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June 03, 2022

Upcoming auction shines spotlight on Pennsylvania Impressionist movement

Edward Redfield and Fern Coppedge were among numerous artists who moved to New Hope in the early 20th century. There, they became known for their rustic landscapes

Arts & Culture Paintings
Redfield Road to River Edward Redfield/Freeman's

'Road to the River' by Edward Redfield, is one of several paintings by Pennsylvania Impressionists that will be auctioned off by Freeman's on Sunday. The movement thrived in New Hope, Bucks County in the early 20th Century.

In the early 20th century, New Hope was the epicenter of Pennsylvania Impressionism, a rustic style of landscape painting that often portrayed scenes from the Delaware River Valley. Winter compositions from this cutting-edge American art movement remain popular among collectors and critics. 

On Sunday, Freeman's will auction off several paintings by two of the style's most influential artists, Fern Coppedge and Edward Redfield. The Philadelphia auction house expects the largest compositions to sell for as much as $300,000.

Other paintings from the movement can be viewed at the Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, which has one of the largest collections of Pennsylvania Impressionist works in the country. The movement was defined less by a particular aesthetic and more by the community surrounding the "artist's colony" in New Hope, said Laura Turner Igoe, the Michener's chief curator.

But these artists were all impressionists, which Igoe defined as having a "loose, brushy style" focused on landscapes. The highly expressive approach, which emphasized the accurate portrayal of light, was pioneered by French painters like Claude Monet in the late 19th century before becoming a global phenomenon.

The artist's colony began when painter William Langson Lathrop moved to New Hope in 1898, Igoe said. He served as a mentor to many of young artists who followed him to Bucks County at the turn of the century. Land was cheap and the old mills lining the Delaware River, which had reached the end of their productive lives, easily could be repurposed as studios.

The second Pennsylvania Impressionist to set down roots in the area was Redfield.

Unlike Lathrop, Redfield was a loner, Igoe said. He settled in isolated Centre Bridge, three miles north of New Hope, and didn't spend much time mentoring younger artists. Three of his paintings will be for sale in Freemans' auction.

"Road to the River" depicts a spring scene of a woman walking down a dirt road toward what's likely the Delaware River in the 1910s. But the most prominent aspect of the painting is the trees that surround her.

Some have poppy pink and white blossoms, which bring energy to the composition's earthy palette. Others droop over the path and cast stark shadows on the landscape to give some contrast to the sunny scene.

Freeman's expects the roughly 3-foot-by-3-foot painting to sell for $200,000 to $300,000.

This auction also will include Redfield's 1936 work "Winter Harmony," a similarly sized canvas with a much closer view of the river. It's expected to fetch between $150,000 and $200,000.

A third, much smaller painting, titled "Crashing Waves," depicts a seascape on the shore of Maine, where Redfield spent many summers. It's expected to sell for $20,000 to $30,000.

Coppedge, the other prominent Pennsylvania Impressionist featured in the auction, was a member of the Philadelphia Ten, a group of female creatives from the region who blazed a professional path for women to pursue the arts during the interwar period, Igoe said. Before this, women in the field were often written off as hobbyists.

Coppedge didn't move to New Hope until the 1920s, Igoe said. She was one of the most "abstract" Pennsylvania Impressionist painters due to the influences she picked up on a trip to Italy.

Three of her compositions, including two winter landscapes painted during the 1930s, will be auctioned off Sunday.

"Winter Decoration" is a depiction of Lambertville, New Jersey as seen from New Hope. The red and brown tones brought to the composition by the buildings give the piece a sense of warmth and depth.

Fern CoppedgeFern Coppedge/Freeman's

'Winter Decoration' by Fern Coppedge.

So does Coppedge's decision to paint the landscape amid an early winter sunset, so that the brighter pink and orange hues – which would normally be absent from a winter landscape – are visible.

There's a precision to Coppedge's work that can be seen in the shadow in the painting's foreground, the reflections of buildings off the river and the geographic and architectural accuracy of the cityscapes of Lambertville and New Hope.

The painting is expected to sell for $100,000 to $150,000.

Two other paintings by Coppedge's will be sold, as well. One is a Bucks County winter landscape portraying the Carversville Brook. The other depicts a fish market in Gloucester, Massachusetts, painted in 1916.

Works by three other Pennsylvania Impressionist painters – George William Sotter, Kenneth Nunamaker and John Folinsbee – also will be sold in Sunday's auction. Igoe described the artists as peripheral members of the movement from its second generation.

Sotter, one of the few artists that Redfield mentored, began his career making stained glass windows, which are featured in many Pennsylvania churches, Igoe said.

Two of his paintings are included in the auction, but they both portray scenes in coastal towns rather than the Delaware Valley. "Fishing Village at Moonlight" is expected to go for between $25,000 and $40,000.

The Pennsylvania Impressionism approaches taken by Nunamaker and Folinsbee focused more on dark tones and contrast, which made their pieces feel more dynamic and dimensional.

The two Nunamaker pieces being auctioned off portray a winter landscape in the Delaware Valley and the a scene from Carversville, where Coppedge often worked. They're both expected to fetch around $40,000.

Six Folinsbee pieces will be sold. The largest, which depicts a farm on a steep cliff overlooking the Delaware River and an irrigation ditch, is expected to go for between $30,000 and $50,000.

Sunday's virtual auction will begin at 2 p.m. Bids can be placed by those who have pre-registered on Freeman's website