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 George W. Waters  (1832 - 1912)

About: George W. Waters
 

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Lived/Active: New York      Known for: landscape, portrait, genre, coastal painting

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BIOGRAPHY for George Waters
Facts/Data
Birth
1832 (Coventry, New York)
 
Death
1912 (Elmira, New York)

Lived/Active
New York

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landscape, portrait, genre, coastal painting

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
George W. Waters, 1832-1912

Adapted by Rachael Sadinsky from her essays in the exhibition brochure George W. Waters, 1832-1912 (Elmira, NY: Arnot Art Museum, 1989).

George W. Waters lived and worked in Elmira, New York, for most of his adult life.  Inspired by nature’s gentle beauty, Waters set out to record the world around him: hills covered in autumn hues; apple trees blossoming in spring; cattle grazing beside a river; ocean waves in moonlight.  He traveled throughout the northeast to sketch the river valleys, mountain ranges, and coastlines before returning to his studio in Elmira to paint.  Many of his works were done on commission by or sold to private collectors outside the area, some as far away as Wisconsin, and he exhibited his works regularly and with considerable acclaim.  Yet, the people of Elmira were always his most supportive public.  The city newspapers heralded the activities and achievements of “Elmira’s own artist” by reporting visits to his studio to describe works in progress, pronouncing what new paintings were on view where, and welcoming the artist back from his sketching trips.  

George W.  Waters was born on March 31, 1832, in the small New York community of Coventry in Chenango County.  (The middle initial “W” is a matter of conjecture.  Most sources list “Wattles” but “Wellington” has also been suggested.)  He began his artistic career early and in 1850, at the age of eighteen, Waters had one of his paintings was on view at the National Academy of Design in New York City.  He attended the Franklin-Delaware Literary Institute and later taught there.  In the course of his teaching, Waters met Sarah Sherman Betts and the two were married in November 1856.  In pursuit of his artistic vocation, George and Sarah Waters moved to New York City but Waters quickly tired of city life and desired to be closer to the natural subjects he loved so well.  Though he maintained a studio in New York City for many years, in 1861 George and Sarah moved to the small but thriving city of Elmira, where they settled and raised a family: Mabel, born 1862; Jean, born 1865; Charles, born 1869; and George Jr., born 1877.  In 1869, Waters was named the first director of the art department of Elmira College.  

Waters traveled to Europe, first in 1880 and again in 1886 with his family. They went to Germany and Switzerland where the artist made hundreds of pen, pencil, and watercolor studies to use as source material for works painted subsequent to his trips.  The trips with the most significant impact on his artwork, however, were those made to the countryside and wilderness areas of the Northeast.  Waters made frequent trips, both sketching trips, with his family as well as with other artists, to the White Mountains, the Adirondacks, and the lakes and river valleys of New York State, especially the Chemung Valley.  Upon returning to his studio, he translated his sketches into landscape paintings, “portraits of the land” that captured a devoted and appreciative audience.

The 1870s and 1880s were transition years for landscape painters.  Growing disenchantment with the Hudson River School by the general public and art critics fostered a reappraisal in style and approach by artists.  Increasing urbanization and industrialization of the East Coast spawned a growing interest in pastoral landscapes that depicted the pre-industrial past.  Artists began to paint highly detailed, often identifiable scenes of the domesticated rural east, scenes that often illustrated man’s occupation of and partnership with the land. Waters’ sympathies and his approach to painting align him with this second generation of the Hudson River School.  Like John F. Kensett, James M. Hart, William Hart, William Trost Richards, and James Hope, Waters chose to preserve on canvas the intimate and approachable scenery found in the northeast.  He was praised for his detailed paintings of specific, identifiable sites, for his palette of rich glowing colors, and his skill for capturing different seasons and unusual light effects.  

Proud of their hometown artist, Elmira writers often compared the works of Waters to those of his better-known contemporaries.  In 1880, a writer in The Free Press noted that, “The picture is essentially American in all its particular, in design and treatment, and should give Mr. Waters a reputation beside James Hart, Bierstadt, or Frederick [sic] Church.”  The superb value of Waters’ works—during his lifetime, none sold for more than $1,000 and most sold for less—was not lost on his public.  In 1882, a writer in the Elmira Daily Advertiser observed that, “…if you could just put James Hart or Frederic Church on one corner of the canvas, it would be worth, or could be sold for about $5,000 and it wouldn’t be any better than it is now….”

In 1882, noted author and part-time Elmira resident Samuel Clemens commissioned a painting of a ship at sea engulfed in flames.  After receiving the work, Clemens sent a note thanking Waters for his rendering of “the splendid horror”:

I was tired of the monotony of mildness: mildness of color, mildness of scenery, mildness of situation, mildness of circumstances…. Eternal peace, repose, comfort, absence of suffering—absence of sorrow, absence of excitement—a pallid, inane tranquility—as if that were all of life.  You have faithfully reproduced the splendid horror I had in mind; and to me there is a satisfaction in these leaping flames and these ruddy waves, and the awful distress of these shipwrecked poor devils, which no amount of painted peace and pictured serenity can give.

Like most artists of the nineteenth century, Waters relied on portraiture to supplement his income.  Waters’ ability to produce near-perfect likenesses of his sitters ensured a steady stream of commissions.  In 1877, New York City patron John H. Johnston—an admirer of the works of the painter George Waters and the poet Walt Whitman—commissioned the former to make a portrait of the latter.  During the many sittings, the two became friends and Whitman readily agreed to a few extra sittings so that Waters could make a portrait for his own collection.  Other portrait commissions included New York Governor Lucius Robinson and Wisconsin Governor Alexander W. Randall, and numerous prominent Elmirans, such as the writer Samuel Clemens and Reverend Thomas K. Beecher.  

In 1903, at the age of 71, Waters retired from Elmira College.  He continued to paint until his death on July 23, 1912 in Elmira, New York.

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following is from the bulletin board of AskART, and the source is anonymous:

George Wattles Waters was born on March 31, 1832 in the small upstate community of Coventry in Chenango County, NY. He began his artistic career early and in 1850, at the age of eighteen, Waters had his first exhibit when one of his paintings was on view at the National Academy of Design in New York City.

Though he maintained a studio in New York City for many years, George and his wife, Sarah, moved upstate in 1861 to the small city of Elmira where they settled and raised a family. In 1869, George was chosen to be the first director of the art department of Elmira College.

Although Waters traveled to Europe both in 1880 and 1886, the travels with the most profound impact on his artwork were in and around the countrysides and wilderness areas of the northeast. The artist made frequent trips to the White Mountains, the Adirondacks, and to the lakes and woods of northern New York State.

From pencil sketches made during his travels, Waters would translate these to landscape paintings upon returning to his studio. In 1903, at the age of 71, Waters retired from his position at Elmira College. He continued to paint until his death on July 23, 1912.

What does the W. in George W. Waters name stand for? We have seen "Wellington" and "Wattles?" Apparently, there is a painting signed "George Wellington Waters." References: George W. Waters (1832 - 1912) G W Waters Catalogue
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The following is from Michael McCue:

George W. Waters "in the studio"
A photo portrait of G.W. Waters at work "In the Studio" is in the poetry book OLD TIME MEMORIES by Ira E. Sherman, 1895. Waters also did 5 original paintings reproduced as B&W halftones in this volume.

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at registrar@AskART.com.

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