Richard Goodwin

(1840 - 1910)


Born in Albany, New York, began his painting career as a portrait painter but turned to still lifes, probably influenced by the highly realistic style of William Harnett. His work is distinctive for his many subjects that are cabin doors, likely over 100, decorated with hunting and other outdoor equipment. All of them were very large and completed after 1886 when William Harnett introduced trompe l'œil painting in New York with "After The Hunt" that got much public attention. Of his career, Alfred Rubenstein wrote about "After The Hunt": "He painted portraits for a living and landscapes for love, but above all he delighted in the hunter's cabin door." An idea for one of his cabin door paintings came about in 1905 when he was in Portland, Oregon and attended the one-hundredth anniversary fair to commemorate the Lewis and Clark Expedition. He saw the exhibit of the door of a cabin where Theodore Roosevelt had lived when he was ranching in the Dakotas in 1890. Goodwin used it as a model for his painting, "Theodore Roosevelt's Cabin Door." After 1890, he lived in Washington D.C. where he sold eight canvases to Senator Leland Stanford and several to Senator George Hearst. He went to Chicago in 1893 for the World's Fair and remained seven years, after which he went to Colorado Springs, 1900-1902, and then Los Angeles and San Francisco where he lost four years of work in the 1906 fire. He also went to the Pacific Northwest.

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Born in Albany, New York, Richard LaBarre Goodwin was the son of portrait painter Edwin Wyburn Goodwin (1800-1845). Taking after his father, he painted portraits before turning to the "gibier mort" (dead game) genre. Most famous for his "cabin door" paintings featuring a variety of hanging game birds, Goodwin worked in a highly realist style along the lines of Alexander Pope, Jr. (1849-1924) and George Cope (1855-1929). Goodwin began painting these "trompe l'œil" [a painting that is cleverly designed to trick people into thinking that the objects represented in it are really there] still lifes during the 1880s, when he spent a decade traveling through rural Western New York State. In 1890, Goodwin began his itinerant life, first moving to Washington D.C. While there he found patronage from California Senators Leland Stanford (who is best known as the founder of Stanford University) and George Hearst (millionaire investor who founded the Hearst publishing empire with his son William Randolph Hearst). He went to Chicago for the 1893 World's Fair and stayed for the next seven years. In 1900 he moved west, spending the remainder of his life in California and the Pacific Northwest. Though smaller, this work relates closely to "Theodore Roosevelt's Cabin," showing a hunter's bounty of a woodcock, a ruffed grouse, and mallards hanging from a door. The artist spared no detail, masterfully crafting every feather on each bird.

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Painted nearly thirty years after the Battle of Gettysburg and in the midst of the populist labor movement, Richard La Barre Goodwin's "The Cobbler" presents an idealized picture of post-Civil War American society. Goodwin, the son of renowned society portrait painter Edwin Weyburn Goodwin, was born in Albany, New York, in 1840. He served as a soldier in the Union Army and, after being wounded in the Battle of Bull Run, he spent the greater part of his life traveling the breadth of the newly restored nation as an itinerant artist. Although he began as a portrait painter, Goodwin gained renown for his trompe l'oeil, "cabin door" still lifes. Popular and well received in his day, his works found their way into the collections of such notables as Governor Roswell P. Flower, William Randolph Hearst, and Leland Stanford of California.

The present work, one of Goodwin's rare genre paintings, depicts an African American cobbler in his workshop surrounded by the tools of his trade. The rich narrative woven in this scene is one of continued devotion to the American ideals tested on the battlefields of the Civil War. The cobbler takes central focus in the composition, with light streaming in from the left illuminating his face with an aura of the divine. He is portrayed with the self-possessed dignity of a man truly free, a serene smile playing across his lips as he momentarily rests his hammer to read the Bible. An Alexander Gardner photograph of Abraham Lincoln, taken days before the Gettysburg Address, is the sole non-utilitarian adornment of his humble shop. This photo, coupled with the Bible open to the breaking of the seals in "Revelations: Chapter Five," enriches the painting with deep symbolic resonance, granting a religious significance to the sacrifices of the Civil War and recalling the lines in the Gettysburg address: "That these dead shall not have died in vain." The upper right of the composition is dominated by a recessed shelf holding a straw farmer's hat that rests beside a newspaper, The National View. This Greenback party newspaper is dated January 21, 1893, indicating the nation's continued struggle for justice through the Populist movement of the 1890s. Its inclusion reflects Goodwin's own love and hope for his land, honoring the memory of the war and looking ahead with hope to the upcoming century.



View painter's art: Richard Goodwin (1840 - 1910)

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