Walter Elmer Schofield, Early Winter Morning

Oil on canvas
Credit Line
Gift of the Margaret E. Phillips 2017 Artworks Trust, 2020
45 x 60 in.

Early Winter Morning was the type of monumental winter landscape that made Schofield’s reputation. He depicts a view that he must have sketched while standing on the man-made embankment of an industrial canal as it arrives at its junction with the Delaware River. Such canals snaked their way across Pennsylvania, a network of waterways that connected the natural resources of the western part of the state—coal, wood, slate, and stone—with the markets in East Coast cities. Schofield’s subject is not the romance of nature that preoccupied the American landscape painters of a previous generation. Instead his focus is the land itself, stripped of its verdant beauty by winter and shaped by man to enable the creation of modern American wealth.  

This work is also remarkable for its formal qualities and spatial dynamics. The embankment curves in toward the horizontal river in the distance as a phalanx of leafless trees marches from front left to rear right. As if countering this illusion of deep space, Schofield applies paint in vertical and horizontal strokes, a rich tapestry of earthy tones and free painterly gestures. The white of the snow seems to melt into the moist, cold ground.

When Woodmere acquired this painting, it was in great need of conservation, covered in a layer of grime and with a pinkish linoleum adhesive across parts of the lower foreground, perhaps to hide some paint loss. With the grime and adhesive removed, careful inpainting was applied. Woodmere also commissioned a new frame of the type Schofield often selected.

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