The plein air impasto style of Edward Redfield's painting has its roots in the tradition of French Impressionist master Claude Monet, whose style and approach to painting Redfield emulated during his years in the late 1880s and early 1890s in France. Indeed, even Redfield's largest canvases were generally painted in a single session, outdoors, in order to capture the fleeting effects of sunlight, shadow, and their interplay among the trees, streams and hills. It is this immediacy of feeling that is Redfield's legacy. Remarks one author, "His paintings were done in the field and straight onto the canvas, and with great rapidity and force." (J.M.W. Fletcher, Edward Willis Redfield 1869-1965: An American Impressionist, His Paintings and the Man Behind the Palette, Lahaska, Pennsylvania, 1996, p. 1)
He employed this bold technique in all seasons, painting spring scenes blossoming with color, summer scenes bathed in warm sunlight and scenes of autumn rich with earth tones. In particular, however, Redfield received acclaim for his ability to paint with vigor the narrow tonal ranges and subtle light of winter woodland snow scenes, exhibiting a remarkable capacity to bring color and life to a cold winter's day. He revisited the subject often throughout his career and snow scenes make up a great proportion of his work. As early as 1891, when Redfield was just 22 years old, a winter landscape by the artist was accepted at the Paris Salon, the representative body of nineteenth century French taste, an unquestionable boost to Redfield's then young career.
The present work, Snow Storm, Lambertville, is of a familiar compositional style for Redfield, that of a road winding into the picture's middle ground, often occupied by a horse-drawn sleigh or carriage, or strolling villagers. In the present work, two figures trek through the snow towards town as a sleigh glides by, its tracks leading us in. Their path is echoed by the picket fence in the center of the picture, and the sweep of the painting backwards is accentuated by the methodical diagonals throughout. The confluence of these technical devices gives the painting a strong sense of depth.
A blanket of fallen snow muffles the town of Lambertville, nestled among the landscape's hills and lends the painting a hushed serenity. The distant rises are a hazy purple, and the trees at the back of the picture have lost their detail, underlining Redfield's keen understanding of the effects of the falling snow on the scene's atmosphere. Snow hangs delicately on the pine boughs in the foreground and collects on the houses' gently sloping roofs, acting as a further visual signal of the snow's muting tendency.
Fellow American artist and Redfield's contemporary Guy Pene du Bois clearly spelled out Redfield's importance to American Art when he wrote, in the July 1915 issue of Arts and Decoration: "The Pennsylvania School of landscape painters, whose leader is Edward W. Redfield, is our first truly national expression...It began under the influence of the technique of the French Impressionists. It has restricted itself patriotically to the painting of the typical American landscape." (in T. Folk, Edward Redfield, Allentown, Pennsylvania, 1987, p.36)
Lambertville, a small New Jersey mill town which was flourishing around the turn of the twentieth century, home at that time to several factories as well as the maintenance yard for the Pennsylvania Railroad, typifies the kind of American landscape to which Pene du Bois refers. The town lies on the east bank of the Delaware River at New Jersey's western edge, just across from New Hope, Pennsylvania, the Bucks County artist's colony where the Pennsylvania Impressionists had their cultural center. Redfield painted the New Hope environs for the great majority of his long career, on both banks of the Delaware.
Like much of Redfield's art, Snow Storm, Lambertville embodies, through his use of forceful, staccato brushstroke, the artist's interpretation of the energy and the beauty of early twentieth century America. At the same time, the work stands as an enthusiastic example of Redfield's fascination with painting the complex tones and subtleties of color in a snowy landscape.
This painting will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of Edward Redfield's work being compiled by Dr. Thomas Folk.