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|IF YOU MISSED THE WOODMERE ART MUSEUM'S MAGNIFICENT
SCHOFIELD RETROSPECTIVE--READ ABOUT IT HERE
Curator's Comment: September 18, 2014 saw the opening of a major and breathtaking
retrospective of the landscape masterpieces of Walter Elmer Schofield (1866-1944) at the
Woodmere Art Museum in the Chestnut Hill suburb of Philadelphia. Under the heading of
"Schofield: International Impressionist," the artist's most important show ever will run until
January 24th, 2015 and will not travel. Don't be fooled by the Woodmere. Behind its small
Pennsylvania stone mansion, a three-story addition and rotunda provide space for more than
60 Schofield masterpiece landscapes, all large-scale and important paintings chosen by the
artist's great grandson James D. W. Church, who has dedicated himself to tracking down the
best of Old Elmer's works and is now the leading scholar on the painter.
Of course, Schofield belongs at the Woodmere since he was one of the PAFA (Pennsylvania
Academy of Fine Arts) Clan, as categorized by John Sloan, and consisting of Sloan himself,
Henri, Glackens, Redfield, and Schofield. And Henri wrote to Sloan in July 1895: “We had a
good voyage. Glack, Schofield and I after seeing the [Paris] Salons for about 10 days went on
a bike trip to Brussels, Antwerp, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Harlem & Hague. Great trip,
beautiful scenery. Passed through the Champagne district of France. Such wine! So cheap and
so much of it! Oh, la! la!” They were also poker players, with Henri and Sloan hoping to
“clean out” the others on varnishing days while waiting for their canvases to dry. Henri's
formal portrait of Schofield celebrates the painter’s election to the NAD, where it still hangs.
But while they weren’t drinking and playing cards, the PAFA clan painters were turning out
some of the most beautiful and powerful masterpieces of the American tradition. In another
letter to Henri, Sloan called Schofield remarkably knowing” for a “landscape bird.” And
the current exhibition is proof indeed, including works like The Rapids (c. 1914, 50” x 60,” on
loan from the Smithsonian), and the Woodmere’s own Morning Tide Coast of Cornwall (c.
1920, also 50” x 60”). No wonder Schofield won prize after prize, including the prestigious
Carnegie gold in 1904 for Across the River (exhibited), and the NAD’s Inness gold in 1911 for
But Redfield and Schofield got in a dispute over the Carnegie gold medal with the former
claiming he was the first to plan the painting. One of the most amusing caricatures reprinted in
the current exhibition catalogue is taken from a letter to Sloan (Nov. 18, 1904) and shows
Schofield pompously displaying his glowing medal while a huge hand identified as Redfield’s
claws at it.  Although the rancor appears to have lasted on Redfield’s side, what’s important
is the retrospective’s proof of equivalent success. While Redfield’s reputation has grown,
sending his highest auction price of almost a million dollars to twice that of Schofield’s, Henri’
s student Guy Pene du Bois was correct to write in a 1915 notebook: “Redfield, Schofield,
Symons most famous masters of Pennsylvania school. Daniel Garber, Charles Rosen, and
Robert Spencer most famous disciples.” 
Schofield won the National Arts Club gold in 1913 for The Spring Thaw (exhibited), which
Carol Lowrey labeled “location unknown,” in her book on the club’s collection.  But happily
Church has tracked down this missing masterpiece and borrowed it from the Biggs Museum of
American Art. A critic writing in the Boston Evening Transcript at the time of its NAC debut
called This 40” x 48” epic landscape “in every way one of the finest canvases that has come
from his brush.”  The painting hints at the theme of his major works, with the concept of
“thaw,” the river itself turning from frozen to flowing. It continues his de-emphasis of the
misty tonalism that he soon abandoned after settling in St. Ives at the turn of the century and
getting to know Symons and Hayley Lever. Schofield continued with a progressively more
structured impressionism and found his mature style, with its limited palette emphasizing
cobalt blue and grey, green and white values, just prior to leaving America to enlist in the
British army. WWI saw him serve in action at the Somme, one of the bloodiest battles in
history where more than 1,000,000 men were wounded or killed.
It was only after the war that Schofield painted his greatest post-impressionist canvases. He
made some 40 trans-Atlantic crossings, while his stressed-out British wife remained in
Cornwall, in order to paint pleine air American landscapes in the winter. But after settling in a
cottage on his son’s newly acquired seventeeth-century estate, Godolphin, where he spent
most of his last ten years, Cornwall became his focus. The greatest achievement of the
retrospective is to provide an extremely important perspective that links Pennsylvania’s
Wissahickon river valley with the rugged Cornish coast—as a comparative study of Morning
Tide—Coast of Cornwall with a masterpiece like The Rapids in Winter (c. 1919, 40” x 48,”
exhibited). The river pounds the rocks of the rapids just as the sea crashes into the massive
stone cliffs of the coast in a tectonic struggle as the artist that is nature creates powerful
beauty reflecting endless process. Skeleton-like gladed trees border the river just as black-
green lichen grows out of barren rock while ice cracks and ocean foam spumes. Nature
endures its process, and clearly Schofield, seeing the advent of WWII, hoped for human
The Rapids in Winter
The Coast of Cornwall
The author is Director of Dryads Green Gallery, which specializes in American masterpiece landscapes
from 1840-1940 and has consulted with James D. W. Church on the retrospective exhibition.
1. Revolutionaries of Realism: The Letters of John Sloan and Robert Henri, ed. by Bennard B.
Perlman, Princeton Univ. Press, 1997, p. 14.
2. Sept. 22, 1904, ibid, p. 97.
3. Schofield: International Impressionist, Philadelphia, Woodmere Art Museum, 2014, p. 54. The
exhibition catalogue is the most comprehensive work on the artist in print, correcting many errors,
including Schofield’s birth date.
4. Cited in: Valerie Livingston, W. Elmer Schofield: Proud Painter of Modest Lands, Moravian
College, 1988, p. 49.
5. A Legacy of Art, NAC, 2007, p. 172-3.
6. Schofield: International Impressionist, p. 143.