New England Drama
An oil painting of the Goddard Farm on Hog Hollow Road in Buckland in 1930
Buckland artist Robert Strong Woodward
Winner of the 1930 Boston Tercentenary Exhibition
for best oil painting
About the Painting:
New England Drama by Buckland
artist Robert Strong Woodward, depicts a local landscape in winter. In his
own words from his painting diary, it looks from the mowing edge above the
house of Goddards farm looking toward Buckland village and the mountains of
Town Farm Hill. The Goddard farm on Hog Hollow Road is now the Toy place,
and Town Farm Hill is better known as Charlemont Road; the long-vanished
town farm was located at the top of the hill across from Avery Road.
The painting was aptly named:
Woodwards perspective permitted him a dramatic sweep of hills and valley,
with color limited to whites and grays and violets. A string of barns and
outbuildings leads the eye down to the pictures visual center, the
farmhouse itself. Closer inspection reveals intriguing details: a man
driving a horse up the driveway, a small dog straggling behind.
New England Drama has all the
hallmarks of Woodwards finest work: strong composition, assured
draftsmanship, and an elusive poetic quality often admired by his reviewers.
Harry Elmore Hurd, in his article in the Boston Breeze of June 5,
1931, called it a Snow-Bound in oil: it is as characteristically New
England as [John Greenleaf] Whittier's classic poem.
Woodward sent New England Drama
to the Boston Tercentenary Exhibition, held at the Horticultural Hall, in
1930, where it received the Gold Medal of Honor as the best oil painting in
the exhibition. He kept the medal among his effects at his desk in the
Southwick studio on Upper Street.
After the exhibition, Woodward loaned
the painting to the Myles Standish Hotel on Beacon Street in Boston, in its
day one of the finest hotels in the city. The building was famous for its
flat-iron shape. Woodward often lunched at the Myles Standish when he went
to Boston to visit his dealers at the Vose gallery. Hung high on the wall of
the dining room and specially lighted from the ceiling, New England Drama
was an impressive sight.
Myles Standish Hotel, Boston
Woodward wrote in his painting diary
in 1941, they think so much of it they have kept it for a number of years.
Though they begged to let it remain, he assured potential buyers that he
could obtain it anytime he wished. The hotel eventually closed in 1949 and
the building was sold to Boston University and converted into a dormitory.
New England Drama returned to the Southwick place. Badly
deteriorated, it underwent complete restoration in 2004 at the Williamstown
Regional Art Conservation Laboratory, Inc. in Williamstown, Massachusetts.
Through the generosity of Dr. Mark and
Barbara Purinton, New England Drama has found a fitting home in the
Buckland Town Office. Now its admirers have the rare privilege of seeing a
masterpiece of Robert Strong Woodward, who lived and worked in Buckland, but
whose genius extends far beyond its hills.
Art criticism of New
Most art critics had high praise for New
The Springfield Republican, reviewing the
Art Leagues 14th Annual Show at City Library, on March 12, 1933,
considered Woodwards New England Drama
one of the outstanding landscapes
a snow scene with farm buildings, rather in the grand manner.
And on May 19, 1933, the Northampton
Hampshire Gazettes article on an art exhibit at Williston Academy lauded
the remarkable winter panorama of snow covered hills, Gold Medal winner at
the 1930 tercentenary exhibitions.
Edward Alden Jewell, the New York Times
critic, reviewed Woodwards exhibition at the Macbeth Gallery in New York
City on December 18, 1932:
"Robert Strong Woodward, whose oils are on
view here, is not interested in psychological problems and imaginative
subjects, but in reproducing realistically such colorful manifestations of
nature as Autumn foliage or a bed of geraniums growing under a New England
window. It is entirely objective and conservative painting, colorful and
straightforward. Mr. Woodwards most striking painting is a New England
panoramic snowscape. For the most part the pictures portray New England
scenes. Opened December 13; continues through this month".
The New York American in an article titled
Fine Exhibitions Now to be Seen in N.Y. Galleries on December 31, 1932
"From the viewpoint of color alone this group
of pictures is a complete lesson of the variety and richness of our native
landscape, just as they are a whole summary of what is truly American art.
Mr. Woodward lets us see in his vast expanse
of low country and hills the true sense, the grave feeling, of what he calls
New England Drama in its snowbound bitterness."
Reviewing the exhibition at the Macbeth
Galleries in New York City, Margaret Breuning wrote in her NY Post column of
December 22, 1932:
"Paintings of New England, by Robert Strong
Woodward, reveal an intimacy with the country which these landscapes portray
that draws the visitor who knows and loves New England irresistibly to
here is an equally real America, untouched and unspoiled, still the
unravished bride of loveliness, the rugged yet beautiful world of these
New England hills and deep valleys...Mr. Woodward has seized the mood of
this austere yet enchanting country and has rendered its native character
without idealization in sympathetic and understanding terms
statements of the real quality of New England countryside and living. The
artist, however, places esthetic reliance qualities on solid qualities of
design which carry his conceptions convincingly. His structure and
composition have no formula, but serve him in good stead in each
[showing] the power and beauty of these landscape canvases."
Another reviewer was the influential critic Royal Cortissoz in the NY Herald
Tribune on December 18, 1932:
"The best thing about the work that Robert
Strong Woodward is showing at the Macbeth gallery is the fresh point of view
that it reveals...The composition is as sound as it is personal, unforced
and all through the picture I rest contentedly on the artists
draftsmanship, one of his leading resources
There is enough solidly
constructed work in this exhibition to carry Mr. Woodward far. He has the
root of the matter in him."
But these latter two critics found
Woodwards surfaces too painty" whatever that means.
Margaret Breuning in the NY Post qualified
her approval with this observation:
"Color is not so happy, except in a few
instances, while a certain paintiness of surfaces is also to be regretted."
Cortissoz in the NY Herald Tribune voiced
the same objection:
"Mr. Woodward leaves much of his work in one
respect needful of further development. His color, though sometimes
powerful,..has not quality enough, and his surfaces are often too painty.
The latter difficulty is encountered particularly in the big New England
Drama, in which the white clad mountains cry aloud to be tempered in tone,
made richer and mellower."
A Woodward supporter, J.F. from Deerfield
sent in this rebuttal in a December 30, 1932, letter to the editor of the NY
Herald Tribune (unprompted by Mr. Woodward):
"To the New York Herald Tribune:
My attention was called this morning to the
issue of your paper containing Mr. Cortissozs appreciation of Robert Strong
Woodwards work now on exhibition at the Macbeth Galleries. The appraisal of
values was noteworthy and for the most part valid. But the comments on that
remarkable canvas New England Drama were astonishingly irrelevant. To
suggest mellowing and softening the high points of stark tragedy is
virtually to propose leaving Hamlet out of the play.
The strength of Woodwards work lies in its
rhythmic vitality, a quality he has obviously secured by the effective use
of his medium paint. If the current slang for that most desirable
achievement is painty, then by all means let us beg the gods to send us
more artists of the painty pattern."
Woodward expressed his dismay to Mr. Macbeth of the Macbeth Galleries in a
letter dated December 20, 1932:
I was bitterly surprised and depressed over
Cortissozs review in the Times [he meant the Herald Tribune]. He had taken
the initiative himself of asking if I wouldnt have a New York show this
winter stating it would leave a deep impression. He spoke of the work as
having personal force and fine vitality says it is work that will
last. All this I know myself and all the world will know it in time, if I
can in some miraculous way keep body and soul together to keep painting
but why the devil did he have to give the negative impression as he did in
Sundays reviews? Why state that surfaces are too painty? Mine are in
conservative control beside of those of Jonas Lie, or John Folinsbee or
Robert Henri, or Redfield himself all acclaimed as arrived masters? In
speaking of Autumn Blaze, in one sentence he calls it an uncommonly fine
burst of color and the very next says its color
has not quality enough!
How do you solve that? And as to the large New England Drama it is the
one 40 x 50 among the several I wanted to show which I included, because I
was sure it would especially appeal to Cortissoz!
So for him to say that the mountains
cry aloud to be tempered in tone made richer and mellower I am
utterly amazed for there is no point of truth to the negative statement.
Winter mountains are cold, hard metallic things when as close to the
foreground as in New England Drama and mine in that picture were
controlled and mellowed almost to a weakness for the point of the design.
They represent one of my most subtle attempts in varying whites! How
strange! Cortissoz must have had bad indigestion the day he reviewed the
shows! And Jewell in claiming that it was all objective painting and not
subjective also fell far from the mark. My landscapes are not fogged, and
atmosphered and given a personal twist of tone not because I couldnt do
it but because I consider the greatest art does not admit of such personal
twists and biases; but they are so exactly true in impression and
color relation and subjective expression, that they fool even the
experienced critics, who consider them, superficially, as merely exact
copies of nature and so, entirely objective. Ill show them all yet if I
can but live long enough to do so!"
Finally, the painty critic himself, Royal
Cortissoz, wrote in a personal letter to Woodward on January 2, 1933, a
further clarification and an assurance that he did not believe Woodward
had put JF up to his letter:
A happy new year to you! I begin the new
year with a letter to you which I am very glad to write. I cannot too soon
disabuse your mind of any idea that a thousand counter criticisms, from
any source, could consciously or unconsciously affect my attitude toward
your work. That is determined solely by the work itself. I was merely amused
by the letter to which Mr. Macbeth referred in his letter to you. Obviously
it came from some admirer of yours but whoever it was was very foolish. I
had been talking about quality in paint, a term which you and I perfectly
well understand. The letter writer retorted by dragging in rhythm, a totally
different thing. Naturally I smiled but I was glad to have the item printed,
if only to show that you have your staunch partisans.
I, as you know, am also one of them. I have
a well founded belief in your work. Since you know this and since you write
so frankly I will tell you in my turn a little more of what I was driving
at. There is a delicate moment in which the insensate paint, under the
artists hands, takes on a patina that makes it a little more than paint,
makes it a sensuously beautiful surface. Time, as you know, often
accomplishes this subtle mutation but it is within the artists power to
achieve it. I believe it is within your power and I urge you to meditate
upon it. As a matter of fact I greatly admired the construction of the big
mountain picture. Just because of its importance I paused there upon the
qualities I had raised. I was sorry to find the mountain there painty, as
I said, when I felt that by longer manipulation of your tones you might have
got the quality of which I venture to speak so much. It is a terribly
important element, this of giving a richer density, a more personal accent,
to mere painted surface. But enough of my moralizing. I only indulge in it
because I feel that we are friends and that you will take in good part my
endeavor to suggest what I think would heighten the value of your already
And grasp, too, really grasp, the fact that
I had not thought of you as inspiring the letter in question and couldnt
possibly be influenced by it in any way.
I do hope the new year mends for you and
brings more of brightness into your life. Meanwhile you have your beautiful
work. May you wax stronger and stronger in that, going on from one success
to another. Be sure that I shall watch out for what you do."
In 1935 Howard Devree of the New York Times, reviewing another Woodward show
at the Macbeth Galleries, neatly summarized the essence of his painting:
"Woodward has a feeling for the panoramic values in landscape. He has, too,
succeeded in imbuing his material with a sense of familiarity leaving the
beholder with the feeling that this is country one has visited but failed to
appreciate. Here are the weather-beaten dwellings epitomizing a passing New