Published: October 22, 2002
By J.M.W. Fletcher
A recently published two-volume set of art books entitled by J.M.W. Fletcher serves as a sequel to the author’s first book on Edward Willis Redfield published in 1996 (ISBN 0-9652402-0-7). These two new volumes detail more than 800 letters to and from Redfield, spanning over seven decades and giving further insight into Redfield’s likeable personality and the camaraderie he shared with directors of major art museums and galleries, as well as his fellow artists. Also included in these volumes are 426 photographs of Redfield’s paintings and a transcript of a 90-minute taped interview with the artist two years before his death.
Edward Willis Redfield (1869-1965) was born in Bridgeville, Del., and between 1885 and 1889 studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, as well as the Academie Julian and Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, France, before returning to the United States in 1893. Five years later he acquired a 127-acre island property and house beside the tow path of the canal adjacent to the Delaware River, where he and his family lived for many years. In 1931 he purchased and restored a stone farmhouse known as the “Old Bowlby property” a mile or two downstream from his first home, where he lived until his death.
The early years of Redfield’s career as a young artist in this sparsely settled area of Bucks County, Penn., were spent struggling to survive, as he trudged the hills and dales and snow-covered woods with his 50-pound paint box, huge wooden easel, canvas and other equipment. He made no preliminary studies or drawings, but painted in the field straight to the canvas with great rapidity and force. In almost all instances his paintings were completed in “one go” without any touchup later. Eventually he began to exhibit and sell his work with help from major art museum directors who became lifelong friends, notably John E.D. Trask, managing director of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia; C. Powell Minnigerode, director of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; and Homer St Gaudens, director, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, Penn.
Redfield ultimately became known as the “dean of the New Hope School of impressionist painters,” winning more gold medals and awards than any other American artist except John Singer Sargent. His winter landscapes became a trademark of his oeuvre as he exhibited in major shows throughout the United States, establishing additional friendships with dealers at major art galleries throughout a wide area. The sales of his paintings soared as the popularity of his work grew.
Although Redfield lived most of his adult life in Centre Bridge, Bucks County, he also purchased a home in Boothbay Harbor, Maine, where he spent many summers painting seascapes and quaint shingled cottages with beautiful gardens.
To exhibit and sell his work Redfield wrote and received hundreds of letters over several decades. Besides the treasure trove of letters to and from Minnigerode, Trask and St Gaudens, Redfield corresponded with an increasing number of art curators, art dealers and purchasers of his paintings. Behind the efforts of this author to compile is the work of the archivists, the guardians and keepers of the past, who deserve the major credit for the material within these two new volumes on Redfield. During more than four years of research for these volumes, the author by letter and telephone contacted the archivists at those museum and art galleries where Redfield had exhibited his work in decades long past.
These Redfield Letters reveal to the reader some of the innermost thoughts that Redfield, the man, recorded. They bring to light thoughts, often humorous, that had been relegated to obscurity, hidden and forgotten for decade after decade in attics and basements of great libraries and major art galleries. Without any research request over the decades these boxes, although cataloged, remained unopened. This is where these fascinating Redfield letters were eventually found.
From this treasure trove of more than a thousand letters to and from Redfield, over 800 of the more significant were selected for publication, uncovering the day to day events during Redfield’s pursuit of fame and fortune.
Within the two volumes are 426 photographs of the more than 1,200 paintings Redfield is known to have painted. Of these 1,200-plus recorded paintings, Redfield states in this taped interview (a transcript of which is included in Volume II) that he destroyed over 700 of them. Had he only known that his paintings would come to life again several decades later, with phenomenal prices being paid, he surely would not have taken this action.
“In doing research for these volumes,” J.M.W. Fletcher states, “I coincidentally came across a 90-minute taped interview with Redfield, given in 1963 when he was 93 years old. His memory, his speech and the clarity of his thoughts attest to his remarkable intelligence, wisdom and lifetime experiences. I had heard that such a tape existed but did not know how to locate it until one day, while covering an assignment for Antiques and the Arts Weekly at the Armory in Philadelphia, a gentleman from Newman and Saunders Galleries of Wayne, Penn., told me that he had something I should have for my new book. He mentioned that he had obtained the original tape from Redfield’s daughter-in-law, Mrs Laurent Redfield. Although not in the true sense a letter, I felt it was most important to include it as an epilogue in Volume II of , since it contains a great deal of information about the artist’s life and might otherwise be lost.”
This now completes the circle of information on Edward Willis Redfield, America’s foremost impressionist painter of the New Hope School.
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