Click on photos to enlarge.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Charles Herbert Woodbury

The Red Bathing Suit, Charles Herbert Woodbury
I've always been fascinated by the sea. I like looking at it. I like swimming in it. I enjoy diving under it. I mostly enjoy sailing on it, provided it's from the deck of a fairly lavish cruise ship. I wouldn't mind a more intimate relationship with it from a smaller vessel, in fact. Although I've painted it a couple times, I've never had the time or opportunity to actually set up an easel on the seashore to paint it up-close and personal. Moreover I'm not an "en plein air" painter, and if I were to try it sometime, I probably wouldn't start with anything as dynamic as waves dashing up against a rocky shoreline...or even rolling in calmly onto a beach. I don't live close enough to the water for that and on those few occasions when I've wet my feet in the surf I've had better things to do than try and paint it...or my feet. It takes a special kind of masochistic artist to try capturing the continuous "motion of the ocean" with paint on canvas, or watercolor on paper. Whatever the case, I do admire greatly those who do so and do it well, especially if they've done it often. The New England marine painter, Charles Herbert Woodbury was one such artist.

The North Atlantic, 1902, Charles Herbert Woodbury
There's far more to being a marine painter than just rendering large bodies of water. The range of subject matter is really quite broad, from the waves of open water seen in his The North Atlantic (above) from around 1902, to tiny children playing in mere inches of it on a beach as seen in his Sunbathing (below). The work of Charles Woodbury encompasses most of this range. He was quite fond of beach scenes, whether in groups or solitary bathers (they weren't called swimmers back then). Back then, by the way, was between 1887 when Woodbury first began painting along the coast of Maine to the time of his death in 1940--a span of more than fifty years.

Sunbathing, Charles Herbert Woodbury
Charles Woodbury was born in 1864 near Lynn, Massachusetts. He graduated from MIT with a degree in mechanical engineering, though all through college he'd been a member of a group called the Lynn Beach Painters. Most of Woodbury's work is not dated, so it's hard to say whether his Sunbathers (above) was painted early on or sometime later. The quite modest bathing "costumes" would appear to favor an early date. His style and technique were fairly consistent over his lifetime, which suggests he was largely self-taught, though perhaps influenced by Impressionism. He and his wife traveled to Paris in the early 1890s where he studied for a time at the Academie Julian, which may account for his Impressionist leanings.

At some point in time, either in France or this country, Woodbury met
John Singer Sergeant, who painted his portrait.
Upon his return to New England, Woodbury settled on Boston for his winter studio. There he painted a few portraits and taught drawing classes. It was during his summers, spent in the small fishing village of Ogunquit, Maine, that he founded one of the most successful summer art colony schools of his time. It survived even after his death. Woodbury had begun teaching drawing on a regular basis while a freshman at M.I.T. Ironically, he had little formal training himself other than the few months of classes in Paris. Yet Woodbury was one of the most sought-after art instructors of his time. That's an important attribute in that producing art and teaching it are not always one and the same.

Harbor Scene, Charles Herbert Woodbury
Charles Woodbury maintained a strong, consistent vision over the course of his more than fifty years as a professional artist. He became a master of coastal compositions as the result of his many on-the-spot sketches which produce a sense of motion through quick, sure-handed strokes. Seeing and understanding movement was fundamental to his art and to his teaching. It is reflected in his own maxim: “Paint in verbs, not nouns.” His son, David Woodbury, explained that his father "...painted what he saw, satisfied that what he saw was really there, all in proper relationship, checked and rechecked by endless reference to the real world." In his later years Woodbury spent his winters in the Caribbean sailing from island to island painting watercolor studies of the beaches and towns backed by dramatic mountains and clouds.

Deco Wave (Dancing Wave), 1914, Charles Herbert Woodbury
Charles Herbert Woodbury died in January of 1940 in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. However, like all artists, he lives on through his work. Woodbury had over 100 solo exhibitions throughout his career, and was included in most of the major invitational and juried shows around the country. Today Woodbury's paintings can be found in The Art Institute of Chicago, The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art among many others.

Dolphins, Charles Herbert Woodbury
The Bathers, 1930, Charles Herbert Woodbury


No comments:

Post a Comment