Thomas Waterman Wood 1823-1903
It may be that his reputation as an artist will rest upon his figure pictures, although his very numerous portrait paintings involved much of the effort of his life and are most certainly characterized but simple and strong composition, great technical execution and a masterful use of colors. It may also follow that he will yet achieve his most memorable honors from the interpretations which he has made of great paintings, but from the stand point of those whose minds and hearts are won by considerations of local history the highest interest will be assigned to works in which Wood included characters from his native place. As examples of his work in this direction the following may be mentioned: The Yankee Pedlar had for its model a tin peddler known as "Snapping Tucker", a resident of Calais, Vermont. When this work was sold for a large sum, Tucker promptly claimed his share upon the grounds of his intrinsic worth and natural capacity as a poser. The Village Post Office was taken from the interior of the old Ainsworth store in Williamstown, Vermont, but the figures were mostly taken from Montpelier people. Wood's uncle Zenas was the postmaster and the group around the store, Boyden, Whittier and Bullock, were old-time residents. Their clerk was Horace Scribner, long esteemed as a generous country musician and as the organist of Christ Church. This painting was bought by Mr. Charles Stewart Smith, ex-president of the New York Chamber of Commerce. The scene for the The Quack Doctor was located in front of the old arch which once spanned the head of State Street leading to East State. The old brick building, the home of Montpelier Book Bindery, still stands. This picture was bought by Mr. George I. Seneg for $2,000 and after his death was included in the sale of his entire collection.
Another successful painting was The Country Doctor. The artist found the proper model for this work with the aid of the Secretary of State, Dr. George Nichols, in the person of an actual country doctor, then representing the town of Jamaica in the legislature. This doctor bore upon his face the impress of his beneficent labors for more than 40 years in a back country town. Wood himself told the writer, in speaking of this painting, that many a person had said to him, "That doctor is the exact image of my father, who was also a country doctor." This saying he regarded not so much as proof that he had achieved a concrete likeness but as an evidence of having successfully handed down the particular class idea of the old-fashioned country physician, as truly different in type from the city practitioner as was the country lawyer of former days from his brother in the city.
In 1891, Wood exhibited at the Academy a picture entitled A Cogitation, for which one of his Montpelier friends, Mr. George Ripley, posed. The composition is extremely simple, a farmer in his barn, leaning upon his pitchfork, his countenance thoughtful. This picture was bought by Mr. Harper and published as a full-page engraving in Harper's Weekly during the Greeley campaign over the title "Is Greeley a Fool or a Knave?". The humorous side of this incident consists in the fact that Mr. Ripley was the model was an ardent supporter of Mr. Greeley in that campaign, while the artist himself, so far as we know, never dabbled in politics.
These few examples sufficiently illustrate the influence which the place of his birth had upon Wood. He was not only a Vermonter but a great painter of Vermont ideas, conditions and character. Nor did foreign travel nor city residence nor any influence of professional connections ever tend to diminish the deep and abiding interest in his early home. The subjects of his works, his selection of characters, his yearly pilgrimage to Vermont, all demonstrate his filial loyalty and he gave to this sentiment of his heart its final expression in the establishment, as a gift to Montpelier, of its Gallery of Art. But, apart from this, the homes, offices and institutions of Montpelier and without are filled with the affectionate and great evidences of his work. The Vermont Historical Society possesses several excellent examples of his portraiture, all of great historic value and preserved in the Cedar Creek Reception Room at the Vermont State House: Samuel Prentiss (1881), United States Senator; Mrs. Samuel Prentiss (1895) and Dr. Edward Lamb (1895), gifts to the Society by the family of Mr. Prentiss. In 1896, the Society unveiled a life-size portrait of the distinguished publicist, the Hon. E. P. Walton, the gift of his wife and sister. Wood's personal donations include portraits of the Rev. William A. Lord, D.D. (1874), minister of Bethany Congregational Church of this city, Daniel Pierce Thompson (1880), novelist and author of "The Green Mountain Boys", and Justin S. Morrill, United States Senator, father of tariff legislation, promoter of agricultural colleges and chief up builder of the Library of Congress.
One of the noblest paintings now existing in the state is the artist's beautiful translation of Bartolom?? Esteban Murillo's "La Madonna del Rosario". This work, submitting the original with infinite tenderness and feeling, was painted in 1896 in the Dulwich Gallery and was consecrated by Bishop de Goesbriand for the service of Saint Augustine's Church on July 26, 1897. The essential force of this sacred painting is its actual power to impress the beholder with a profound sense of the sacredness of motherhood and the worth and lasting values of purity and religious faith. In accepting this donation from Wood the Reverend Bishop said: "You have made a great Murillo of the seventeenth century our contemporary," an expression not only true of itself but one which defines the special value of the truly great copies of great paintings. The Return of the Flags 1865 mk195
Oil on canvas