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William Lester Stevens


Gallery Database:

William Lester Stevens (1888-1969). "Winter Stream by Moonlight," oil on canvas, 32 x 36, signed. Rich gilt reproduction frame.


Curator's Comments: 

We have waited a long time to find a William Lester Stevens (1888-1969) piece with the qualities that make him truly outstanding, and at last we've got a 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 we believe is 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  made his last home in the Pioneer Valley, 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 and powerful  force concerned with its own survival. That survival is not without sometime grotesque images and scars, something almost beyond mankind, and linked to a force that is even stronger than we can know--as in the bare branch clawing at our painting's snow-piled river bank. 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. 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." You must experience this painting to know its power and beauty!


In Stevens best works, the rugged, grotesque power of nature overshadows human dwellings.

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 there 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. He painted murals in the Dedham and Rockport post offices, the Boston City Hall, and several schools in Boston.  
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 first exhibited at the NAD in 1906 (at age 18); and among many other venues, at PAFA annually, 1912-37 and at the  Corcoran  biennials, 1914-28 (5 times, with prizes). By 1964, Stevens had won more awards than any other living artist. Our painting shows why--with the power of a genuine masterpiece. This work is one of our treasures!

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