Walter Elmer Schofield, The Steam Trawlers, Boulogne

Oil on canvas
Credit Line
Museum purchase with funds generously provided by the Margaret E. Phillips’ Walter Elmer Schofield Legacy Fund of the Philadelphia Foundation and James M. Alterman, 2020
42 3/8 x 54 1/2 in.

Among Schofield’s lifelong friends and colleagues were Robert Henri, John Sloan, and William Glackens, Philadelphia artists who moved to New York and were driving forces in the art movement known as the Ashcan School. The Steam Trawlers, Boulogne demonstrates that Schofield shared his friends’ interest in urban and industrial subjects. Trawlers are work boats that dredge or drag nets in harbors. Like the tugboats that Schofield’s friends depicted in the New York harbor, they symbolize the modern age and the hard work that makes modernity possible.

Schofield traveled widely in France in the 1890s with Glackens and Henri, but in 1908 he visited Boulogne alone. There, he wrote to his wife, Muriel, about this painting:

I have two big ones [paintings] that I think are good and if I get nothing else here they will pay for the trip—possibly—it’s such lonely work here that I think another week will probably wind it up. Of course I won’t leave if I think I am getting good stuff out of it, dear, but it gets on my nerves to be absolutely alone the whole twenty-four hours.

The painting’s hand-carved and gilded frame is not original to this work, but it was made by Newcomb-Macklin of Chicago, a prominent manufacturer of high-end gilded frames. Schofield sometimes commissioned frames from the company when sending his paintings to important exhibitions. It was an investment to do so, but Schofield was fortunate in that he could prioritize expenses associated with the presentation of his work. This frame probably dates to the early twentieth century, as does the painting, and it shows both the grandeur of Beaux-Arts design and the handmade beauty of the American Arts and Crafts movement.

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