The Genius of Richard Caton Woodville

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New Eyes on America:
The Genius of Richard Caton Woodville

Woodville was celebrated in the art press of his time. The market for his art was primarily the American Art-Union, headquartered in New York, which was supported for a “patriotic purpose. . . the progress and elevation of American Art” by thousands of subscribers across the nation. Their appreciation of art was advanced by prints, Woodville’s among them, distributed as membership premiums. Tacked up on the walls of middle-class homes, prints after Woodville’s images enjoyed widespread distribution in a time when visual imagery was just then becoming widely available.

The Walters exhibition includes a number of new discoveries, such as a Portrait of Maria Johnston, the older friend who accompanied the artist and his young wife to Germany and who served as the model for the woman in the window of War News from Mexico. An unfinished Portrait of a Seated Woman was found tacked under a Self-Portrait given to the Walters by a descendant; a portrait of the artist’s first wife, Mary Buckler Woodville, by his instructor, the German painter Carl Ferdinand Sohn, is also included.

Woodville’s genius is to be seen not only in the clear-eyed and humorous observations of contemporary life of his paintings but also in their exquisite rendering. His works inspire close looking and interpretation of the myriad details, many likely created using magnification. Small in scale, they are filled with insightful studies of character, amusing interactions and implied narrative.

The exhibition has been generously sponsored by the Women’s Committee of the Walters Art Museum and Wilmington Trust, with grant funds from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Wyeth Foundation for American Art, the Bernard Family, Charlesmead Foundation, Frederick and Mary Louise Preis, and other generous individuals.