The Sailor's Wedding

Richard Caton Woodville (American, 1825-1855)1852

The Walters Art Museum

The Walters Art Museum
Baltimore, United States

In this late painting, Woodville arranged a large group of figures in the light, airy space of an office of a justice of the peace. At the center, a strapping red-haired sailor holds the arm of his demure bride. The dramatic moment is rendered with remarkable economy, from the irritated reaction of the judge interrupted at his supper, to the conciliatory gesture of the bowing groomsman, to the oblivious pride of the sailor and the humble expectation of the elderly members of the wedding party in their "Sunday best." A subsidiary drama unfolds in the doorway, where two African-American figures hold back a crying child and a grizzled old sailor looks in from the street. The details that set the scene, from the books and papers overflowing the horsehair trunk, to an almanac page pasted to the bookcase, to the red spittoon and glistening andirons, all "finished as with a microscope," add to its visual effect. The work evokes genre painting's earlier roots, mocking its lower-class subjects for the amusement of patrons of presumably higher station, while depicting a modern moment.


  • Title: The Sailor's Wedding
  • Creator: Richard Caton Woodville (American, 1825-1855)
  • Date Created: 1852
  • Subject Keywords: genre; Baltimore; wedding; sailor
  • External Link: For more information about this and thousands of other works of art in the Walters Art Museum collection, please visit art.thewalters.org
  • Roles: Artist: Richard Caton Woodville (American, 1825-1855)
  • Provenance: Purchased by William T. Walters (S. P. Avery as agent), Baltimore, February 14, 1861; inherited by Henry Walters, Baltimore, 1894; by bequest to Walters Art Museum, 1931.
  • Object Type: oil paintings
  • Medium: oil on fabric
  • Inscriptions: [Signature and date] Lower left: R. C. W. / 1852.
  • Geography: Place of Origin: Paris
  • Exhibitions: New Eyes on America: The Genius of Richard Caton Woodville. The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore; Mint Museum of Art Uptown, Charlotte. 2013., From Rye to Raphael: The Walters Story. The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore. 2014-2016., The American Artist as Painter and Draftsman. The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore. 2001., Romanticism in America. Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore. 1940., 250 Years of Painting in Maryland. Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore. 1945., A Hundred Years Ago. 1958-1959., The Dusseldorf School of Painting-Crossing Bridges between Cultures. Stiftung Museum Kunst Palast, Dusseldorf. 2011-2012., Vice-Versa: German Painters in America. American Painters in Germany 1813-1913. Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin. 1996., Highlights from the Collection. The Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore. 1998-2001., Die Düsseldorfer Malerschule. Kunstmuseum Dusseldorf im Ehrenhof, Dusseldorf. 1979., Nineteenth Century Maryland Life. Kanagawa Prefectural Museum, Kanagawa. 1986., New Horizons: American Painting 1840-1910. State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow; State Russian Museum, Leningrad; Minsk State Art Museum, Minsk. 1987-1988., Richard Caton Woodville. Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington; The Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore; Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute- Museum of Art, Utica; High Museum of Art, Atlanta; Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn. 1967-1968.
  • Dimensions: H: 18 3/16 x W: 21 3/4 in. (46.2 x 55.2 cm); Framed: H: 23 5/16 x W: 27 11/16 x D: 2 15/16 in. (59.2 x 70.4 x 7.5 cm)
  • Credit Line: Acquired by William T. Walters, 1861
  • Classification: Painting & Drawing
  • Accession Number: 37.142

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