A look at the design, market and legacy of Victorian pottery

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Art of Majolica: The Art of Robert Strong Woodward

If you're not an art collector or a resident of Western Massachusetts you probably haven't heard of Robert Strong Woodward.

R.S. Woodward was born in Northampton, Massachusetts in May 1885. At the age of 21 he suffered an accidental gunshot wound that left him permanently paralyzed from the waist down. In spite of his infirmity he decided to make art his life's work.
He settled in Buckland, MA where he started work first as a commercial artist and later a painter of the rural life he loved so dearly. He gained a reputation for his rural landscapes and scenes of New England and soon his work was gracing the walls of Robert Frost, Burns & Allen, actress Beulah Bondi and fellow artist Rockwell Kent. At the time of his death in 1957 he left a large body of work encompassing a number of different media: oil paint, watercolor, charcoal, pastel and crayon.

R. S. Woodward was also a majolica collector who occasionally used his collection as props for some of his paintings. The photograph below shows his studio and his collection a few years before his death.

After his passing his studio was maintained as a museum and is open to the public; below, his studio and his majolica collection today.

Throughout his studio you can see the many artifacts used in his still life paintings. Below, his painting, "A White Day" features his George Jones Chestnut leaf plate and parrot pitcher.

Woodward's George Jones Chestnut leaf plate.
He also maintained a detailed diary entry for each work.

"Painted 1949. My little S.E. window, back of the easel, painted so many times. In this one the view outside of the orchard with tree and landscape pure white with the very essence of winter, seems to dominate the canvas. A ‘white’ light pours in the window and onto the shelf and the objects on it. To the left foreground, running out of the bottom of the picture, against the woodwork, an ivy plant in brown pot, back of it the lavender bottle and a candlestick, on the shelf by it, a small green majolica butter dish. To the right, my horse chestnut leaf majolica plate stands against the window, subtly silhouetted against the pure white snow, and standing against it and the dull red curtain, is the cockatoo majolica pitcher, a couple of small books lying flat to the right of its base. 

Below a painting done on commission, "The North Window"

This painting, from 1951, features a majolica owl pitcher.

A detail of the owl pitcher in "The North Window"
Woodward's majolica owl pitcher
"Painted in winter (Jan.) of 1951.   Painted expressly for Mr. and Mrs. ..........with motifs in it they spoke of wanting when they came up to see my paintings the day before Christmas.   Outside the N. window, both my barn and Gould’s barn with light snow in the air.   Inside red curtain to the left.   To left of shelf, owl majolica pitcher (owned by the ...........) close to an apple.   To the right center, blossoming pink geranium (2 apples at base of pot and also small open book), to right large green bottle with lavender smaller bottle beside it.   Row of small books at extreme right.   Bought by Mr. and Mrs. ..........., Feb. 1951.”

Still, it is his rural landscapes for which he is best known.

For more information about R.S. Woodward go to the website tribute to his work, the source for the photos and information for this post maintained by the Friends of Woodward. 

Robert Strong Woodward

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