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Edward Willis Redfield

Portrait of Edward W. Redfield, 1905, by Thomas Eakins, Collection of the National Academy of Design, New York, New York. Public domain photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Coming of Age in Philadelphia

American Impressionist painter Edward Willis Redfield was born in 1869 in Bridgeville, Delaware. During his youth, he lived with his family in Philadelphia and studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts from 1887 to 1889. Redfield’s teachers included Thomas Anshutz, Thomas Hovenden, and James Kelly and one of his classmates was Robert Henri, with whom Redfield became close friends.

Artistic Training and Marriage in Paris

In 1889, Redfield went to Paris with Henri for further training at the Académie Julian and the École des Beaux-Arts, where he learned from William Adolphe Bouguereau and became enchanted with the work of Impressionists Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro. Redfield’s first snow scene, later his most recognized subject matter, was accepted by the Paris Salon in 1891. While staying at the Hôtel d’Élégant, Redfield met and fell in love with the innkeeper’s daughter, Elise; the couple married in 1892 and eventually had five children.

American Impressionism in New Hope, Pennsylvania

When the Redfields returned to the United States in 1898, they settled in Centre Bridge, Pennsylvania, close to New Hope, which would later become an important artists colony. Fellow painter William Langson Lathrop also moved to the area in 1898; he and Redfield elucidated a quintessentially American way of rendering landscapes in an Impressionist style with a bold color palette. Redfield, in particular, enhanced his compositions through the use of a thick impasto, creating texture and relief. Known for his winter scenes, Redfield generally painted en plein air, that is, outside among the elements, so he sometimes had to brave extreme weather conditions.

Painting in Coastal Maine and New York City

Starting in 1903, the Redfield family summered annually in coastal Maine at Boothbay Harbor; Henri and his wife also joined them the first year. With Henri, and later on his own, Redfield liked to sail through the harbor to find painting subjects. Redfield’s summer landscapes from Maine offer a fascinating contrast with his Pennsylvania winter scenes. In 1909, Redfield spent six months in New York City painting broad aerial views of the burgeoning skyline in a Tonalist style. In contrast to the realism of Henri and John Sloan, Redfield presented an idealized vision in which figures were small and the urban landscape loomed large. During the 1910s and 1920s, Redfield branched out with spring and summer scenes in Pennsylvania.

Later Focus on Decorative Arts

Once Redfield’s wife Elise died in 1947, his morale suffered and he destroyed 1,200 works in a bonfire outside his home. In 1953, Redfield opted to quit painting because he felt his skills were in decline and did not want to diminish his artistic legacy. Leading up to his death in 1965 at age 96, Redfield made hand-painted chests and trays along with hooked rugs. Nevertheless, his reputation as one of America’s finest landscape painters is secure and works by Redfield are now included in the collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington DC, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, and elsewhere. Art historian Dr. Thomas C. Folk is currently compiling a catalogue raisonné for Redfield.

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Edward Willis Redfield