Marcia O. Woodbury (1865-1913)

Marcia O. Woodbury (1865-1913)

During her honeymoon with husband and fellow artist Charles H. Woodbury, (Susan) Marcia Oakes Woodbury visited Holland and became deeply inspired by the landscape and people of Holland, especially the children who served as her favorite subjects. She devoted herself to Dutch subject matter throughout her career, exhibiting alongside Charles in Boston and eventually settling in Ogunquit with her family. Marcia's career was cut short by her tragic death in 1913, when she was only forty-eight years old. To celebrate and honor his wife's career, Charles Woodbury organized a large exhibition of her artwork at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston in 1914. 

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Susan Marcia Oakes was raised in South Berwick, Maine, the daughter of a traveling probate judge and homemaker. Striving to pursue her interest in the arts and to break free from the confines of her home life, she enrolled in a painting class taught by Tommaso Juglaris in Boston during the late 1880s. At some point during her studies in town, she met Charles H. Woodbury and the two were later married in June of 1890. They embarked on an extended honeymoon exploring and painting throughout Europe, first staying in Holland for a month before moving on to Germany, Switzerland, Italy and France. The landscape and people of Holland deeply inspired Marcia Woodbury, especially the children who served as her favorite subjects. After spending six months in Paris, from January to June 1891, the Woodburys returned to Holland before arriving back in the United States in October and holding a joint exhibition of their Dutch work at J. Eastman Chase Gallery in Boston.

The Woodburys made frequent return trips to Holland over the next seventeen years, residing in places like Volendam, Laren, Amsterdam and Drenthe for months at a time. For several weeks during an 1895 visit, Marcia remained on her own in Volendam, leaving a sad but understanding Charles back in Laren: “It is very lonely and I don’t like it but it seemed best for her to go in view of the fact that Volendam pictures are eagerly bought by the Boston public.”[1] Indeed, a second dual exhibition of the Woodburys’ Dutch pictures held at Boston’s Chase Gallery in March of 1896 was commended by a writer for the Boston Evening Transcript, especially Marcia’s figural work: “Mrs. Woodbury, for her part, had thus been able to continue and extend her unequalled series of pictures of Dutch children by the addition of a number of new pages, each redolent of racy cuteness, each utterly honest and direct in its presentation of childhood as it is, and each appealing to the mingled feelings of sympathy and amusement which are responsive to the genuineness and the humorous side of the subject…[Her paintings] are creations full of vitality and sympathy, which will rank high among the best pictures of childhood.”[2]

Four months after the exhibition at Chase Gallery, Marcia and Charles’ only child David was born in South Berwick, Maine. The family moved to nearby Ogunquit in 1898, where Charles established his popular summer school while Marcia doted on young David and continued to paint her Dutch subjects inspired by previous trips to Holland. They eventually resumed their travels abroad in the summer of 1902, however by this time Marcia’s health had grown increasingly fragile. Later trips to Holland between 1903 and 1908 offered some respite, but she continued to decline and from 1909 on remained close to home in Ogunquit. An operation performed in 1906 offered little relief and tragically, in November of 1913, Marcia Oakes Woodbury passed away at only forty-eight years old. Charles, working on the jury of the Art Institute of Chicago at the time, was devastated. Recalling this difficult period, their son David wrote: ‘[My father] was determined, if he must lose her, to give her to the world. And this he did splendidly.”[3] In March of 1914, Charles organized a large exhibition of Marcia’s oils and watercolors held at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, which elicited similar admiration to that of earlier critics: “Mrs. Woodbury never tried to ‘prettify’ or flatter, but went right at the fundamental truths of character, using expression as her means to that end, and thus bringing to the surface those inner traits that so often elude the superficial observer.”[4] 

In addition to the Chase Gallery, Marcia Oakes Woodbury exhibited her work at the Boston Art Club, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Boston Watercolor Club, and the New York Watercolor Society, among other venues. She also participated in national expositions in Atlanta, Georgia, and in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1895 and 1897 respectively, and earned a medal at the Mechanics’ Fair in Boston in the late 1890s. Today examples of her work can be found in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

 

[1] Charles H. Woodbury to his mother, from Laren, October 14, 1895. Charles H. Woodbury Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

[2] “Exhibition of Pictures of Holland by Mr. and Mrs. Woodbury,” Boston Evening Transcript, March 20, 1896, p. 8.

[3] David O. Woodbury essay in Charles H. Woodbury, N.A. (1864-1940) and Marcia Oakes Woodbury (1865-1914), Vose Galleries, Boston, exhibition catalogue, 1980.

[4] Boston Sunday Post, March 29, 1914.

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