Edward Willis Redfield, considered a leading Pennsylvania Impressionist, was one of the most popular American landscapists of his time. Among the first artists to settle in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Redfield is often considered a member of the New Hope School, despite the fact that he markedly separated himself from the group. Primarily trained at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and in France, at the Académie Julian and École des Beaux-Arts, Redfield was enormously successful. Admired by contemporary collectors and critics alike, he contributed to many exhibitions and juries, winning virtually innumerable prizes. Best known for his large scale, snow swept landscapes, Redfield’s paintings often picture the area surrounding his farm in Center Bridge, Pennsylvania, but he also painted during his European travels and summers in Maine. A plein-air practitioner with a rugged persona, Redfield merged the French impressionist aesthetic with the American mythos of the “strenuous life.” Today his work can be found in many prominent collections including the Smithsonian, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and Museum Luxembourg in Paris.
Redfield was born in Bridgeville, Delaware on December 18, 1869 and shortly thereafter his family moved to Camden, NJ. Foreshadowing his future career, he first exhibited a drawing with a group of local school children at the Centennial Exhibition of 1876. He received his earliest training at a German turnverein class in Camden, which included copying lithographs and engravings. By 1881 he was attending classes at the Spring Garden Institute and Franklin Institute in Philadelphia and later hired the commercial artist Henry Rolfe to help him prepare his application to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Scholars often credit Rolfe with teaching Redfield a cornerstone of his technique: capturing the essence of a scene in “one go”. At the Pennsylvania Academy from 1887-1889, Redfield studied under Thomas Anshutz, James Kelly and Thomas Hovendon. Following his graduation, Redfield traveled to England and France with Frank Hays, Alexander Stirling Calder and C.A. Houston. Another friend from the Pennsylvania Academy, Robert Henri, accompanied him to Paris. He initially intended to become a portraitist, studying at the Académie Julian under Adolphe William Bouguereau and Tony Robert-Fleury, but Redfield’s interests turned to landscape while in France. During the summer of 1890 he and Henri traveled to Saint-Nazaire where he painted en plein-air. Furthermore, Redfield noted that his greatest European influences were Monet, Pissarro and Thaulow, a Norwegian Impressionist renowned for his snowy landscapes. By 1891 Redfield was staying at the Hotel Deligant in Brolles, near Fontainbleau with a group of Americans. It was there that he painted Road-Forest of Fontainebleau, which was accepted by the Paris Salon. This was a turning point in Redfield’s career, Road-Forest of Fontainebleau was sold at the Pennsylvania Academy and its new owner helped him get his first solo exhibition at the Doll and Richards Gallery in Boston. Moreover, in Brolles, he met Elise Deligant, the innkeeper’s daughter, who he married in 1893.
The couple arrived in the United States soon after their London wedding and lived with the artist’s family for a time in Glenside, PA. At this moment Redfield was active in the Philadelphia art scene, attending weekly discussions at Henri’s studio with other leading painters of his day. In 1898, Redfield bought his farm in Center Bridge, Pennsylvania. The Redfield farm was anything but hospitable in its early days, their home was run down, scantly furnished and flooded in accordance with the cycles of the Delaware River. Redfield was an artistic pioneer of Bucks County and his rugged life there intimately connected him to the land that fueled his artistic production. The artist notoriously painted outdoors even during the harshest Pennsylvania winters. Not long after settling at Center Field the Redfield’s first child died in an accident on the property and, in 1899, they went back to France so that Elise could grieve with her family. In 1899 the Pennsylvania Academy mounted a one-man show of Redfield’s work. He continued to work while in France and submitted two paintings to the Paris Universal Exposition of 1900, where he won a bronze medal. Between 1900-1920 Redfield reached the apex of his career. During that time he received fifteen solo exhibitions, which constitute a mere handful of his total exhibition record. Moreover, he received around twenty-seven prizes and was on the jury of thirteen exhibitions. These activities took place at the most prestigious institutions in the United States and abroad, including the Pennsylvania Academy, Corcoran Gallery, National Academy of Design, Art Institute of Chicago and Paris Salon. Aside from the sheer volume of his activity these years witnessed some of Redfield’s greatest triumphs: in 1909 the French government bought February for Luxembourg Museum and in 1915 he received his own gallery and a commemorative medal at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. Moreover, Redfield experimented with urban subject matter while staying in Manhattan in 1909 and in Pittsburgh in 1919. Although he continued to paint and exhibit steadily Redfield’s public participation decreased after the early 1920’s. Elise died in 1947 and soon thereafter Redfield burned a number of his paintings, preserving only those that he thought worthwhile. He painted into the early 1950s but increasingly turned to making crafts, largely furniture in the Early American style. He died at Center Bridge on October 19, 1965.