In a review of the Walters Art Museum show of paintings by 19th-century American artist Richard Caton Woodville, reporter Mary McCauley writes that "the real mystery ... is why so little about the painter is known today — even in his hometown" ("Walters explores work of Caton heir who lived fast, died young," March 9). However, the article does little to give readers a greater understanding of the painter or his works.
Woodville challenged (and continues to challenge) his mostly American audience with the nation's drift away from its founding principles. He was very proud of his family's role during the American Revolution and was able to see history and current events through the eyes of that older generation. His outlook was very similar to that of the Monroe Doctrine — that our only threat was imperialism and our natural allies were other republics — especially the young struggling republics in the Western hemisphere.
Some of Woodville's earliest works confront us with America's imperialist turn in 1846 during our invasion of the republic of Mexico. Many saw the war with Mexico as a trick to add more slave states, but Woodville also saw it as abandoning the intent of our very republican Founding Fathers. In Woodville's painting "Old '76 And Young '48," the two veterans depicted should have the strongest of bonds, yet the grandfather cannot bring himself to even look at his own grandson.
Woodville moved to Europe during the revolutionary period of the 1840s and allied himself with the most radical republicans at the Dusseldorf Academy in Germany. Across Europe, aristocrats were able to crush the republican forces and frequently hunted-down their leaders.
A few years later, the 29-year-old Woodville was "accidentally" killed by an overdose from a morphine-pushing British doctor. Woodville was a great American, and all Baltimore should be proud of the city's courageous native son.
Steven Carr, LeesburgCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times