“My heart was pounding!”
For John Landy, going online to bid against other art lovers for an original Thomas Waterman Wood painting turned out to be an exhilarating event.
Landy is a trustee of the T.W. Wood Gallery of Art, the first art museum in the state of Vermont, established in 1895 by Montpelier native Thomas Waterman Wood (1823–1902), a leader of the 19th American art scene. While Wood paintings can be found in the collections of major art museums and art connoisseurs around the country, they do not come up for sale very often.
So back in October, when Landy was browsing art auctions, he was thrilled to find two original Wood paintings for sale. He took the idea of bidding on them to the curatorial committee of the Wood Gallery.
“We have a fund that is restricted to being spent only on preserving or expanding the collection,” explained Wood curator Phillip Robertson. “It’s not a large fund, so we decided to try to buy one of the two paintings. It seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up.”
The day of the auction, Landy signed in. There were 76 online bidders (and an unknown number of bidders on location). When bidding on the first Wood painting started, Landy could see his entries scrolling on the screen along with the bids of his rivals. “The auction house moves bidding very fast. The participating crowd clearly had money and was spending it!”
Landy looked away from the screen for a split second to consult a spreadsheet he was working from, and when he looked back, the painting was sold. “There was no ‘Going once, going twice.’ It was just gone!” he said. “It burst my bubble.”
So when the second painting, “In the Jelly Jar,” came up for bid, Landy was determined. “I was not going to take my eye off the screen for even a split second.” The bidding commenced as before. Landy steel-eyed the screen, watching his and others’ bids fly by. “My palms were sweating!”
And then it was over. “I didn’t even know who won until a ‘Congratulations! You won!’ message came up on the screen,” he said. That’s when euphoria set in.
“I have been a T.W. Wood board member for 28 years,” Landy said, “and I have always wanted to bring a Wood painting back to Montpelier. I finally got my chance. This was truly the highlight of my involvement with the Wood Gallery.”
The new acquisition will be on display at the T.W. Wood Gallery, located at 46 Barre St., through December of this year.
The 1888 painting of a young girl caught with her hand in a jelly jar is typical of Wood’s distinctive genre painting style, that is, paintings of scenes of everyday life. Robertson noted that Wood often first did sketches of discrete elements of his larger paintings and that the gallery is in possession of an oil sketch of the cat that is depicted in “In the Jelly Jar.” That connection, he said, “made the painting have even more value for us.”
Robertson will be offering guided tours at the gallery on Feb. 20, March 20, and April 20. Visitors can learn more about the new acquisition and see it hang alongside the oil sketch study. The tour will include some large Wood watercolor paintings and landscapes of various 19th century artists from the permanent collection. All of these paintings will be on exhibit in the Nuquist Gallery.
Visitors will also learn about other Wood genre paintings on display in the Wood Room. Most notable is “Southern Cornfield,” an historic genre painting that depicts African-American slaves at work. “Wood was unique among 19th century artists for portraying African Americans with dignity and not as caricatures,” said Robertson. In addition, visitors will see on exhibit “The Quack Doctor,” the last major Wood painting acquired by the gallery, in 1998.
The Hallway Gallery will feature Wood portrait paintings from the permanent collection. Wood was perhaps best known in his time as a portrait painter, and the exhibit will feature portraits of 19th century Vermonters as well as a selection of copies of Great Master portraits that Wood did, featuring several after Rembrandt van Rijn. “Wood knew that his fellow Vermonters were unlikely to get to Europe to see the Masters, so he brought the Masters to Vermont,” said Robertson. “In this day of COVID, seeing these masterful copies brings a little bit of Paris or Amsterdam to Montpelier.”
Finally, the Wood Gallery continues its tradition of exhibiting artwork from its Works Progress Administration (WPA) collection, one of the highlights of the gallery’s holdings. On permanent loan to the T.W. Wood Gallery, the WPA collection consists of 90 works of art created under the aegis of the federal government during the Great Depression. The WPA Room is a dedicated gallery to the collection and on display will be paintings by artists such as Joseph Stella, Irwin Hoffman, Mabel Dwight, and many others.
In addition to the curated tours, self-guided visits are available on Thursdays. Both curated and self-guided tours are free but, because of COVID restrictions, must be reserved on the Events/Visit the Wood page of the gallery’s website: twwoodgallery.org.
Therese Mageau is a trustee of the T.W. Wood Gallery.