Woodward himself was not robust; he was thin and very tall -- he wrote of his "enormous length." His wife frequently mentioned his illnesses and the benefits of the fresh air and exercise required by his travels.
During the fall and winter of 1878, while living in Hampstead Heath, Woodward's major occupation was to rework some of his drawings in preparation for the engravers. He had shipped back many pieces of clothing bought from village peddlers, which he evidently asked Lu to model for him. It may well be that many of the figures he added to the woodblocks -- both men and women -- were based on Lu wearing his "Turkish costumes." The accommodating Lu also read the entire Bible aloud to him as he worked. Although he had dreaded the trip initially, it had clearly proved worth the effort. As he wrote his mother in December 1878, shortly before setting out again:
For lighter reading during the interlude between journeys they turned to the Arabian Nights, which Woodward had first learned of on his journey. Lu also read him Sinai and Palestine in Connection with Their History by Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, Dean of Westminster Abbey. Based on several trips to the Holy Land in the early 1850s and published in England in 1856 and the U.S. in 1857, Stanley's widely read book utilized modern science and natural history to assess the authenticity of traditional sites. Although some conservative theologians considered his conclusions radical, Woodward found them "truthful," unlike those of the majority of writers who "see that country through strange eyes or deliberately write a good deal about it which they must know is not so."
The Appleton firm hoped Stanley -- who had just completed a very successful lecture tour in the United States -- would agree to edit Picturesque Palestine, Sinai and Egypt, giving it the imprimatur of a well-known name, as had William Cullen Bryant for Picturesque America and Bayard Taylor for Picturesque Europe. In December 1878 they charged Woodward with trying to persuade him by showing him the sketches. Though he admired them, he consented only to write a preface. The fact that well after the artists' first tour for Picturesque Palestine was completed no provision had yet been made for an editor, and probably not for writers, reveals that the illustrations were considered primary from the beginning of the project, even more so than had been the case with Picturesque America. The editing task was eventually taken on by Col. Charles W. Wilson, another prominent British archeological explorer of Palestine known to the Appleton firm, which had published the American edition of his Recovery of Jerusalem in 1871.
Fenn and Woodward left on their second journey for Picturesque Palestine on January 7, 1879, sailing from Marseilles January 11, after a harrowing train trip that left them snowbound for nine hours. This time they disembarked at Port Said and went to Cairo. During their journey up the Nile, Woodward found the temples somewhat disappointing, not so impressive as those at Baalbeck "from an artistic point of view." Thereafter their caravan of thirteen camels set out for the Sinai Peninsula, where they endured a difficult six weeks. For ten days they had no water "fit for a pig to drink" and the weather was so cold that Woodward only made rough sketches to be finished later. Returning to Port Said, they sailed to Jaffa, and this time explored the southern shores of the Dead Sea -- where their party had "awful rows" with the local Bedouins over paying tribute for the privilege of passing through and using water. Then they travelled north along the coast to Beirut, enjoying the "glorious" scenery, especially the Natural Bridge. Their final excursion before leaving "the Holy Land forever" was to the Cedars of Lebanon, which met Woodward's expectations. They did not visit Petra, so the illustrations of that ancient city must have been based on photographs. This may have been true of a few other sites, as well as of some of the depictions of shopkeepers and crafters.
By late May they were on their way back to London. Woodward spent a day in Venice -- his first look at a city that was extremely popular with American artists and travellers and one to which he would return for a long stay in 1899. He also stopped in Paris for a "good look at the Salon." This brought back his "old longing to paint...with even greater force." He wrote his mother:
In reality, this vision of his future formulated after his unsettling visit to the Paris Salon in 1879 was eventually realized, although it would take longer than he hoped and an inheritance in 1895 would obviate any need for sacrifice. He would continue to draw for illustration into the 1890s, but his energies gradually focused more and more on painting, and he would never again accept a major commission involving a long journey.
Return to the United States
Woodward returned to New York later in the summer of 1879. He would spend most of the next three years working, probably from his South Orange, New Jersey, home, on the illustrations for Picturesque Palestine, Sinai and Egypt, which appeared in parts from 1881 to 1883. Fenn returned to the United States by at least 1881, settling first in Brooklyn, and later in Montclair, New Jersey. Each artist contributed half of the approximately six hundred illustrations. Some 190 of Woodward's original drawings are in Shrine Mont's collection. The design of Picturesque Palestine matched that of Picturesque America and Picturesque Europe in page size and text type, and the two artists used similar approaches to integrating image and text as in the previous books. Most of the wood engravings were executed by the same skilled New York-based wood engravers who had worked on Picturesque America. The book was a financial success, and many of the illustrations were reused in German and French versions.
By the time the major work on Picturesque Palestine was finished, Woodward's determination to give up illustrating had wavered. Instead he took advantage of some of the "connections" he had built up in New York and Boston to expand his professional relationships beyond the Appleton firm. In 1882 he executed the first of many assignments for Century Magazine, the popular competitor to Harper's Monthly that was highly praised for its illustrations. These first images were views of Venice, probably based on photographs and his memory, accompanying an article by Henry James. In addition he contributed illustrations to several books of poetry, some of the many special editions published especially for Christmas giving such as The High Tide on the Coast of Lincolnshire (page 14). Woodward may have sought out such commissions as more compatible with his artistic goals than the type of landscape illustrations interpreting specific places he had been producing for a decade. Illustrations to poetry offered greater scope for his imagination and creativity, and he would accept more and more such commissions through the 1880s and early 90s. Yet he was also frequently called upon to provide illustrations of places visited in his travels, especially the Holy Land and Egypt, which continued to be of great interest to the American public. Both he and Fenn were obviously regarded as specialists in the depiction of that part of the world. Yet so far as is known, Woodward never created oil paintings of the Holy Land or Egypt, perhaps because he would have had to work from his old drawings or from photographs rather than on site, before the motif, the method strongly preferred by most contemporary landscape painters.
In addition to preparing illustrations in this period, Woodward spent considerable time painting in oils and watercolors, as exhibition records show. Titles of the unlocated works he exhibited suggest an approach quite different from his tours in search of subjects laden with scenic, historic, or religious significance. Woodward now chose nameless meadows, roadsides, marshes, and the like, rendered beautiful by attention to seasonal or atmospheric effects. This altered emphasis was quite in keeping with changing tastes in painting that had solidified during Woodward's time abroad in the late seventies. Large-scale landscapes -- impressive, sometimes theatrical, scenic vistas by artists like Frederic E. Church, Albert Bierstadt, and Thomas Moran -- were less admired than previously, while those gaining in popularity were akin to works of the French painters of the Barbizon school, such as Camille Corot (1796 - 1875), Théodore Rousseau (1812 - 67), and Charles François Daubigny (1817 - 78). Such smaller, quieter works emphasized the poetic qualities of ordinary landscapes rather than dramatic scenery and sought to capture the elusive effects of sunlight, shadow, and weather, rather than the specific contours of sites or objects.
Clearly, Woodward was part of a group of American landscape painters who were redefining "truth to nature" along these lines. Prominent among them was Woodward's friend H. Bolton Jones, who had exhibited at five Paris Salons in succession, beginning in 1877, and been elected an Associate of the National Academy of Design in 1881 and an Academician in 1883. The two artists spent much time together, painting similar subjects in the same locales, and sometimes working in the same studio building in New York. Critics praised Jones's work as being "neither emotional nor pictorial," but "fact and absolute nature" and associated it most closely with the Barbizon master Daubigny, whose atmospheric depictions of gentle scenes along the Oise and Seine rivers were frequently composed in horizontal bands. Many of Daubigny's favorite subjects appealed to both Jones and Woodward -- in American incarnations -- including riverbanks with cows grazing nearby, still ponds and marshes, and sunset views.
The Pont-Aven Interlude
Despite his participation in exhibitions after the completion of Picturesque Palestine, Woodward was clearly not satisfied with his progress in painting. Like others long involved chiefly in illustration, including Frederic Remington somewhat later, he did not find it easy to make the switch to works independent of any text and defined more by color than by line. At the age of thirty-six, probably with funds earned primarily from the Picturesque Palestine project, he decided to spend a year in France painting and learning from other artists. This decision signalled both his admiration of contemporary French landscape painting and his desire to continue painting gentle, relatively flat landscapes -- rather than the impressive geologic formations and waterfalls that had dominated many of his "picturesque landscapes." France was a strong magnet for young American artists during this period, many of whom studied in the winter in Paris at either the government-supported Ecole des Beaux Arts or one of the private academies and moved into the countryside in the summer to paint outdoors.
By early May of 1883 Woodward and his wife were in Paris, but he clearly never considered staying there long. At first he hoped to settle someplace other than Pont-Aven, in Brittany, where he and Lu had spent the winter of 1876 - 77. He soon changed his mind, however, when he learned that Frank Jones and other American artists planned to summer there. Before leaving Paris, Woodward spent every morning for two weeks studying the works at the Salon. After settling in Pont-Aven, he judged the choice a wise one, for there were more artists there "than at any other one place in France" and the accommodations were both cheap and "vastly superior." They had nice rooms overlooking a garden in the new annex to Julia Guillou's Hotel des Voyageurs.
During his year in Pont-Aven Woodward held to some of his earlier practices while experimenting with some new ones. As in his days of picturesque touring, he worked on site, outdoors. But since light and atmospheric effects were essential elements of the subject, not added later as with wood engravings, he needed to return time and again to the same site in the same conditions. Letters referred to "a nice afternoon subject down on the quay" and "some winter pictures" he hoped to finish before the leaves came out. In response to unusually cold and rainy weather, Woodward used several strategies to keep painting: He wore leather leggings and the traditional wooden sabots and always carried "some small panels for painting on." When rain or "change of effect" forced him to quit work on his large canvas, he sought a sheltered spot and made a small sketch -- "nothing that I can ever turn into any money, but I am learning, so I am satisfied." He also rented a studio in the top floor of their hotel where he could paint "still life or from models."
Among Woodward's works definitely dating from this 1883 - 84 sojourn are several oil studies and five oil paintings. They represent new departures in several ways. He used wider brushstrokes and heavier impasto than in his earlier known oils. They also manifest new approaches to composition, light effects, and color. For example, the small oil on board dated October 1883 of a road meeting the sky (page 52) is very different from the 1870 expansive vista of the mountains near Luray and from many of the more finished watercolors of the Holy Land in the shallowness of the space, the abbreviated landform, the high horizon line, and the limited subject. There is nothing picturesque here, and little of the usual content of landscape paintings. A Brittany road as subject does recall William Lamb Picknell's The Road to Concarneau (1880; The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC), celebrated for its bold composition and bright light. (Woodward knew Picknell from his 1876 sojourn at Pont-Aven, when Picknell stayed in the same hotel and formed a lasting friendship with Bolton Jones.) But the wide level road Picknell depicted leads the eye far back into the picture, while in Woodward's painting only the sky suggests deep space beyond the top of the hill. The road motif -- curving into the picture or ramping abruptly up, as here -- was one Woodward would return to frequently, but never again among his located works was the subject treated with such simplicity. The very spareness of the visual content seems to suggest possibilities and unanswered questions about where this road leads.
In other Pont-Aven paintings Woodward explored the effects of both bright sunlight and heavy cloud cover on particular surfaces. The challenge of capturing such contrasting light conditions doubtless appealed to many artists: for example, while in Pont-Aven in 1879 Picknell expressed his wish "to paint a simple sunlight picture for the Salon, as well as a gray one." Woodward's Half-Ruins, Pont-Aven, dated 1884, recalls his attention to historic architecture on his picturesque tours, but is very different in its use of oil colors to capture the sun's glare and the shadows on the stuccoed barn (page 75). The composition continues Woodward's experimentation with the compression of space first seen in the 1883 painting of the road. Again, only a small corner of sky suggests deep space beyond the buildings. His cropping of the roofs and the relatively flat picture plane suggest he is making conscious choices about what to represent from a scene before him, perhaps rearranging and manipulating to achieve the effect he wants. Only the cart and birds introduce a conventional picturesque note.
A cloudy scene in subtle shades of gray and blue is probably Woodward's most elaborate composition known from the Pont-Aven stay, Brittany Snail Catcher, 1884 (page 74). The subject recalls his attention to the shrimp fisherfolk and the turtle and sponge pens off the coasts of Louisiana and Florida, but the treatment is much fuller, showing the Breton woman with her trap and basket in a panoramic setting. In giving a measure of attention to human activity, the painting is rare among Woodward's oils; nevertheless the small figure in the middleground is dominated by the stark, boulder-strewn coast and threatening sky.
The two paintings, Half-Ruins, Pont-Aven and Brittany Snail Catcher may be representative of Woodward's efforts to make "a fresh start" after visiting the Paris Salon in May 1884 and becoming discouraged with his own work. Since both could be interpreted as summer subjects -- from the vegetation and the woman's short-sleeved bodice -- they may be among the new paintings he started after the trip to Paris. Brittany Snail Catcher is certainly among his most well-conceived and executed works, and the bold use of sunlight and shadow and shallow space distinguish Half-Ruins among his early paintings. Despite his discouragement, the year in Pont-Aven allowed experimentation that led to his increased skill in the use of oils.
The Painter-Illustrator, 1885 - 1895
Woodward and his wife had most likely returned to the United States by the fall of 1884, settling once again at their house in South Orange. In succeeding years, Woodward attempted to sustain his "fresh start" by spending the summer months at artists' colonies, especially East Hampton, at the eastern point of Long Island, New York. The many artists who gathered there compared the region's old houses to those in English and Dutch villages, the rugged fisherfolk to European types, and the landscape to the coast of Brittany. Among those who had earlier spent time in Pont-Aven and chose to paint in East Hampton in the 1880s were Bolton Jones and Alexander Harrison. Woodward likely spent at least part of the summers of 1885 to 1889 there, and perhaps that of 1892 as well. Titles of several undated paintings indicate that he also painted near Annisquam, Massachusetts, on Cape Ann -- probably in the late 1880s when Bolton and Frank Jones joined their friend William Picknell there for parts of some summers.
In the late 1880s and early 1890s Woodward exhibited paintings of both the Pont-Aven and East Hampton regions, including nearby Brookhaven. The paintings that can be dated to this period show him continuing to explore subjects, compositions, and effects similar to those he experimented with while in France -- including curving roads and varied conditions of weather and light. In the tiny Landscape at Sunset, dated October 1886, he captures the intense light of the setting sun illuminating fall foliage (page 75), while the very different colors of a bright spring day characterize the peaceful Cows in the Lower Pasture (1890) (page 77). Yet in their treatment of tall trees at the horizon line silhouetted against the sky both are similar to many works by Daubigny and other French landscape painters of the generation after him. In the small oil of 1889, Wind Swept Road -- East Hampton, L.I. (cat. 79, page 116), a deeply-rutted, sun-baked road curves abruptly into the middleground, but then disappears before connecting with the trees at the horizon, in a composition eschewing any use of conventional framing devices. Dramatically different weather conditions dominate the 1887 painting presently titled Returning from the Pasture (page 76). This 29-by-48-inch oil, large among Woodward's works, might be the one he exhibited at the National Academy of Design in 1887 under the title Coming Home, East Hampton; since Woodward did not paint genre scenes and seldom included figures, those "coming home" might well have been cows. In the moments just after a storm, the rain-saturated road leading diagonally into the middleground reflects the sky's light. The stillness of the standing water and the cow pausing to drink are dynamically juxtaposed to the roiling sky and windblown trees. The concentration of the action in a rather narrow band close to the picture plane is once again quite different from Woodward's earlier reliance on panoramic vistas.
Woodward would return several times to the subject of water standing in a road -- a motif popular at the time with many French, English, and American landscape painters, including Bolton Jones. Two photographs of curving roads with standing water included in Woodward's album indicate his interest in this motif, although neither corresponds closely with any of his known paintings. A striking combination of this motif with sunset light is seen in the undated watercolor titled Autumn (cat. 76, page 117), enlivened by the variety of reflections and the feathery, Daubigny-style trees.
Another painting utilizing a curving road to lead the eye to the windblown trees at the horizon allowed Woodward to return to another favorite subject -- careful depiction of rocks -- but with daubs of color rather than the pencil lines he had used earlier. The undated Road over Rocks -- Annisquam, Mass. (page 78), capturing the elemental strength of the granite terrain, is one of the most visually rich of Woodward's American paintings. The bright sunlight brings out the vivid midsummer greens of the vegetation, the brilliant red-orange of the soil and the cows, and the blue sky, contrasted with the gray of the ancient rocks.
The body of Woodward's known paintings of the American landscape also includes numerous depictions of trees bordering rivers, ponds, and marshes -- in early spring or fall as well as summer -- several seacoast scenes, wheatfields, and farmsteads. They impress the viewer with a sense of the variety, beauty, and benevolence of the natural world and provide an antidote to the urban and industrial realm. Just as his Picturesque America subjects sidestepped evidence of disturbing change, his paintings, particularly of the United States, conformed to his motto, "Stick to Nature."
The strength of Woodward's definition of atmospheric effects -- from bright sunlight to sunset to storm -- was the quality for which he was praised in the 1889 article featuring him in the portfolio series American Art and American Art Collections: "the atmosphere in Mr. Woodward's pictures is a strong point and a great charm, bringing out as it does every object free and strong, and appealing most acutely to our senses." In emphasizing the clarity of objects in Woodward's works, perhaps the writer, probably the series editor Walter Montgomery, intended an implicit criticism of more avant-garde styles that dissolved forms into color and light -- such as the recent work of George Inness and the French Impressionists. The article, the same one that described Woodward as "one of our best-known painters and illustrators," is a significant measure of his prominence at the time. Yet, although the writer mentions that Woodward had devoted himself primarily to landscape painting since the completion of the "picturesque" publications, the works reproduced to demonstrate his atmospheres of "great charm" are all illustrations to poetry -- indicating Woodward was still most often typecast as an illustrator. Most notable among these are illustrations to two Estes and Lauriat publications, Tennyson's Bugle Song (1888) and Charles Kingsley's Song of the River (1887), elaborately printed in large format on heavy paper. The more interesting images demonstrate that Woodward was able to translate some approaches he had experimented with in his paintings into his work on wood. For example, the one on page 55 uses light reflected on water in a way similar to the painting titled Autumn, but the smoky, dark harbor scene illustrating the lines "Foul and dank, foul and dank/By wharf and sewer and slimy bank" is dramatically different from Woodward's usual choice of subjects.
While his paintings and commissions to illustrate poetry allowed Woodward to stress atmospheric effects, they obviously did not provide sufficient income to meet his needs, for he contributed to a wide array of other publications during these years -- from Civil War history to a travel account of the Canadian Rockies. The number of illustrations he produced suggests a heavy work schedule with little time for relaxation. From 1884 to 1887 he joined the many artists, including Fenn, Homer, and Joseph Pennell, contributing to the important "Battles and Leaders of the Civil War" series. Appearing first in Century magazine and later as a four volume book (1888), it included reminiscences of leaders from both sides and helped reconcile the nation. Many of Woodward's illustrations, mostly based on photographs, were of battle sites in his home state of Virginia. For this project, Woodward and the other artists were at last relieved of the drudgery of drawing on wood, for the new process of photomechanical line engraving could reproduce their ink drawings exactly without the intervention of a wood engraver (cat. 69, page 113). In the late 1880s and early 1890s Woodward contributed to other periodicals besides the Century, including Scribner's Magazine (from its founding in 1887) and Harper's Monthly. Perhaps more satisfying were his contributions to the rather elegantly produced Daylight Land (1888), W. H. H. "Adirondack" Murray's fictionalized account of travel in the Canadian Rockies. In this case Woodward's watercolor or wash originals, which were probably based on photographs, were reproduced by an early version of the halftone process, and each was printed in one of several subtle colors.
Given the sheer volume of this workload, it is not surprising that the promise of income from a source other than illustration and of time to paint led Woodward, in June 1891, to accept the post of Secretary of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, with a salary of $2,000 per year. The job involved overseeing the business of the Academy and its annual exhibitions, but was not considered full time. This was not a long-term solution to their money problems, however, for Mrs. Woodward's poor health led to his resignation the following May, and a move to Brookhaven, Long Island, for the summer. By the fall they were back in South Orange, where Woodward is listed in city directories from 1893 to 1896, with both a studio and residence.
The Late Years -- Freedom to Paint
Woodward was at last able to concentrate wholly upon painting, as he had always wished to do, when he inherited $40,000 upon the death of his father in 1895. His nephew later described this as providing a "competence," or sufficient means for living comfortably. With this new financial security, Woodward's choices were broadened considerably: he could both live and paint wherever he wished. He would soon choose extended sojourns in Europe, and in 1905 he would build a large, comfortable house with studio in New Rochelle, New York, overlooking Long Island Sound.
In both 1898 - 99 and 1901 Woodward and his wife spent several months in Europe, mostly in the Italian Lake District and Venice, and near Lake Lucerne, Switzerland, all increasingly popular destinations, especially for British and American tourists and artists. Clues to why Woodward chose the region may be found in letters from twenty years earlier. In 1878 Lu had visited Lakes Como and Maggiore before meeting Douglas in Lucerne after his first trip to the Holy Land. She considered Isola Bella in Lake Maggiore, with its seventeenth-century palace and "splendid" terraced garden, "a paradise," and wrote her mother-in-law, "I never expect to see anything so fine again." And about Lucerne, where he rejoined Lu, Douglas had written, "The view from our window was one of the loveliest I ever saw, and I would go back to Lucerne to spend the summer but for the trouble of sending my work to London." He was also very pleased with Venice on his one day there in 1879, on the return trip from the Holy Land. Thus with their new freedom afforded by the "competence" they were able to spend time in areas to which they had long hoped to return.
Woodward's choice of such locations also ensured access to subjects quite different from those of his American and Pont-Aven landscapes, more in keeping with increasingly cosmopolitan tastes. The spectacular mountain and lake scenery juxtaposed with elegant villas and traditional villages appealed to Woodward and many other artists at the time.
The two European stays yielded a rich body of work representing in their range and variety a kind of creative synthesis of his whole career. The oils presently located include seventeen of the Italian lakes region, seven of the Lake Lucerne region, four of Venice, and two of Capri. In addition Woodward saved numerous pencil studies and watercolors as well as a small sketchbook from these trips, enabling us to learn something of his working methods during these late years of artistic freedom. He still employed his pencil for precise on-site drawings -- but clearly these were the raw material for possible later paintings. In the margins he jotted down detailed observations of the colors of various objects and their reflections, and of the sky and shadows, and sometimes suggested alterations to the composition. Most of the known watercolors also were probably made on site and intended as studies, for he wrote the location and date on them and used paper of such poor quality as to be unsuitable for exhibition pieces. Woodward may have painted many of the small oils on site as well. He frequently used 11 1/2-by-17 1/2-inch canvas mounted on board, and may have considered these works studies for future paintings. Among the known oil paintings from these European sojourns only six are larger than 11 1/2-by-17 1/2 inches.
What most distinguishes these European paintings from Woodward's American landscapes is the lighter, more pastel palette and the predominance of blues, made possible by the subjects of mountain and lake scenery as well as the waters of the Mediterranean at Venice and Capri. He was clearly enjoying trying to capture all the nuances of reflected color and light -- as in Villa, Lake Como (cat. 82, page 118) and Villa Carlotta, Lake Como (page 79) in which the bright sunlight and clear atmosphere yield multi-colored shadows and reflections from the lake's surface. As the curving road motif had been prevalent in the earlier paintings, in these, vistas are often framed on one side by the branches of a large tree overhanging a lake, and the foreground is often enlivened by a boat. The formats are mostly horizontal, allowing for a wide expanse of water in which to explore the play of colors and reflections. In the vertical arrangement of Brunnen, Lake Lucerne (page 79) Woodward achieves great depth by moving through interlocking diagonals from the roofs pressing against the picture plane to the distant mountains. The range of subtle blues, purplish-blues, blue-greens, and greens in this painting, contrasted with the red roofs, also exemplifies the light palette Woodward used in this period.
Another painting with light yet vivid colors is San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice (page 80) painted from the Venetian lagoon. Woodward depicts a cloudless day in which the clear, uniform blue of the sky is reflected in the subtly different, broken blue of the water, which also reflects the colorful sails and the towers and dome of the monastery. This painting probably resulted from the Woodwards' May 1899 stay in Venice, in a hotel on the lagoon opposite San Giorgio Maggiore and Santa Maria della Salute. Although Woodward wrote Frank Jones that he agreed with William Dean Howells's attitudes toward Venice in Venetian Life, finding the city "one of the saddest places in the world," with "decay and dilapidated remains of former grandeur" everywhere, the subjects he chose and the way he interpreted them convey quite the opposite feeling. As with his American landscapes -- both paintings and illustrations -- there is nothing of melancholy or threat. Woodward's world is welcoming, harmonious, and full of beauty, whether he is depicting cultural monuments in their landscape settings or anonymous slices of the natural world at a particular time of day or season.
Even though his 1895 inheritance made him financially secure, Woodward continued for several years to seek recognition and perhaps sales by exhibiting his paintings. After being elected to membership in New York's prestigious Century Association in 1897, nominated by Hugh Bolton Jones and Enoch Wood Perry, he placed works in several of their monthly exhibitions through 1900, when he exhibited two paintings from his recent European trips, Capri and On the Lagoon, Venice. He also exhibited with the American Water Color Society in 1900, and in 1902 he joined old friends Bolton Jones and William L. Sheppard and other "professional artists" showing their works in the Richmond Art Club's exhibition. This may well have seemed something of a homecoming for Woodward, sharing paintings from his recent sojourns in Europe with those in his home city. He also maintained his link with Richmond by donating a painting of Santa Maria della Salute in Venice to the new Valentine Museum being established by another old friend, Edward Valentine.
In 1905 Woodward and his wife settled into their large, comfortable new home in New Rochelle. It included a studio decorated, as was the contemporary fashion, with ornately carved wooden chests and artifacts from his travels. For the next nineteen years, until his death in 1924 at the age of seventy-seven, he continued to paint quiet, pleasing landscapes of the surrounding area and perhaps farther afield. Although no paintings showing dates from these years have been located, the titles of several in Shrine Mont's collection indicate a New Rochelle location, and The National Cyclopedia of American Biography's article about him states he found "in the hills of Westchester County and shore of Long Island Sound excellent material for his brush." He maintained his ties with other artists, in New York through the Society of Illustrators and the Salmagundi Club, and in New Rochelle with the local art association, but he apparently gave up the effort of exhibiting. According to the National Cyclopedia, he preferred to have his work about him and "made his studio and home his gallery." Indeed by the early twentieth century, his work would have been considered quite old-fashioned by the new generation of painters, critics, and collectors, who had recast the role of art as more concerned with manipulating form and color on the surface of the canvas than with representing nature. At the same time many younger painters and illustrators chose to focus on human figures and urban subjects rather than landscapes.
Yet Woodward could look back on a long and varied career as a professional artist: He could find satisfaction in his great proficiency as a draftsman and in his skillful crafting of many hundreds of illustrations that engaged and attracted contemporary viewers. He was in New York at just the right time with the right skills and tastes to participate in the great flourishing of landscape illustrations in magazines and books -- through the less expensive medium of wood engraving. He was commissioned to travel to many parts of the United States, Europe, and the Holy Land and share the subjects he chose to depict with the public. Thus, his appealing, reassuring images reached many more homes than did the works of artists who concentrated solely on oil painting, and they won him considerable recognition. Although he virtually disappeared from the history of American art from the time of his death until recently, as the role of the graphic media in disseminating images and shaping attitudes receives greater attention, his contributions are becoming better known -- especially since his preliminary drawings can now be examined. His little-known body of oil paintings also witnesses to his considerable accomplishment as a painter within a conservative tradition. That he held to his initial impetus to communicate his vision of the varied delights of the natural world -- in the face of radically different ideas about the role of art and appropriately compelling subject matter -- testifies to the continuing force of that vision for those coming of age in the mid-nineteenth century. Some, like Woodward, were loath to relinquish the world it affirmed.
Please click here to view Notes for the essay
About the author
Sue Rainey is an independent scholar who researches and writes about some of the artists who worked as book and magazine illustrators in the latter half of the nineteenth century, especially Harry Fenn, John Douglas Woodward, and Mary Hallock Foote. Her book Creating Picturesque America (1994) won the Charles C. Eldredge Prize of the Smithsonian Museum of American Art and the Ewell L. Newman Award of the American Historical Print Collectors Society. She is editor of Imprint: Journal of the American Historical Print Collectors Society.
Resource Library editor's note:
The above text was reprinted in Resource Library on June 17, 2009, with permission of the author, which was granted to TFAO on May 26, 2009.
It is the primary essay from the self-titled catalogue to the exhibition 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. An adaptation of this essay appeared in the March - April 1997 issue of American Art Review.
Resource Library wishes to extend appreciation to Sue Rainey; Jean Collier of the University of Virginia Art Museum; Susan G. Harris of the University of Virginia; and Shana Herb Johannessen for their help concerning permissions for reprinting the above text.
The original catalogue text places the number for note 58 twice in the body of the essay with the second number 58 placed where apparently 60 should appear. There was no number 60. TFAO inserted 60 in place of the second 58.
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and photos of Lake Como's Villa Carlotta provided by a TFAO volunteer.
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