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 Mabel May Woodward  (1877 - 1945)

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Lived/Active: Rhode Island      Known for: sea-landscape, genre and portrait painting

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Ad Code: 2
Mabel May Woodward
from Auction House Records.
A Day at the Beach
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Mabel May Woodward, painter, craftswoman, impressionist, was born in Providence, Rhode Island on September 28th, 1877. Woodward first studied at the Rhode Island School of Design, and later she studied at The Art Students' League in New York under Frank Vincent Du Mond, Kenyon Cox, and William Merritt Chase. She also studied under Arthur Wesley Dow and Charles H. Woodbury at the Ogunquit School of Art.

During her career she often cited Frank Du Mond, with whom she painted in Old Lyme, Connecticut, and William Merritt Chase as the major influences on her artistic career.

Chase's influence is particularly noticeable in her work. Woodward like Chase often painted out doors in a Plein-Air Impressionistic manner. Her colorful canvases display her master's brush-work, bold, crisp, unlabored strokes and a mastery of the effects of light and shadow often with a heavy impasto. Her subject matter was often her beloved native coastal New England, with the airy landscapes, towns and beaches. She was also known for genre, European scenes, villages, farms, still lifes and flowers.

Providence, Rhode Island, her hometown, was a mecca for artists at the time she was growing up, and the many noted artists painting there at the time no doubt influenced her work as much as the pleasant scenery she was accustomed to.

Although she traveled and painted in Europe, she remained a daughter of Maine her entire life spending most of her summers in Ogunquit, a major center of art.

Woodward was a long-time faculty member at the Rhode Island School of Design, where she pioneered the "The Action Class" a study of the human figure as a machine rather than a stationery object. She was also a member of the Providence Art Club, where she had a highly-praised "one-woman" show; a member of the Providence Watercolor Club; South County Art Association; Ogunquit Art Association and others. She died August 14th, 1945.

Blake Benton Fine Art

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Providence, Rhode Island, Mabel Woodward was an Impressionist painter of simple palette who specialized in colorful beach and other recreational scenes.  She was also a long-time teacher (25 years) at the Rhode Island School of Design and there started The Action Class, a pioneering idea whose purpose was to study the human figure as a machine rather than a stationery object.  She traveled to Europe but spent most of her summers in Ogunquit, Maine.  She was also a frequent visitor to Provincetown, Massachusetts where she painted many street and beach scenes.

She got her early art training at the Rhode Island School of Design and continued her studies at the Art Students League in New York with William Merritt Chase, Frank DuMond, and Kenyon Cox. She worked with Du Mond in Old Lyme, Connecticut and attended the Ogunquit School as a student of Charles Woodbury.

Paul Sternberg, Art by American Women

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Her works can be found at:
Newport Hospital:
1. Oil on board, "Three Striped Umbrellas"

North Providence Union Free Public Library:
1. Oil painting [untitled]--beach scene

Providence Art Club:
1. Watercolor, "Girl in Garden"
2. Oil, "Beach Scene"
3. Watercolor, "The Metal Shop"
4. Watercolor/pencil on wove paper, "Carsi"

Rhode Island School of Design:
1. Oil painting on board, "Landscape with Farm Buildings" (late 19th-mid 20th c.) (acc.# 80.131)
2. Oil painting on board, "Cypress" (late 19th-mid 20th c.) (acc.# 80.132)

Unveiled: a directory and guide to 19th century born artists active in Rhode Island, and where to find their work in publicly accessible Rhode Island collections
by Elinor L. Nacheman

Biography from Charleston Renaissance Gallery:
Best known for her summer garden and beach scenes painted along the New England Shore, Mabel May Woodward had an artistic vision that was also drawn to architecture. Her paintings were bathed in sunlight or sheathed in velvety shadow, and images of buildings in morning, noon and evening light often appear in her work. Though Woodward rarely dated her scenes, she usually identified their location in the title. "Tradd at East Bay" was probably painted in the late 1920s or early 1930s, when Charleston was in the midst of a cultural renaissance and a popular destination for tourists and artists alike.

Woodward was born in Providence, Rhode Island, and, except for summers at Gloucester, Massachusetts and Ogunquit, Maine, spent most of her life there. After graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design, she continued her education in New York, where she worked at the Art Student's League under William Merritt Chase, Frank Dumont, Kenyon Cox and George Bridgman. In 1900 Woodward returned to Providence to join the faculty at her alma mater, where she taught for many years.

Though Woodward has not been the subject of scholarly attention, we know from the titles of her works that she traveled often. In addition to summers along the east coast, she visited and painted in France, Italy and Holland. She also made at least one trip to the Southern United States, stopping in Charleston, New Orleans and along the coast of Florida.

"Tradd at East Bay" and a slightly smaller painting entitled "Flower Sellers" (Christie's East, September 29, 1999) were probably painted on her visit to the Lowcountry. Woodward's interest in the subject may have been inspired by Elizabeth O'Neill Verner's much admired depictions of the black women who traveled from outlying islands to downtown Charleston to sell their vegetables, flowers and sweetgrass baskets. When the mayor threatened at one point to outlaw these vendors, Verner came to their rescue, pointing out that Charleston had more free advertising in national magazines than any other city, and that in every picture a flower woman was strategically placed to provide local color (Severens, p, 94).

While the women were the primary focus of Verner's paintings, they were of secondary interest to Woodward. Figures occasionally appear in her work, but, as in "Tradd at East Bay", they are usually anonymous spectators or participants in outdoor activities, overshadowed by their environment. The bold, powerful brushwork and bright palette are typical of Woodward's style, described in 1938 as "a kind of impressionism . . . or a development of impressionism to a more descriptive painting" (Sisson).

Adjusting her palette to the uppermost register of sunlight imposed on the stucco structure, Woodward worked spontaneously from nature. Her method was direct; there is great assurance in her work, conveying a sense of life and movement. At the same time, the painting's pervasive mood is one of emptiness and solitude. In this respect, it resembles Woodward's many beach scenes, where the figures function as grace notes in a seascape composition.

Woodward's painting mirrors the romantic tone of Canadian Charles Henry White's 1907 travel article on "America's Most Historic City."

"Her moods are infinite; and, as you press on you are thrilled with a sense of the endless variety and super abundance of beauty that lures in a zigzag course across the city, fearful that something might escape you; here, standing on some deserted wharf listening to the distant singing of Negroes, syncopating their movements as they sell oysters in the factory above, or retreating into the cool shade of a renaissance arcade to drink in the quiet vista of Tradd Street, its roofs a sea of deep umber tiles, its walls glowing with golden stucco" (As quoted in Severens, p. 9).

Woodward like Childe Hassam, Birge Harrison and other artists from the North, found the appeal of Charleston in its overall ambience, not in its specifics. The city's alleys and inner courtyards were better known and more accessible to the resident artists than to the visitors who were reluctant to wander off the main streets. Charlestonians were known for their hospitality, however, and by the date of Woodward's visit, everywhere one looked, an artist had set up an easel to record his or her admiration. Regrettably, nothing more is known about Woodward's stay in Charleston, why she chose Charleston in the first place or whether she enjoyed any contact with local artists.

Nancy Rivard Shaw
Robert M. Hicklin Jr., Inc., 2000

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