top of page

John W. Bentley: Landscape Painter & Adventurer of Woodstock -- Part 2 -- Travelling Man

Updated: Dec 16, 2023

By Bruce Weber

Unknown Photographer

John W. Bentley in Costume

at Maverick Festival, c. 1927

Woodstock Public Library District

From 1917 to 1928, John W. Bentley spent extended periods of time away from Woodstock. In the late teens he lived for a period in Manhattan at 347 West 57th Street, a short walk away from the Arts Students League, where in the fall of 1917 he enrolled in a painting class with his former instructor Frank Vincent DuMond. In the spring of 1918 and the winter of 1918-1919, he exhibited landscapes at the National Academy of Design. An art critic for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle praised the work he had on view at the Academy in the spring of 1918, and in a showing that summer at the Art Students League featuring landscape painters active in Woodstock: “John W. Bentley shows [at the National Academy] a winter aspect of Woodstock, with naked branches and snow; some of the houses of the settlement give feature work to the scene, which is one of breadth and able marketing of facts. Mr. Bentley’s brook scene is broad, yet charming, showing stone ledges with pinkish highlights of foliage. Another Bentley scene shows hills and warm-hued clouds, green slopes and unobtrusive buildings in the foreground. It makes a good appeal in paint.”(1)

John W. Bentley (1880-1951)

Landscape with Snow, 1916

John W. Bentley (1880-1951)

Winter Hush, 1917

Private Collection

John W. Bentley (1880-1951)

Woodstock in Winter, c. 1920

In early 1918, Bentley became a member of the Salmagundi Club in lower Manhattan. Over the course of nearly twenty years he mostly showed winter scenes at the club’s annual and thumb-box sketch exhibitions -- titles included Softly Falling Snow, Vestment of White, Snowy Mood, and Snowy Stream.(2) Bentley preferred to paint winter scenes. He related that in winter he “finds none of the cold green that nature uses as an antidote for the oppressing heat of summer. Winter colors are comprised of warm yellow grass, warm red brown trees and variously colored leaves and shadows, and snow only makes it more intense.”(3) In 1924 a critic considered Bentley’s snow pictures to be “perfect things, having color, form, shading and shadow exquisitely combined in a winter atmosphere that one almost feels in contemplating these scenes.”(4)

John W. Bentley (1880-1951)

Winter in High Bridge, New Jersey,

c. 1919

In 1919, Bentley lived for a period in High Bridge, New Jersey, a short distance from New Hope, Pennsylvania. He may have been drawn to the area by Birge Harrison, who has bought a second home in New Hope in 1914 so he could be close to his daughter and son-in-law, the painter Robert Spencer. He may also have been drawn to the area by his acquaintance with the landscape painter John F. Folinsbee, who on Harrison’s recommendation moved permanently from Woodstock to New Hope in 1916. New Hope was the center of an important art colony for American Impressionist painting. A whole school of landscape painters worked in the Bucks County town and surrounding area. Among the painters to work regularly in the New Hope art colony were Spencer, Daniel Garber, William Lathrop, Edward Redfield, Walter E. Schofield, George Sotter, Rae Sloan Bredin, Walter Emerson Braun and Fern Coppedge. Around this time the landscape painter Charles Rosen shifted his physical and aesthetic allegiance from New Hope to Woodstock, and came primarily under the spell of the art of Paul Cézanne.

John W. Bentley (1880-1951)

The Lasher House

(The Woodstock Library), c. 1920

Woodstock Library District

John F .Carlson (1875-1947)

Sylvan Labyrinth, 1925

Oil on canvas

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

In about 1920, Bentley began to devote greater attention to depicting sites in the village of Woodstock. The Lasher House (The Woodstock Library) was influenced by John F. Carlson’s large and resplendent landscapes of trees. He followed his former teacher’s example in grounding his painting in a solid pictorial structure, employing crisp forms, emphasizing intricately patterned shapes, and utilizing a rich and dramatic palette to create a harmonious and almost symphonic interplay of color and light. His painting features the building that long housed the local library. The structure was acquired by the Lasher family in 1885 from the estate of Mrs. Catherine Longyear Hall. In 1927, the Lashers sold the building to Mrs. William Weyl, who conveyed the building to the Woodstock Library in memory of her husband (a key figure in the library’s birth and development). The structure was demolished (save for what is now the office of librarian Kim Apolant) in 1967, and was replaced by the current main building designed in a Colonial Revival style. The barn pictured at left long served as a garage for the Lasher Funeral Home, and was sold in 2023.

John W. Bentley (1880-1951)

Village Road, c. 1920

In the 1920s, John W. Bentley made extensive trips to Polynesia and California, and shorter visits to Hawaii, Panama and Michigan. His initial trips occurred during the formative years of the Woodstock Artists Association, when the organization was experiencing serious birth pains. The first summer of exhibitions in the new building in 1921 passed with the local artists hanging together as a harmonious community. The artist and chronicler Anita M. Smith, who was on the scene in the early 1920s, wrote that “at the time the gallery started, a rather fine cooperation existed between the academic and radical groups. Gradually the differences between them widened, until the younger and more radical group took possession of the Gallery. Finally, the academicians withdrew almost entirely from the exhibitions . . . .”(5)

Henry Lee McFee (1886-1953)

Glass Jar with Summer Squash

(Glass Jar with Squashes and Still Life), 1919

Woodstock Artists Association

and Museum

Konrad Cramer (1888-1963)

Corner Porch and Barn, 1922

Woodstock Artists Association

and Museum

Tensions escalated during the course of 1922 and 1923 among artists who embraced different styles and aesthetic points of view. The five founding members of the organization were clearly split in their philosophies of painting. Carl Eric Lindin did his best to act the peacekeeper, even though his own art had moved in a more modern Cézannesque direction during the early 1920s. Andrew Dasburg was strongly opinionated about modern art. His work and words had helped shift the artistic direction of the community beginning in 1910, when he returned from Paris with an awareness of the newest trends in painting and sculpture. Lindin considered Dasburg to be “always the experimenter, the fighter; I believe he loved contention for its own sake—but in the main he was right, for he had dreams and visions of a new beauty and the strength and intelligence to create it.”(6)

Andrew Dasburg (1887-1979)

New Mexican Landscape, c. 1922-1923

Reproduced in Richard Le Gallienne,

Woodstock: An Essay (New York:

Woodstock Art Association, 1923, p. 264.

Andrew Dasburg (1887-1979)

Still Life, 1922

Oil and collage

Location Unknown

Photograph in Andrew Dasburg File, Woodstock Artists Association Archive

John F. Carlson’s position was clear. The artist and art writer Alexander Brook related that “Carlson admits that when he thinks of modern art he foams at the mouth.”(7) While it is not clear how Frank Swift Chase personally felt about modern art, it is true that after Carlson—his boss for many summers at the Art Students League school— resigned from teaching at the Art Students League and founded the Broadmoor Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Chase began spending his summers teaching in Nantucket, where in 1945 he founded the Artists Association of Nantucket.

Allen Dean Cochran (1886-1971)

Shagbarks, c. 1920

Historical Society of Woodstock

If Dasburg was the “experimenter” at Woodstock, Birge Harrison and his students who still remained in the area, were representative of the early days of the colony. Hervey White noted that Bentley and his fellow landscape painters Allen Dean Cochran, Samuel Brown Wiley and Cecil Chichester, remained “true to all traditions much to Harrison’s joy.”(8)

Conflict had been brewing for years in the artistic community. The Maverick Festival of 1917 featured a performance that satirized the town’s diverse group of artists, which starred Bentley in the lead role of Rip Van Winkle. The performance was loosely based on the author Washington Irving's legendary short story of 1819 about Van Winkle, who after Imbibing liquor and falling asleep in the Catskill Mountains, awakes 21 years later to a greatly changed world. At the start of the festival performance, Rip appears deep in sleep. A wood nymph, played by the pioneering modern interpretive dancer Emily “Lada” Schupp, tries to rouse him. Following her calling, representatives of the various local schools of painting try in turn to wake him up. A group of Byrdcliffe artisans try to rouse him but he only sleeps more soundly. Next, a group of students from the Woodstock School of Landscape Painting barely startle him. Then a ballet based on the artist Dewing Woodward’s Blue Dome Fellowship (held in nearby Shady from the summer of 1913 through 1917 and focused primarily on painting nudes out-of-doors) was performed, featuring nude female models and artists singing and circling the stage. Teachers from Winold Reiss’ summer school in Woodstock then failed to stir Rip—- until he was finally shaken to consciousness by a group of the town’s ultra-modern artists (undoubtedly including Dasburg, Konrad Cramer and Henry Lee McFee), who caused him to run into the woods in utter bewilderment. The production was conceived by Hervey White and produced by Dasburg, McFee, metal worker Captain H. L. Jenkinson, and craftsman and landscape painter Edmund Rolfe.(9) In his unpublished autobiography, Hervey White related that the “idea made a great hit and each school [of art] saw the humor of its seriousness.”(10)

John W. Bentley Painting Outdoors

in the Philippines, c. 1922-1927

Bentley Family Archive

In March of 1922, Bentley sailed from San Francisco to Samoa on the steamship Sonoma. Shortly before his departure he wrote a letter to the Woodstock artist and actress Wilna Hervey, and her partner, the artist Nan Mason, informing them that he was traveling to the South Seas in order “to indefinitely dream, paint, etc., etc.”(11) The artist spent six months abroad, journeying in the footsteps of Robert Louis Stevenson in Samoa, and also traveling to Tahiti, the Society Islands, and the Marquesas Islands, among other places. He painted pictures of the writer’s home, grave site and swimming hole, as well as scenes in Tutuila, Savalli, Tafusi and Malifa. Bentley’s interest in Stevenson may have stemmed from his close connection with Birge Harrison, who was a personal friend of the Scottish novelist, poet and travel writer. The artist related that being “the first artist [some of the locals] had ever seen, my painting attracted crowds of fascinated natives.”(12)

John W. Bentley (1880-1951)

Robert Louis Stevenson House, c. 1921-1922

Reproduction from Bentley Family Archives

During the course of his six months abroad, Bentley associated with the author, journalist, hobo, peripatetic world traveler and public administrator Frederick O’Brien, who permitted him to use the studio in the back of his house on the island of Upola. He also became friendly with the documentary film maker Robert Flaherty. Following his return to Woodstock in the summer of 1923, Bentley authored the article “Painting among the Haunts of Robert Louis Stevenson,” for the periodical Art Gallery and Studio.(13) In an unpublished manuscript about his time in the South Seas, Bentley recorded his adventures and reactions as a painter to the people and places he visited and referred to the South Seas as the “Garden of Eden.”(14)

John W. Bentley (1880-1951)

By the Barn, c. 1923

Private Collection

In August of 1923, Bentley traveled to Los Angeles for an exhibition of his Woodstock landscapes at Stendahl Galleries, which recently emerged as one of the most innovative and influential galleries in Southern California. The works Bentley exhibited in Los Angeles reveal a more vigorous handling of paint, and a more colorful palette. The art critic for the Los Angeles Times felt that Bentley’s pictures were “admirably direct, admirably sincere, sometimes almost boisterous and riotous with color— and yet, the touch of restraint is there, the quiet command of this far and no further. Above all they are alive. They speak with no uncertainty.”(15)

——— End of Part 2 ———

Many people have in researching, writing and producing this three part blog on John W. Bentley. First, I would like to thank the Bentley family for generously providing valuable written material about the artist, along with photographs of him and images of his art. I’d also like to thank the following people for the assistance they provided: Janine Fallon-Mower, Jonathan Elwyn, Richard Sorenson, Virginia Mecklenburg, Deborah Harper, Alex Katlan, Eric Indursky, Sam Freed, Paul Washington, Henry T. Ford, Jean Young, Dr. Craig Moss, Dina Carlson, Barbara Carlson, Karlyn Benson, Kim Apolant, Eric Lapp, Arhur A. Anderson, Derin Tanyol, Ed Sanders, Mikhail Horowitz, Esther Norman-Rios, and Abigail Sturges.

1) “Art Students League Exhibition,” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 4, 1918, p. 15.

(2) I would like to thank Alex Katlan and Eric Indursky for providing exhibition listings for Bentley’s showings at the Salmagundi Club.

(3) “Bentley Says he Preferred Art to Silk,” otherwise unidentified article, Bentley Family Archives. A copy of this article appears at the end of part 1.

(4) “Gallery Shows Open Air Colors: Trecarlin Praises Fine Work of Bentley in Winter Scenes,” The Morning Call (Paterson, New Jersey), April 1, 1924, p. 2.

(5) Anita M. Smith, Woodstock History and Hearsay (Woodstock, New York: Woodstock Arts, 2006), p. 171. Smith’s book was first published in 1959 by the Catskill Mountain Corporaton in Saugerties, New York.

(6) Lindin is quoted in Smith, p. 169.

(7) Alexander Brook, “The Woodstock Whirl,” Arts 3 (June 1923): 418.

(8) Hervey White, “Autobiography,” unpublished manuscript in the Papers of Hervey White, Special Collections Department, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, Iowa, p. 192.

(9) White, p. 223.

(10) Ibid.

(11) Letter from John W. Bentley to Nan Mason and Wilna Hervey, March 21, 1922, Woodstock Artists Association Archives.

(12) John W. Bentley, “Painting among the Haunts of Robert Louis Stevenson,” Art Gallery and Studio (June-July 1923): 8. The volume number is not known.

(13) Ibid., pp. 7-8.

(14) “John W. Bentley Comes to Ridgewood to Live and Continue his Painting,” February 15, 1940, otherwise unidentified article, Bentley Family Archives. The manuscript is in the Bentley Family Archives.

(15) “Colorful Pictures by John W. Bentley,” The Los Angeles Times, August 19, 1923, p. 62.

118 views0 comments


bottom of page