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In the Woods

Mary Josephine Walters

Late 1860s

Relatively little is known about Mary Josephine Walters except for scant biographical details and a few exhibition records, which indicate that she lived in New York City from 1867 until approximately 1877, and Hoboken, New Jersey from 1878 until her death in 1883. It is known, however, that she studied with the renowned Hudson River landscape painter Asher B. Durand (1796-1886), whose son John later described her as his father’s favorite woman student. In the Woods is Walters’s homage to her teacher. In 1855, Durand completed and exhibited a painting by the same title, which has come to be regarded as one of his finest works. Initially, its critical reception was mixed. A critic for the New York Times sneeringly wrote, “…it is a faithful transcript of Nature. We fail to detect any other merit in the work.” 

Like Durand, Walters renders the forest interior in meticulous detail. The crossed branches of the trees flanking the brook resemble a Gothic arch, evoking the then popular idea of a natural cathedral, or the forest as a place for contemplation of the Divine. This concept was perhaps best expressed by William Cullen Bryant in his 1860 poem, “A Forest Hymn,” in which he wrote, “The groves were God’s first temples.”