HARTWELL LEON WOODCOCK (1852-1929) was a prominent late nineteenth and early twentieth century American painter whose landscapes and seascapes of the Bahamas and coastal New England remain enduringly popular.
Woodcock was born on Nov. 20, 1852, in the town of Searsmont, Maine, the son of Marlboro Packard Woodcock (1823-1911) and Mary A. (Howard) Woodcock (1828-1907). At an early age he moved with his parents to Belfast, Maine, a historic seaport and shipbuilding center that would become his primary lifelong residence. His father — who served as the mayor of Belfast in 1881 — was a successful shipbuilder and local merchant, and Hartwell began his artistic career while working as a clerk at the family’s stationary and book store on Belfast’s Main Street, where he displayed his paintings in the windows and held his first public exhibition. Reflecting on when he first began to paint, Woodcock said: “I could always explain a thing with my pencil better than I could any other way, but the first thing that I ever painted, to really paint, I had fooled around a little before that, was a little landscape on a bedstead. Percy Sanborn (1849-1929; a Belfast artist known for his nautical scenes) asked me to help him one day on some of his orders, and I hunted up some chromos and went down there and copied one on the headboard. He was pleased with it and told me to keep on. I said, ‘Are you really going to leave it?’ And when he assured me that he was, I was delighted. I don’t think anything that I did ever pleased me any more than to know that what I had painted was going to be left to be sold.” Woodcock received his first professional instruction in art from noted Boston portrait painter Frederick E. Wright (1849-1891), who attended the Academie Julian in Paris and studied under Prix de Rome awardee Jules Joseph Lefebvre (1836-1911). In 1896-97 Woodcock studied in Paris at the Academie Colarossi, a progressive art institute whose students included Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), Amedio Modigliani (1884-1920), and Charles Demuth (1883-1935).
Maintaining studios both in Belfast and at his summer home “Woodbine” at Lake Quantabacook in his native Searsmont, Woodcock established dexterity in a variety of artistic genres, including landscapes, seascapes, still-lifes, and portraiture, while working across several different mediums, encompassing oil, watercolor, crayon, murals, and mosaics. According to the July-October 1927 issue of the Maine Library Bulletin, some of his earliest work was done in oil, paricularly surf scenes along the Maine coast, especially at Criehaven, as well as Matinicus Isle and Monhegan Island (the latter a historic art colony), earning Woodcock a growing reputation for seascapes, and later for nature scenes that faithfully rendered the woods, meadows, and bays of the northern New England countryside. (Woodcock was also an avid sportsman, penning articles on fishing for the popular magazine, Field and Stream.) Of Woodcock’s evolving artistry, The Republican Journal (Belfast, Maine) commented in 1881 that “He has been so successful with marines that that seemed to be the natural bent of his genius; but he bids fair to be equally successful in landscapes.” In 1885, Woodcock received a silver medal for five paintings he displayed at the annual exhibition of the Portland Society of Art (now the Portland Museum of Art), whose permanent collection represents the largest and oldest public repository of art in the state of Maine. Woodcock’s work was also featured in exhibitions at Boston’s St. Botolph Club, and for a period of ten years (1898-1908) he was a regular exhibitor at the Boston Art Club; at one point, Woodcock had sold more paintings from Boston Art Club exhibitions than any other contributor.
Apart from the body of work produced in his native state of Maine, Woodcock’s artistic legacy is most closely associated with the assemblage of watercolors he executed across nearly 30 annual winter pilgrimages to Nassau, Bahamas. Headquartered at Nassau’s historic Colonial Hotel (often holding weekly exhibitions at his studio there),Woodcock produced a Caribbean oeuvre that — in addition to his maritime views — signalled his maturation as a composer of landscapes and townscapes, with his colorfully authentic renditions of island settings earning him a longstanding international clientele. As the Republican Journal noted in their obituary of the artist on Dec. 19, 1929: “He became famous with travelers from all over the world, who cared for his paintings, reflecting as they always did the wonderful coloring of water, sky, and flowers.” More recent testimony to the significance of Woodcock’s Bahamian work is manifested by its inclusion in two major exhibitions mounted by the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas: “Revisiting an Eye for the Tropics,” which was held in 2017, and the 2018 exhibition, “Traversing the Picturesque: For Sentimental Value.” Additionally, the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas selected Woodcock’s 1915 watercolor, Native Hut, for representation in its permanent collection. Though the focal point of Woodcock’s career was and still remains his landscapes and seascapes, his still-lifes — featuring fruit, vases, and flowers — drew considerable interest and were displayed at shows such as the Jordan Art Exhibitions in Boston. His portraits — reflecting techniques gleaned through his studies with Frederick Wright — were also highly regarded, and late in his life became an important source of commissions. Perhaps his best-known example in this genre is his portrait of Daniel Franklin Davis (1843-1897), the 37th governor of the state of Maine, who served from 1880-1881. The portrait is on permanent display in the Maine statehouse in the capital city of Augusta.
Hartwell Woodcock died on Dec. 14, 1929, following a year-long battle with a neurological illness. He was predeceased by his first wife, Alice White Faunce (1853-1921) and his son Daniel Faunce Woodcock (1885-1916), and was survived by his second wife, Della Byers Woodcock (b.1871) and his brother Frank Ross Woodcock (1860-1932). Today, his work remains relevant not only for its accurate rendering of the artist’s chosen turn of the century settings, but for the breadth of its subject matter: From waves crashing against rocky promontories to quiescent beach scenes; from rugged, autumnal vistas to serene harbors with sailboats docked in placid water; from colorful Bahama flower gardens and luminous Caribbean streets to candlelit tables set with wine and fruit, Woodcock’s diverse array of richly atmospheric images bears evidence of his uncommon virtuosity, serving to confirm his work’s stature as a historically consequential component of New England’s deep artistic lineage.
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