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"The Pennsylvania school born in the Academy at Philadelphia, or in the person of Edward W. Redfield, is a very concise expression of the simplicity of our language and of the prosaic nature of our sight. It is democratic painting-broad, without subtility, vigorous in language if not absolutely in heart, blatantly obvious or honest in feeling. It is an unbiased, which means, inartistic, record of nature."
-Guy Pene du Bois
Among the New Hope Impressionist painters, Edward Willis Redfield was the most decorated, winning more awards than any American artist except John Singer Sargent. Primarily a landscape painter, Redfield was acclaimed as the most "American" artist of the New Hope school because of his vigor and individualism.
"Individuals to a man, [Robert Henri and his followers among] The Eight nevertheless shared... an impatience with the approved academic art of their time, a wish to depict specifically American life, a determination to be American painters rather than painters in America."
A young and impressionable student at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Redfield became acquainted with Robert Henri, the future leader of social realism. In 1891, they traveled together in Fontainebleau, France. Upon returning to Philadelphia, Henri formed The Eight, an early group of urban realists. Redfield frequently joined their gatherings.
Alienated by the stodginess of the academic tradition, which focused upon beautiful women, bucolic landscapes, and high society, the social realists took it upon themselves to democratize American art. Accordingly, they selected urban and industrial subjects, such as laborers and factories, immigrants and tenements, poverty and filth. For these artists, they were not concerned with making a political statement but instead found the material to be appealing for its freshness and liveliness.
Although Henri and Redfield painted different subjects, they shared a commitment to realism. Perhaps more importantly, both artists sought to invent distinctively American art, capturing national scenes, whether of the sweeping, frosty landscapes of Bucks County or the tenements of New York City. After exploring Europe together, the two young artists returned to the United States with a finer sense of their own country's distinctive national (and cultural) identity, which they in turn celebrated through their art.
Redfield favored the technique of painting en plein air, meaning outdoors amidst nature. Redfield worked in the most brutal weather and would often tie his canvas to a tree. Painting rapidly, in thick, broad brush strokes, and without attempting preliminary sketches, Redfield typically completed his paintings in one sitting.
Although Redfield is best known for his snow scenes, he painted several spring and summer landscapes, often set in Maine, where he spent his summers. Specifically, Redfield spent several summers on Monhegan Island, situated ten miles off the coast of Maine. Monhegan Island is renowned for its primeval forests, jagged rock formations, and gritty beaches. Its sublime geography has attracted a community of artists since the 1850s. Remote from civilization and lacking its amenities, the Monhegan art colony drew only the hardiest of painters.
The artists that gathered on Monhegan Island painted a diverse array of marine landscapes and quaint village scenes, as well as pictures of boats and docks, rocky crags and austere forests. Redfield explored these subjects, painting them in his spartan, rapid, plein air manner. For Redfield, Monhegan's ocean, quays, and village scenes were the summer equivalent of Bucks County's snowy woods and hillsides. Although the two regions offered Redfield different subject matter, they suggested similar themes. Whether Redfield worked in Center Bridge or on Monhegan Island, he celebrated the magnificence of nature and the vigor it demands of those who live and work in its midst.
He also painted cityscapes, including, most notably, Between Daylight and Darkness (1909), a atmospheric tonalist painting of the New York skyline in twilight. When Redfield stopped painting in the mid-1940s, he began producing hooked rugs and painted furniture. He died at the age of ninety-six in 1965.
Edward Redfield. Photograph by Juley & Sons. Image courtesy of Patricia Redfield Ross and Dorothy Redfield.
Education and Training
Friends School and German Turnverein, Camden, New Jersey, early 1880s
Art Classes at Spring Garden Institute and Franklin Institute, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1881-84
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1887-1889
Study Tour, Europe, 1889
Academie Julien, Paris, France, 1889
Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris, France, 1889
Travel with friend Robert Henri, Fountainbleau, France, 1891
Teachers and Influences
Members of The Eight or Ashcan School: Robert Henri, John Sloan, William Glackens, Everett Shinn and George Luks
Thomas Anshutz, James Kelly and Thomas Hovenden at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia
Associated with Charles Grafly, Robert Henri, and Alexander Milne Calder at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
Associated with Adolphe William Bougereau and Tony Robert Fleury at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, 1889
Influenced by Fritz Thaulow, a Scandinavian impressionist who painted Norwegian snow scenes
Connection to Bucks County
Drawn to the natural beauty and artistic freedom of Bucks County, Redfield settled in Center Bridge in 1898 with his French wife, Elise Deligant. Redfield, along with William L. Lathrop and Daniel Garber, was regarded as one of the deans of the New Hope art colony. He did not join the informal organizations of painters known as the New Hope Group because he favored individualism. Redfield is not known to have actively mentored the younger New Hope artists who followed his influence, such as Walter Elmer Schofield, Walter Emerson Baum, John Fulton Folinsbee, Charles Rosen, and George Sotter. Redfield continually affirmed his commitment to the arts of Bucks County as he practiced traditional Pennsylvania crafts at the end of his life, such as woodworking and making hooked rugs.
Colleagues and Affiliations
Redfield was friends with Charles Rosen and Daniel Garber. He was a mentor to Kenneth Nunamaker and, according to the Charles Rosen Papers at the Archives of American Art, he also was supportive of the painter Charles Rosen.
Major Solo Exhibitions
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1899
City Art Museum of St. Louis, Missouri, 1909
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1910, 1916, 1920
Philadelphia Art Club, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1920, 1929
Grand Central Art Galleries, New York, New York, 1930, 1968, 1973, 1982
Newman Art Galleries, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1968
Woodmere Art Gallery, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1959
The Reading Public Museum and Art Gallery, Reading, Pennsylvania, 1961-1962
Allentown Art Museum, Allentown, Pennsylvania, 1987-1988
Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio, 1987-1988
Beacon Hill Fine Art Gallery, New York, New York, 1995
Edward W. Redfield: Just Values and Fine Seeing, Michener Art Museum, New Hope, Pennsylvania; Sewell Biggs Museum of American Art, Dover, Delaware, 2004-2005
Major Group Exhibitions
Panama-Pacific International Exposition, San Francisco, California, 1915
The Pennsylvania Impressionists: Painters of the New Hope School, Michener Art Museum, Doylestown, Pennsylvania, 1990
Masterworks of the New Hope Impressionists, Michener Art Museum, Doylestown, Pennsylvania, 1994
The Lenfest Exhibition of Pennsylvania Impressionism, Michener Art Museum, Doylestown, Pennsylvania, 2000-present
Objects of Desire: Treasures from Private Collections, Michener Art Museum, New Hope, Pennsylvania, 2005-2006
Artists of the Commonwealth: Realism and Its Response in Pennsylvania Painting 1900-1950, Michener Art Museum, Doylestown, Pennsylvania, 2007
During his life time, Redfield won more than thirty prizes, medals, and awards, including many Gold Medals. Additionally, he served as Juror for numerous exhibitions and expositions.