Richard Caton Woodville


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Painter. A genre specialist, he spent most of his career painting American subjects while living in Europe. Though they are relatively few, he also executed portraits and historical or literary anecdotes. A Baltimore native, Woodville entered the University of Maryland medical school there in 1842 but left after a year. His tastes in art were formed in part by Robert Gilmor's collection, which included genre paintings by William Sidney Mount and others, as well as seventeenth-century Dutch examples. In 1845 Woodville went to Düsseldorf. There he acquired sophisticated technical skills while studying at the academy for a year and then privately with Carl Ferdinand Sohn. Düsseldorf's predilection for precise realism, smooth finish, and anecdotal subject matter reinforced prior interests. Woodville had brought to Europe sketches of American scenes, which he soon began to use as the basis for meticulous small paintings of middle-class life. In the spring of 1851 Woodville moved to Paris but two years later relocated to London, where he spent most of his few remaining years. At least twice during his European sojourn, he returned to the United States to seek additional material for paintings, which he regularly dispatched to American venues instead of showing them in Europe. Woodville died in London of a morphine overdose, perhaps accidentally ingested. Among his best-known paintings, War News from Mexico (Manoogian Foundation, on loan to National Gallery, 1848) characterizes the qualities that brought him acclaim. Along with a complex but well-defined composition and wealth of miniaturistically scaled, subordinate detail, his clear colors, able draftsmanship, and deftly handled light provide visual appeal and narrative associations. In this dramatically charged moment, set within a shallow box of space, representative American types cluster around a newspaper reader. Augmenting the impact of the work, certain details acknowledge the war's potential effect on such important issues as slavery and territorial expansion. Widely praised when it was shown for several months in 1849 at the American Art-Union, the painting became one of the best-known mid-century images when the organization subsequently distributed fourteen thousand prints of it. Like other subsequent works, his depiction of three men in a tavern interior, Waiting for the Stage (Corcoran Gallery, 1851), employs similar elements to create a more intimate, psychologically nuanced image. His son, also Richard Caton Woodville, a painter and illustrator usually known professionally as Caton Woodville (1856–1927), was born in London after the death of his father. In his youth he lived in St. Petersburg. Later he, too, studied in Düsseldorf and resided for a time in Paris before settling permanently in London. He became widely known for battle scenes. His Random Recollections appeared in 1914.

Subjects: Art.

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