George Biddle: Portrait of Mansfield

Throughout Mansfield’s long history there have been a great many artists whose works have focused on the city in one way or another.

This series of articles collects portraits of our town created in different decades by painters, novelists, playwrights, composers, poets and filmmakers.

This chapter presents a virtual exhibition of watercolors painted in the streets of Mansfield by George Biddle. 

George Biddle (1919-1959) grew up in Mansfield, and the best introduction to the man and his work is this short documentary.

Post WWII: Toward Abstract Expressionism

Studying the paintings of George Biddle is like reviewing the evolution of Art History in America.  His earliest works are realistic, like traditional representational art found in America throughout the 1800s.   With experience and education his paintings became looser and more impressionistic like the styles popular in the art world of the 1920s and ’30s.

By the end of his painting career he had stopped using the paint as a way of depicting the world, and focused solely on the paint itself—its color, movement, rhythm and texture—just as the Modern Art movements did in the 1940s and ’50s.

Fortunately for us, the period of his career when his impressionistic technique was at its strongest was the time when he first came back to Mansfield after WWII, as he turned his attention to the town around him.

George was exploring a new technique of painting at the same time he was exploring Mansfield.  By soaking his paper and then quickly brushing watercolor and gouache to the surface as it was drying, he was able to render his scenes in vivid, bold color and movement. 

People saw him doing this all around town, with his equipment on the sidewalks, in the grass, on the back of his car.

The Showing

George really could not get enough art: he wanted it saturating the city no less than he saturated his watercolor paper.  He started the Art Guild so there would be more opportunity for serious consideration of Fine Arts in town, but even the seasonal exhibitions of the Guild were not enough.

So he conceived a project that could bring this specific local art focus more daily into the life of the city.  After studying which institutions in downtown Mansfield got the highest amount of foot traffic, he established an art showcase in the 1st National Bank, at the corner of Third and Main.

George designed a unique kiosk/easel structure that stood in the lobby of the bank, and every week he showed a new painting of Mansfield.

There are many of these paintings still hanging in homes around town today.  The images in this article were retrieved from slides taken during the artist’s life for insurance documentation.

There are many more paintings of local scenes listed in exhibit catalogs for which we have no photos.

The scenes he captured with his brilliant colors were the same sights that folks in Mansfield saw every day, and he intended for his work to incorporate art right into their lives—to transform the way they saw the world around them.

George enthusiastically expected his neighbors to see their lives—to see Mansfield—as Art; as a transcendent, creative experience.

A Portrait of Mansfield 1952-1958:

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