top of page

Henry Mattson, Master Marine Painter of the Woodstock Art Colony

Updated: Apr 6

By Bruce Weber

Peter A. Juley and Son

Henry Mattson, 1930

Gelatin silver print

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Tall but slightly stooped, Henry Mattson had a face that, according to the artist, writer, historian and herbalist Anita M. Smith, was “marked by troubled thinking [but that] sometimes would break into a humorous twist.”(1) The Woodstock painter and writer Jean Paul Slusser said that there was “something about [Mattson] of the traditional northern dreamer, something of the rapt solitary [person], of the spinner of folk-yarns, of the merry participant in folk occasion, and the shrewd and humorous teller of countryside anecdote.”(2)

Carl Larsson (1853-1919)

October, 1882

Watercolor on paper

Gothenburg Museum

Bruno Liljefors (1869-1939)

Foxes, 1886

Gothenburg Museum

Paul Signac (1863-1935)

Saint-Tropez, Fontaine des Lices, 1895

Guggenheim Museum

Henry Mattson was born in Gothenberg, Sweden in 1887. His father designed and tested locomotives, and was decorated for his efforts by the King of Sweden. Henry loved looking at paintings as a boy, and while growing up became familiar with the works of the major late 19th century and early 20th century Swedish artists Anders Zorn, Carl Larsson and Bruno Liljefors in the collection of the Gothenberg Museum. He later related that when he saw a painting by the French Neo-Impressionist Paul Signac, his fingers excitedly started probing "the surface of the work [and he resolved] to be an artist.”(3)

Mattson came to the United States in 1906 with $13 in his pocket. After six months in Boston he moved to Worcester, Massachusetts, and found work in a machine shop. After he saw a mahogany paint box on display in a shop window and bought it, painting became his weekend hobby. In the winter of 1912, he drew from plaster casts in a night class at the Worcester Museum. The school offered only a slight artistic curriculum, and Mattson returned to Sweden determined to further his artistic education in painting. The artist whom he sought instruction from in his native country advised him to give up trying to become a painter. In response, Mattson decided to return to America to learn a trade, settling in Chicago and finding work at the International Harvester Company.

In 1915, Mattson moved to Plainfield, New Jersey where he came in contact with the painter Jonas Lie, who had been a former student of Dewing Woodward’s in New York City and a member of her Blue Dome Fellowship in Shady, close to Woodstock (see my blog on Dewing Woodward). It was Lie who apparently encouraged Mattson to seriously pursue art, and also informed him about the summer class taught in Woodstock by his fellow Swede John F. Carlson, and that “you could have contact there with the world of art.”(4)

Mattson studied with Carlson in the summer of 1916 but frowned on his teacher’s technical demands, and felt that he was becoming too preoccupied with facts and details. He later recalled “we didn’t agree about a lot of things. The whole thing was to copy nature exactly as it was and I didn’t want to do that. I would put in a tree that wasn’t there and do that sort of thing.”(5)

Mattson quit Carlson’s class and decided to continue working in Woodstock on his own initiative, believing that he could “starve much more slowly and comfortably [here] than in the city.”(6) At first he commuted to Manhattan to earn a living as a mechanic, but eventually quit his job and earned money teaching manual training at a local private school. For years Mattson struggled to devote all his time to painting. He took on odd jobs, including spading gardens and mowing lawns.After winning the Clark Prize at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in 1935 he fully committed to creating his marines, landcapes, portraits and still lifes.

Mattson House and Wetterau Map with Location of Homes of McFee, Speicher and Bellows

Mattson Studio, n.d. Fritzi Striebel Scrapbook,

Woodstock Artists Association Archives

Skylight Window in Former Studio

of Henry Mattson

In time Mattson joined with Carlson and Carl Eric Lindin to form the core group of Scandinavian-born painters working in the Woodstock artists colony. Sometime after 1926 he moved from Lower Byrdcliffe Road to a modest-sized house built in about 1816, located at the juncture of Rock City Road and the Glasco Turnpike. Originally the structure housed two village stores, including a blacksmith shop, which served as Mattson’s living room. The artist turned the garret into a studio, and eventually raised the roof and built a skylight in the north slope.

Mattson's house had formerly been owned by the artist Frank Swift Chase, who moved to another location nearby on the Glasco Turnpike. The Rudolf and Margaret Wetterau map of artists' houses in Woodstock (created in 1926), includes the Chase house at the four corners opposite that of Rosie Magee. Mattson only left town for occasional visits to the city and short vacations to the coast, especially to Rockport, Massachusetts.

In 1924, Mattson married Daphne Sawyer Grimm following a summer romance. Daphne had previously been married to the little known modernist painter William Grimm, with whom she came to live in Woodstock in about 1920. The Mattsons became good friends with Henry Lee McFee, Eugene Speicher and George Bellows and their families, all of whose homes were in close walking distance, as seen on the Wetterau map. Mattson taught in the 1930s at Judson Smith’s school on Ohayo Mountain Road, and served for a period on the board of the Woodstock Artists Association. For a period he also was involved with Anna Carolan‘s Woodstock Museum of Art off of Library Lane.

Mattson was one of the most beloved artists in the art colony, and he loved the intellectual and social ease of the town. He remarked “People who come to Woodstock are serious – are aware that in Woodstock it doesn’t injure a person to be intellectual. And there are other compensations. Conventions are not so rigid. You can live the way you want to – have casual, natural relationships.“(7)

Peter A. Juley & Son

The Frank K. Rehn Gallery Stable, 1945

Standing, left to right:

Henry Mattson, Edward Hopper, Reginald Marsh, gallery assistant John Clancy,

Peppino Mangravite, Franklin Watkins, Morris Kantor, John Carroll,

Bradley Walker Tomlin, Eugene Speicher, Charles E. Burchfield, Henry Varnum Poor

Mattson achieved national renown. He was represented by the prestigious Rehn Galleries in New York, and in 1935, the same year he was awarded the Clark Prize from the Corcoran Gallery of Art, he received a Guggenheim Fellowship for creative work in painting. Over the course of his career, Mattson was active as a landscape, marine, still life and portrait painter.

Henry Mattson (1877-1971)

Landscape, c. 1920s

Collection of Sam Freed

Henry Mattson (1877-1971)

Farmhouse and Fields, c. 1920s

New York State Museum. The Historic Woodstock Art Colony:

Arthur A. Anderson Collection.

The majority of Mattson's paintings from the 1920s are rural views. Often Mattson’s buildings stand at odd angles to landscape forms, possibly under the influence of the skewed perspective of Cézanne. Mattson tended to unify the canvas with one dominant color and simplified shapes, and blend the edges of his brush strokes.

Henry Mattson (1877-1971)

Blue Marine, n.d.

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Henry Mattson (1877-1971)

Seascape, n.d.

New York State Museum. The Historic Woodstock Art Colony: Arthur A. Anderson Collection

In the 1930s and 1940s, Mattson primarily painted seascapes, swathing his paintings in variants of cool cobalt blues, and dividing his compositions into approximately half sky and half water. He would work in the late afternoon or evening, going up into his studio and turning on the blue light he set up there as a stimulant to the blue tonality of his canvases. The artist worked intuitively, using only two brushes, one a house painter's brush. He worked fast, sometimes finishing two canvases in a span of two weeks, and then taking a rest period. When he and his wife Daphne would take vacations by the sea, Mattson would look at the water for hours at a time, then paint it from memory back in his studio in Woodstock.

As Matson explained, “I find that when I paint water I’m perfectly at home with it and I understand it. I understand the anatomy of water and subconsciously it comes to me very easy. . . . I have no plan, not a thing to go on, but I begin. So I put a stroke here, a deeper blend of color there and gradually some form takes place and I say, 'Oh yes! Maybe that's a bit of land jutting out—that looks like an angry sky up there'—thus almost subconsciously a picture insists upon its own creating."(8) He further explained: “I paint the sea because I love it and fear it too. I think about it constantly, not so much what it looks like at any particular time but I think about its elemental aspect, its weight, it’s awesome depth, the powerful action of its waters. A sailor doesn’t think of the beauty of the ocean. To him it is a fundamental condition of his daily life and it is his diverse experiences with the sea rather than esthetic appearances that impress him. In my picture’s I try to express such fundamental, even primitive, reaction to this rather terrifying natural element.”(9)

Henry Mattson (1877-1971)

Seascape, 1940s

Woodstock Artists Association

and Museum

Sol Wilson (1896-1974)

Scallop Traps, 1940s

Mattson was part of an artistic circle of romantic landscape and marine painters that included the New York artists Sol Wilson, Jean Liberté, and Joseph De Martini.(10) All were great admirers of Albert Pinkham Ryder’s dark melancholy seascapes, and of the related canvases of Ralph Albert Blakelock and Robert Loftin Newman. Critics often compared Mattson’s work to that of Ryder.

Henry Mattson (1877-1971)

Moonlight, 1938

New York State Museum. The Historic Woodstock Art Colony: Arthur A. Anderson Collection.

Albert Pinkham Ryder (1847-1917)

Moonlight Marine, 1870-1890

Metropolitan Museum of Art

In 1934, the Woodstock writer and craftsman Ernest Brace pointed to Mattson's affinity with Albert Pinkham Ryder "because of their gentleness and their dreamy withdrawal from the world of rugged strife; and, finally, there is a similarity in their subject matter, particularly in its mysterious and moonlit aspects."(11)

Henry Mattson (1877-1971)

Self-Portrait, 1938

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

John Carroll (1891-1959)

Henry Mattson, c. 1935

Mattson was also active as a portrait and still life painter. Between 1923 and 1948, he painted a series of self-portraits inspired by artists ranging from Old Masters Rembrandt and El Greco to the blue period of Picasso. His dealer Frank Rehn referred to them as Henry the IV, Henry the V, etcetera.(12) Many of the self-portraits were acquired by museums. His Woodstock colleague John Carroll created a ghostly portrait of Mattson seated in front of a group of stacked canvases.

Henry Mattson (1877-1971)

Still Life, c. 1950

Mattson’s still life’s are often striking in color and composition. In his still life of about 1950, the red tulips and indigo colored vase stand out boldly against the lush blue violet background.

Unknown Photographer

Henry Mattson at Home of Hermon More, n.d.

Gelatin silver print

Henry Mattson (1877-1971)

Moonlit Night, 1971

Woodstock Artists Association and Museum

At the time of his death in 1971 at the age of 84 and burial in the Woodstock Artists Cemetery, Mattson had long outlived the popularity of his work. The increased freedom of his brushwork, and the more intuitive and spontaneous approach to compositional design of his post-war work, undoubtedly stemmed from his openness to recent directions in American painting, such as Abstract Expressionism, and their impact upon him.

(1) Anita M. Smith, Woodstock History and Hearsay (Woodstock, New York: Woodstock Arts, 2006), p. 154. Originally published in 1959.

(2) Jean Paul Slusser, “Henry Mattson,” The Arts 20 (January 1929): 27

(3) “Henry Mattson . . . A Brief Study in Excellence,” The Woodstock Week, April 1, 1965,” otherwise unidentified article, Woodstock Artists Association Archives.

(4) Henry Mattson, An Original and Prolific Artist,“ p. 80, otherwise unidentified article, Woodstock Artists Association Archives.

(5) "Henry Mattson Told to Fritzi Striebel,” Woodstock Artists Association Archives.

(6) Henry Mattson, "An Original and Prolific Artist," p. 80.

(7) Mattson is quoted in Sylvia Day, Creative Woodstock Series 1 (Woodstock, New York: Mead Mountain Press, 1966), p. 59.

(8) Oral History Interview with Henry Mattson, November 4, 1964, Archives of American Art, pp. 3,4. See

(9) “Henry Mattson, An Original and Poetic Painter,” p. 82.

(10) This was related to me in an interview with the painter Paul Resika in 2014. Resika learned this though his association with Sol Wilson, with whom he studied as a boy

(11) Ernest Brace, “Henry Mattson,” American Magazine of Art 27 ( December 1934): 651.

(12) Oral History Interview with Henry Mattson, p. 4.

275 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page