American Landscape Artist, Teacher and Prominent Member of the Woodstock Art Colony
By Margarita Karasoulas
Painting seasonal landscapes that celebrated Woodstock’s surroundings, Chichester became known as a leading figure of the art colony and is best remembered for the delicate charm and picturesque qualities of his works.
VII. Suggested Resources
Born in New York City in 1891, Cecil Chichester was a painter, teacher, and a successful advertising illustrator during his lifetime. Little is known about Chichester’s artistic training except that he studied under artists Hardesty Maratta and Birge Harrison in the early 1900s and spent a portion of his career in Europe. Chichester is best known for his involvement in the Woodstock art colony and the works he produced there are considered a hallmark of his career. He experimented with both impressionistic and realistic painting styles and employed rich color and elaborate paint textures in his art. His favorite subject was the landscape, with a particular emphasis on the changing patterns of the seasons. Chichester’s artistic precedents included the romantic naturalism of the Hudson River School, the realism of the Barbizon School, and the plein air tradition of the Impressionists. The influence of the Woodstock colonists also imbued in his art a “utopian structure and a cult of the picturesque.” 1
It is likely that Chichester first came to Woodstock around 1906 under the tutelage of Birge Harrison, who was one of the most important teachers in the colony at its inception. In 1902, Ralph Radcliffe Whitehead founded the Byrdcliffe Arts and Crafts colony in Woodstock.2 In 1906, the New York Art Students League established its summer school in Woodstock until 1922 and again from 1947 to 1970.3 In 1922, the Woodstock Artists Association was established for the purpose of organizing exhibitions during the summer when the New York City gallery scene was inactive.4 Chichester was considered a leading student of the Arts Students League and was believed to be both an instructor there and at the Woodstock School of Painting. 5
With its stunning location in the Catskill Mountains and proximity to New York City, Woodstock soon became a popular summer tourist attraction and a haven for artists such as George Bellows, Eugene Speicher, George Ault, Bradley Walker Tomlin, Doris Lee, Konrad Cramer and Milton Avery. The artists set up easels in the fields, woods, and roads and painted from direct observation of nature.6 Although the Woodstock artists practiced a wide and diverse variety of styles in the evolution of the colony, they shared an affinity for depicting the local sites and subjects in their surrounding environs. The colony reached prominence in the 1920s and 30s and gained an international reputation as a cultural, artistic, and intellectual center. In 1923, Richard Le Galienne remarked: “To the map where we find Sévres, Barbizonk, Basyreuth and Kelmscott [is] now to be added – Woodstock”. 7
In spite of few existing exhibition records, there is considerable suggestion that Chichester’s works were celebrated by critics during his lifetime. Chichester’s career, and the works of the Woodstock colonists, was handled primarily by important New York City galleries such as the MacBeth Gallery, the site of the first exhibit of the revolutionary Ashcan School.8 In a 1912 exhibit at New York’s Katz Galleries, a critic noted that Chichester’s “Winter Afternoon is satisfying because it is carried out in precisely the same mood in which it was begun. The reduction of blue in the shadows of trees falling in white snow is a bit of true seeing and fine interpretation; and there is nothing crude in the yellow patch of ground that lies under the strong network of tree branches. The reflections in the water of A Woodland Pool and the flat plane of the ground in Spring also claim praise.”9 In a group exhibit of Woodstock artists at the Belnord Modern Art Gallery one year later, a critic remarked that Chichester “is happy in his effects of sunlight. One delightful study shows sun patches on the wall of a house, further enlivened with green shutters and red flowers in the foreground.” 10
In Chichester’s December 1931 exhibit at the Macbeth Gallery, a New York Times critic acknowledged that “Chichester’s delicate, pastel-like studies of the changing seasons form a pleasing, if not particularly stimulating, ensemble” 11 while a Wall Street Journal reporter added that his “little nature studies make pleasant contrast for the portraits and show the American landscape, presumably of the New England variety, in the changing dress of the seasons.”12
Cecil Chichester’s works continue to stand testament to the importance of the Woodstock colony in the larger fabric of American art. His paintings are collected by many galleries and museums including the Smithsonian American Art Museum as well as at the White House.
1891 Born in New York City
Early 1900s Studied under Hardesty Maratta and Birge Harrison
Became a member and student at the Arts Students League
1920s Member of Woodstock Art Association
Taught at the Art Students League
1934 His work “Mid-Hudson Bridge” was personally picked by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to hang at the White House after he saw it at the Corcoran Gallery.
1963 Died at the age of 72
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
White House, Washington D.C.
1912 Katz Galleries, New York, NY
1912-1913 Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA
1913, 1931 Macbeth Gallery, New York, NY
1934 WPA Exhibit at the Corcoran Gallery, Washington, D.C.
1936 Ulster County Federal Art Project Exhibition, Woodstock Artists Association
1937 Federal Art Exhibition, Woodstock Artists Association
Art Students League
Woodstock Artists Association
1 Karal Ann Marling, introduction to Woodstock: An American Art Colony, 1902-1977 (Poughkeepsie: Vassar College Art Gallery, 1977), p. 2.
2 Anita M. Smith, Woodstock: History and Hearsay (Woodstock: Woodstock Arts, 2006), p. 167.
3 Karal Ann Marling, introduction to Woodstock: An American Art Colony, 1902-1977 (Poughkeepsie: Vassar College Art Gallery, 1977), p. 13.
4 Karal Ann Marling, introduction to Woodstock: An American Art Colony, 1902-1977 (Poughkeepsie: Vassar College Art Gallery, 1977), p. 1.
5 Anita M. Smith, Woodstock: History and Hearsay (Woodstock: Woodstock Arts, 2006), p. 166.
6 Anita M. Smith, Woodstock: History and Hearsay (Woodstock: Woodstock Arts, 2006), p. 168.
7 Karal Ann Marling, introduction to Woodstock: An American Art Colony, 1902-1977 (Poughkeepsie: Vassar College Art Gallery, 1977), p. 1.
8 Karal Ann Marling, introduction to Woodstock: An American Art Colony, 1902-1977 (Poughkeepsie: Vassar College Art Gallery, 1977), p. 1.
9 “News and Notes of the Art World” New York Times, October 20, 1912. .
10 “Art at Home and Abroad” New York Times, November 16, 1913.
11”Edward Alden Jewell, “Art” New York Times, December 2, 1931.
12 “With the Collections of Art and Antiques” Wall Street Journal, December 16, 1931.
VII. Suggested Resources
Macbeth Gallery records, 1838-1968, bulk 1892 to 1953. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian