American Masterpieces from Dryads Green Gallery
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Artist Name:        William Lester Stevens
Artist Dates:          1888-1969      
Winter Stream By Moonlight
Painting Date:       1935 
Oil on Canvas       Signature:             Signed Lower Right     Provenance:          Private Collection
Size Unframed:      32 x 36 
Size Framed:         
37 x 41     
Frame Condition:  
Mint Reproduction
Artist Best Price:    $28,100
Offered At:        
Curator's Comments: We have waited a long time to find a Stevens with the qualities that make him truly outstanding, and at last we've got another masterpiece that once again demonstrates nature's power over the human environment. As Thomas Hart Benton said of the Great Plains, "The indifference of the physical world to all human efforts stands revealed as hard inescapable fact." This is the meaning of "Winter Stream By Moonlight," which may be Stevens' finest landscape ever. The work is large and the scale is huge, adding to the painting's power. We have had the work cleaned by the noted restorer Simon Parkes--and the result is just magnificent--going far beyond our image.

Stevens liked to paint and is estimated to have produced more than 5,000 canvases in his lifetime. The majority were in oil, but he was versatile in watercolor, guache, pastel and later acrylic. That said, his style is all his own, with its mix of impasto and washes, and his work is always shaped by his unique identity as a painter. He made his last home in the Pioneer Valley, with a base in Conway, MA, at his restored Cricket Hill farm house, but he painted as far west as the Hoosic Valley and to the east along the Mohawk River to Greenfield. Throughout, his focus was always nature, but not nature morte. Instead, at his best, Stevens gives us his unique sense of nature as a deep force concerned with its own survival, a survival not without scars and weathering, something almost beyond mankind, and linked to a force that is even stronger than we can know. A superb craftsman, Stevens painted rapidly and with assurance, but always took time to find the best vantage point. He understood the importance of placing himself where he could create the best composition and “took the liberty of moving objects so  the composition would meet his desires.” But his juxtaposition of the landscape is for a purpose. This is what he meant when he commented that "fine pictures are the result of fine minds."
In Stevens' best work nature exists on a scale beyond human time and dwarfs all of "mankind's mechanicals"--a la  Faulkner.
There is in the later works a vision that those who have trekked these hills recognize as almost an obesession, which led Stevens to repeatedly memorialize the distant cemetary on the hillside where his wife was buried. Nature is often brooding, sometimes malevolent, grotesque and always powerful. In the absolute American masterpiece that we offer, note how the trefoil claws of the branches of the fallen limb hold the scene in winter's strengthening grip. The leaves continue to fall and the ice is closing the stream slowly but surely. But the green of the pines is emerging, opening a ray of hope. We have seen nothing better in Stevens!

Stevens was born  in  Rockport, Massachusetts in 1888. He received his first art training from Parker Perkins, a local marine painter who charged him 50 cents an hour. Later he studied in Boston with Edmund Tarbell, but the influence of Tarbell did not take root. Instead it was World War I that had the most and longest lasting influence on Stevens, who was in Europe in 1917. He gave us no epic such as Sargent’s famous
Gassed, but it is clear that the war helped shape his mature work and its incipient tension. When Stevens reurned to Rockport, it had started to become the painterly retreat that would make it the New England impressionists' coastal hub. And he studied here with  Duveneck, among others, including Frank Benson, Philip Hale and William Paxton. Stevens, along with his friend Aldro Hibbard, was instrumental in organizing the Rockport Art Association in 1921, with the goal of making art more accessible to common people. He painted murals in the Dedham and Rockport post offices, the Boston City Hall, and several schools in Boston. In 1934 he moved to an old, remodeled farmhouse in Conway, MA which looks north towards Mount Monadnock, and where he built a studio and painted New England scenes for the rest of his life. Except for summer trips made in the 1960s to Lubec, Maine, Campobello Island and Grand Manan Island, Stevens lived and painted in Conway for the rest of his life. Stevens died on June 10, 1969 in nearby Greenfield.He was Professor of Painting at Princeton University, and also taught at Boston University, and at the Springfield Art Museum. He was a National Academician and a member of the American Watercolor Society. He won  awards at the Corcoran Gallery, Washington, DC; American Watercolor Society; and in New Haven, Springfield, Washington and Rockport. The 1930's brought Stevens commercial and personal success through a number of magazine covers for The American Legion Magazine. He exhibited at the NAD, 1906 (age 18); and among many others at PAFA annually, 1912-37; Corcoran  biennials, 1914-28 (5 times, with prizes); Quincy, 1932 (medal); Wash. Ldscp. Club, 1939 (prize); Wash. Art Club, 1941 (prize); Ogunquit, ME, 1952-54 (prizes); Gloucester, MA, 1958 (prize); and his work hangs in museums in  Rochester, Springfield, Boston, Gloucester, Rockport, and Washington. By 1964, Stevens had won more awards than any other living artist.
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