Quick Reference

Time Period:
Very early, possibly childhood


Oil on Canvas


Roads & Streets, Woods

15 x 17, upright





This signed painting by RSW came up for auction online January 28, 2019. It is possibly the earliest example of him signing his full name.

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Diary Comments

Additional Notes

RSW's signature found in the lower right
RSW's signature found in the lower right

This signed painting by RSW came up for auction online January 28, 2019 and sold for $600. Though it does not appear to be painted in Woodward's familiar style, it contains a number of "Woodward" elements: (1) snow, (2) woods (3) a dramatic sky and clouds, (4) a foreground with a young tree next to what may be a spring and (5) a path of sorts or an opening somewhat off-center often depicted in his work. In fact, the opening is placed in nearly the same spot he favored in other paintings- on the left and slightly above the intended eye line.

Though it is not a size, he ever used professionally, there are a number of examples of his using similar sizes to give as gifts to family and friends. It is nicely double-framed suggesting that it was a valued piece of art.As with most previously unknown works, this piece piques our interest in a number of ways...

The double frame and stretcher from the back
The double frame and stretcher from the back
The painting in its double frame
The painting in its double frame

... First and foremost, we do not question the authenticity of his signature. Traditionally, he typically placed a greater gap between Robert and Strong. The "S" in Strong is spot on, and he often signed Strong and Woodward closer together. However, the signature is crooked and the spacing more exaggerated than usual. He almost always signed his name horizontally straight across. It appears that he didn't leave enough room for his signature and had to draw the word "Woodward" smaller and angled to make it fit. Secondly, the stretcher frame is crude. It doesn't appear to be square or well-made. He

Westlake Park
The 1908 painting Westlake Park.
Another example, we believe, of Woodward projecting
his internal conflict while also forecasting his future
through art... READ OUR THEORY BELOW

was a meticulous sort of guy, and this does not fit his attention to quality. Furthermore, the dark wood is not common for use as stretcher framing. It is too wide and thick for a painting this small. It feels makeshift. Finally, the trees in the painting, particularly the ones to the left, do not have the "feel" of Woodward. They appear to be different and inconsistent with the ones on the right. In fact, the whole left side of the painting looks distinctively different to the right side.

It is for these reasons; we wonder if Woodward painted this piece in his youth. If that is true, it is, then all the former items could be reasoned out. Kids sign their names crookedly, and they like to make their own artistic projects and use home-made materials instead of professionally purchased things such as the canvas stretcher. The inconsistency could be attributed to immaturity.

If this painting is, in fact, a childhood painting, it is a remarkable discovery. For one thing, it would be the only example we have of RSW using oil prior to launching his professional career. For another thing, it would be the earliest example of RSW signing his FULL name on a work of art prior to 1922! He toyed with numerous variations of "R.S." and "Robert S." before settling on Robert Strong Woodward.

A Theory

Orion Jr.
RSW's older brother Orion Jr. died of
a burst appendix Feb. 13, 1896 in Ohio. The
family brought him to Shelburne Falls to be
buried in the family plot. Three months later,
RSW won the Charlemont Fair's first prize
in painting, competing against adults.

In June 1896, Woodward won his first known art contest at the age of 11. He won competing against adults at the Charlemont (MA) Fair. We know nothing of the painting or the medium used. There are no photographs or written descriptions of it, and it did not remain in RSW's personal items after his death. The only thing that remains is the newspaper clipping announcing the win. We cannot say with any certainty that this is that painting. However, there is circumstantial evidence to make a compelling argument. The primary thing leading us in this direction is the spring coming out of the ground coupled with the young tree. The spring looks like an ill-defined stain or tear and the bulge in the ground looks as if the earth broke open or split. This is important because just three months prior to the fair, on February 13, RSW, lost his older brother Orion Jr. (Lil' Ory) to a burst appendix. Woodward and his family brought Ory back to Shelburne Falls from Ohio where they were living to be buried. Though the painting could have been painted in anywhere U.S.A. Woodward would have been in Shelburne Falls in February, a winter month. It is also very likely there was snow on the ground. (This could also explain the make-shift stretcher - made to give the young boy something to do.)

A photograph of RSW in 1894
A photograph of RSW in 1894
(age 9) taken by his brother Ory.

This is obviously pure speculation using quasi-psychological analysis. We understand that. Still, the imagery is just too compelling to ignore. There is plenty of evidence that suggest children using art to manage difficult emotions are often more susceptable to the subconscious permeating in literal ways in the work itself. Is the spring a literal symbolism of Ory's tragic death or is it a reflection of RSW's own emotional state? Is the small tree Woodward? Is it Ory or both boys? Does the right side of the painting reflect RSW natural skill and talent and the left his confusion and inability to process his emotions? What is even more remarkable is that we have other examples of Woodward using art to process difficult emotions and uncertainty. Take his early, Quintessential Redgate paintings, which hold a number of similar qualities to this painting - (1)snow on the ground, (2) water in the foreground, (3) a tunnel-like opening leading to a distant future, (4) they were painted during a period of uncertainty and if this is the prize winner (5) brought him success. His first significant professional prize was a Quintessential Redgate painting, Between Setting Sun and Rising Moon. The first example of him using "Strong" in his signature was a Quintessential Redgate painting. It is amazing to us that this painting may just be a foretelling of RSW's future... the importance of Strong in his name as it represents his perseverance in the face of difficulty... something close friend Helen Patch astutely points out in her recollections.

1890 Family photo
A Woodward family photo, taken in 1890 just
before RSW, his brother and parents were to leave for
Knoxville, TN. From left to right, RSW's Aunt Atella
& Uncle Bert, his mother, Mary and father, Orion Sr.
and his grandparents Julie Ware & Spencer Woodward.
Before them is Orion Jr. and little "Rob"

In a court of law, there are two "burdens of proof." In a criminal court, the burden of proof is, "beyond a reasonable doubt," often made with hard, tangible facts or evidence and supported by the less tangible circumstantial evidence. The other, a civil proceeding, is by, "a preponderance of the evidence," and is often mostly circumstantial. While the circumstantial evidence here is compelling, we still wonder if it is enough. While it is hard to deny this is Woodward's work (the tangible signature). We are totally convinced that this painting was created early in Woodward's life. While it is possible the painting was done during his Redgate years, we believe it was more likely prior to that. An argument can be made that this was probably a painting made from childhood, but it is impossible to say with any kind of certainty that it is the Charlemont Fair award winning painting. We need some sort of tangible proof linking this painting to that time period and until this can be done, many question will remain.