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My Winter Shelf

The Window: Still Life and a Winter Scene

Comments about researching these two similar paintings.

In April of 2006 a painting came up for sale on E-Bay. It was a very early painting by Robert Strong Woodward entitled My Winter Desk. It was easily recognized as a "Woodward" and the signature appeared to be perfectly authentic. The size was listed as 30 x 36 inches. There was no diary listing for a painting with that title.

Cross checking with the RSW diary, we found he had created an almost identical painting of the same subject which was named My Winter Shelf and was listed as being 30 x 36 inches in size. The following is quoted directly from his diary.

My Winter Shelf

Diary Comments:
30 x 36
"Painted about 1925. A painting made in my early career of the long west window shelf of my Old Studio (which was burnt). Bought by Mr. John T. Spaulding of 99 Beacon St., Boston, I think from the exhibition I had in the Ball Room of Mrs. Ronald T. Lyman's house on Beacon St., Boston, in 1926 altho (sic) I am not certain of this place of purchase."

(RSW included an additional comment along the side of the entry in the diary):
"Now owned by Boston Museum of Fine Arts in famous Spaulding Collection."

In the beginning of my research for publishing a listing of all of the RSW paintings, I came across 6 identical photographs of a window painting which had no identification on them. I learned later that there was a window painting in the famous Spaulding Collection owned by the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. On January 4, 2005, I requested a photograph from the Museum of the painting donated by John Spaulding. I hoped that I could identify the prints left in the RSW estate, and perhaps connect that painting to the above diary comments. The picture which they sent turned out to be identical to the six left in the estate collection. The Museum stated that the painting was named The Window: Still Life and a Winter Scene. Therefore, I concluded that this painting must be one of two nearly identical paintings. The 30 x 36 painting, My Winter Shelf, described in the diary must not be the one in the Spaulding Collection and must have been sold to a private collector. On the back of the photograph received from the Museum was a sticker that stated:
48.614            E6586            Americas/Paintings
Robert Strong Woodward, American, 1885-1957
The Window: Still Life and a Winter Scene, 1930s
Oil on canvas
63.5 x 76.52 cm (25 x 30 1/8 in)
The following Credit Line must appear with the image:
     Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
     Bequest of John T. Spaulding
     Photograph Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
The final piece of the puzzle was received in June 2006. A photograph of a painting was sent to us by a viewer of this website and included the following information:
Painting Name: My Winter Shelf
From studio window
Location: New York City
Acquired from private collector in 1976, 77.
Owned by the Giunta family for 30 years.
Private collection, NY.
Careful reading of the text boxes above will show a discrepancy. Woodward's diary shows that the painting, My Winter Shelf as being owned by the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Yet the Museum's own records indicate it owns the painting, The Window: Still Life and a Winter Scene. There are no diary listings for either The Window: Still Life and a Winter Scene or The Winter Desk (the one listed in E-bay).

My Winter Shelf
My Winter Shelf (30 x 36)
Found on E-Bay named My Winter Desk
The Window: Still Life And A Winter Scene
The Window: Still Life And A Winter Scene (25 x 30)
Owned by Boston Museum of Fine Arts

Now comes a nearly identical 30 x 36 painting for sale on E-Bay mislabeled My Winter Desk. Close comparisons of the two images reveal that the E-Bay painting has a man outside the window shoveling snow, has no glass medallion hanging over one of the window panes, has no candlestick, and the geranium plant on the right side of the shelf does not entirely obscure the barn. Otherwise, the paintings are essentially identical except for size.

Robert Strong Woodward seldom made two paintings of the same subject, but I have discovered he did do so on several occasions. Although rare, I can identify three times that this was done. This seemed to occur if he made a painting which sold in the far west of the country. He then immediately made another, with the intention of offering it for sale to a local patron.

It is therefore my opinion that there are two paintings of the window corner in the old Hiram Woodward studio (which was destroyed by fire in 1934.) The first being the 30 x 36 offered on E-Bay and titled My Winter Shelf (mistakenly labeled My Winter Desk). The second being a 25 x 30 entitled The Window: Still Life and a Winter Scene, and owned by the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

This I now conclude to be a mistake in the Woodward diary. The diary comments are even admitted by RSW as being uncertain. Robert Strong Woodward probably started writing the diary in about 1940. It is accurate about paintings made after that date. However, he attempted to document earlier paintings using his memory, perhaps supplemented by exhibition listings, receipts, and letters.