George W. Waters (1832-1912), American
Lake Maggiore, Italy, 1886-1887
oil on canvas, 15 in. x 24 in.
(framed dimensions: 27 in. x 36 in. x 4 ¼ in. deep)
weight with frame approximately 22 lbs
signed lower right: “G.W. Waters ‘86+’87”
inscribed in pencil on frame reverse: “Elizabeth (illegible)” and “December 25, 1890”
In this idyllic landscape, the artist depicts Lake Maggiore in northern Italy. A rower in a pleasure boat cuts across the center of the painting while a distant steam ferry works its way along the far shore. Beyond the rower, nestled close to the lake, is a small village with its ubiquitous Italian red tile roofs, the whole reflected in the barely ruffled water. Standing sentinel over the lake are receding foothills, smaller mountains and finally the Alps toward the Swiss border. The painting is skillfully observed and convincingly rendered by the artist. He uses an interesting interplay of light and shade along with subtly beautiful colors – emerald and olive green and turquoise notes in the water; warm siennas in the roof tiles, brighter greens above the village; warm ochers and browns in the hills and mountains leading up to the distant soft whites the center mountaintop and ultimately the soft pale blues and creams of the sky and passing clouds. Waters had used the device of a small figure rowing a boat surrounded by mountains in some of his American paintings, helping to convey the majesty of the landscape. He does so here as well, and the artist leads our eye through the composition, starting with that rower in the small boat, to the pop of color in the village, to the lighter band of color on the lake’s surface and across to the steam ferry and on deeper into the scene between the opposing foothills and on and up to the distant snowcapped peak. The scene bears a strong resemblance to the town of Baveno, along the west shore of Maggiore, looking to the northwest. Other American artists, such as Sanford Robinson Gifford, had painted the same view. In other renditions of the view, most painters included the small offshore islands of Isola Superiore and Isola Bella. If this is the location depicted in this painting, then perhaps Waters used a vantage point from Isola Superiore looking toward Baveno.
George W. Waters (there is some confusion over whether his middle name was Waters or Wellington) was born in the small upstate New York town of Coventry. Early in life he showed a marked ability as an artist and he studied portrait and landscape work in New York City and later in Dresden and Munich. At the young age of eighteen in 1850 he exhibited his first painting at the National Academy of Design in New York City, where he would exhibit for over 40 years.
Though he maintained a studio in the city for many years, George and his wife, Sarah (Betts), moved upstate in 1861 to the small city of Elmira where they settled and raised two daughters and two sons. In 1869, he was chosen to be the first director of the Elmira College art department.
Waters was an accomplished portrait painter, having painted Governors of both New York and Wisconsin as well as Walt Whitman, a good friend.
He was more known for his paintings of the countryside and wilderness areas of the northeast United States. He made frequent trips to the White Mountains, the Adirondacks, and to the lakes region of upstate New York. Waters painted large landscapes for the collections of such notable figures as Andrew Carnegie and Samuel L. Clemens as well as other nationally known figures.
With the aid of wealthy patrons, Waters was able to travel to Europe in 1880 and 1886, at which time he made hundreds of pen, pencil and watercolor studies to use as source material for his fully developed studio paintings, which presumably was his method for creating this painting of Lake Maggiore.
In 1903, at the age of 71, Waters retired from his position at Elmira College. He continued to paint until his death on July 23, 1912.
George Waters was a member of the Salmagundi Club, the Century Association and the Amateur Art Association.
He exhibited at the National Academy of Design, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Boston Art Club, the Salmagundi Club and in the cities of Buffalo, New York; Kansas City, Missouri; Detroit, Michigan; and Denver, Colorado.
His work is held in the Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland and the Arnot Art Museum in Elmira, New York, which also held a retrospective exhibition of his work in 1989.
The painting is in original, unlined condition. The paint surface is clean with nice colors. Examined under UV light, I see only one very small line of possible inpaint near top center – this is the width of a thread and perhaps an inch long. There a few small spots along the extreme left edge where canvas meets frame. As often occurs with older paintings on canvas, there are visible stretcher bar marks along the top and left and right sides of the painting. No mark along the bottom. (*please see photographs of painting in raking light). These may be mitigated with proper lighting. The period gilt frame is a substantial one and is of very fine quality with laurel leaf and berry detail. It is in remarkable condition with just a few hard-to-find minute losses and small scattered areas where the surface has been retouched. A pencil inscription on the reverse side of the frame reads “Elizabeth (illegible)” and below that “December 25, 1890”.
George W. Waters, Lake Maggiore, oil painting on canvas, 1886