Charles Herbert Woodbury (1864–1940)

American marine painter and founder of a preeminent Ogunquit art colony school.

By Anna J. Murphy

Beyond the hundreds of paintings and etchings he produced, Woodbury’s influence was passed on through more than fifty years as an educator.

I. Biography
II. Chronology
III. Collections
IV. Exhibitions
V. Memberships
VI. Suggested Resources

I. Biography

Known for his expressive paintings of New England seascapes, Charles Herbert Woodbury also produced an extensive body of etchings and several widely-read books used in art education. Creating art was a lifelong career for Woodbury, who sold his first painting at the age of 15 and became the youngest member of the Boston Art Club at 17. It was at this time that he also began teaching art, another important vocation for Woodbury that would continue to occupy him until his death. As a teacher, Woodbury passed on his expertise to thousands of aspiring artists through his summer school of drawing and painting that he established in Ogunquit, Maine.

Woodbury was born on July 14, 1864 in Lynn, Massachusetts. His artistic inclination revealed itself early on, evidenced in childhood sketches and oil paintings completed in his adolescence that received acclaim from serious art groups in nearby Boston. In 1882, Woodbury began his studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Although it was clear that he had exceptional ability in the visual arts, he earned a degree in mechanical engineering. His years at MIT were not spent exclusively on scientific pursuits, as Woodbury later claimed to have been greatly influenced by the instruction in drawing that he received from Ross Sterling Turner.

Woodbury graduated in 1886 and set up a studio in Boston, out of which he also gave classes. One of the students he taught in this period was Marcia Oakes, and four years later, in 1890, they were married. It was Oakes, whose family home was in Maine, who brought Woodbury to the state where he would eventually establish his school. While the Massachusetts coast offered picturesque views of the sea, the shores of Maine attracted many artists like Woodbury who sought more remote, natural locations to draw their inspiration from. The Woodburys moved to a home in Ogunquit after the birth of their son, David, in 1896.

While Woodbury took up art education as an occupation at an early age, his own formal training was relatively limited. He took instruction at the Lynn Evening Drawing School and through the Boston Art Club around the time he was studying mechanical engineering at MIT. Later, in 1890, he took lessons at the Académie Julian in Paris during a European honeymoon with his new wife. At the Académie Julian, Woodbury studied under Gustave Boulanger and Jules Joseph Lefebvre.

In 1898, Woodbury held his first summer classes in Ogunquit, Maine. As Woodbury was already well-known in the Boston art scene for his own work, the classes were well-attended and would continue to be held almost every summer until 1940, the year of his death. Woodbury’s school was among several native to the coast of Maine that offered picturesque views of the ocean, but his classes attracted those aspiring artists that prescribed to a similar style of Impressionism. Hamilton Easter Field would follow Woodbury’s model in establishing a school in Ogunquit in 1911, Field’s school attracting artists with more avant-garde sensibilities.

As a teacher in his own school of art, Woodbury formed his own philosophies on painting that he passed on to his students, undoubtedly exerting significant influence on the generations of painters to follow. Aside from the students he mentored as an instructor at Wellesley, Dartmouth, the Art Institute of Chicago, and his Ogunquit school, Woodbury shared his artistic philosophy in three books: Painting and the Personal Equation (1919), Observation: Visual Training Through Drawing (1922), and The Art of Seeing (1925). With the constantly shifting sea as a frequent subject, Woodbury placed emphasis on capturing the effect of motion, in both his painting and his teaching. He was known to instruct his students to “paint in verbs, not in nouns,” a pithy piece of advice observable in Woodbury’s own, expressive sea paintings.

II. Chronology

1864 Born in Lynn, MA on July 14.
1881 At 17, becomes the youngest honoree of the Boston Art Club.
1882 Begins studies at MIT.
1886 Graduates from MIT with a degree in mechanical engineering.
1887 Takes a studio in Boston and teaches drawing.
1888 First recorded visit to Ogunquit, ME.
1890 Marries former student, Marcia Oakes. They travel together to Europe.
1891 Studies at the Académie Julian under Boulanger and Lefebvre.
1896 Moves to Ogunquit with Marcia after the birth of their son, David.
1898 Founds his Ogunquit School.
1906 Elected an associate of the National Academy of Design.
1907 Elected full member of the National Academy of Design.
1913 Death of wife, Marcia Oakes.
1940 Dies in Jamaica Plain, MA on January 21.

III. Collections

Addison Gallery of American Art, MA
Art Institute of Chicago, IL
Bowdoin College Museum of Art, ME
Chrysler Museum of Art, VA
Cleveland Museum of Art, OH
Currier Gallery of Art, NH
El Paso Museum of Art, TX
Farnsworth Art Museum, ME
Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, CA
Harvard University Art Museums, MA
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, MA
Maier Museum of Art at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, VA
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA
Portland Museum of Art, ME
Rhode Island School of Design – Museum of Art, RI
San Diego Museum of Art, CA
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC

IV. Exhibitions

1887 J. Eastman Chase Gallery, MA
1902 Art Institute of Chicago, IL
1910 Cincinnati Art Museum, OH
1910 City Art Museum of St. Louis, MO
1912 Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, NY
1913 Detroit Museum of Art, MI
1925 Frederick Keppel & Co., NY
1939 Winchester Public Library, MA
1940 Cleveland Museum of Art, OH
1945 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA
1968 Adelson Galleries Inc., MA
1978 Vose Galleries of Boston, MA

V. Memberships

Boston Art Club
Guild of Boston Artists
National Academy of Design
Ogunquit Art Association
Salmagundi Club
Society of American Artists
Watercolor Club of Boston

VI. Suggested Resources

Gammell, R.H. Ives. The Boston Painters 1900-1930. Orleans, MA: Parnassus Press, 1986.
Howlett, D. Roger. The Lynn Beach Painters: Art Along the North Shore 1880-1920. Lynn, MA: The Lynn Museum & Historical Society, 1999.
Jarzombek, Nancy Allyn. Boston Art Club: 1855-1950. Boston, MA: Vose Galleries of Boston, 2000.
Loria, Joan and Warren A. Seamans. Earth, Sea and Sky – Charles H. Woodbury – Artist and Teacher, 1864-1940. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Museum, 1998.
Woodbury, Charles H. and Elizabeth W. Perkins. The Art of Seeing: Mental Training Through Drawing. New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1925.
Young, George M. and Charles H. Woodbury. Force through Delicacy: the Life and Art of Charles H. Woodbury. Portsmouth, NH: Peter E. Randall Publisher, 1998.

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