Although Baltimore native Richard Caton Woodville lived abroad the majority of his short career, his most famous paintings depict life in his hometown. Like his contemporary William Sidney Mount, he portrayed colorful characters in stories marked by humor and deception, but Woodville's canvases assume a darker tone in both composition and subject matter.
In Waiting for the Stage, three men assemble in a tavern, commonly used as a waiting room for stagecoaches. Two of the men are seated at the table, engaged in what appears to be a game of cards; the gentleman with a carpetbag at his side is presumably a traveler. The third figure stands beside the table clutching a newspaper called The Spy. He wears the glasses of a blind man, but his cleverly titled journal betrays his ruse. From his elevated position, he can see both men's cards, and is likely conspiring with the traveler, who may be a conman. Light bounces off the wedding ring of the third individual, reminding the viewer of the existence of family members whose well-being could be threatened by this deceit. The small, cramped space of the tavern underscores the painting's menacing tone.
Woodville painted this scene in Paris, after leaving medical school and moving to Europe in 1845 to pursue painting full-time. He trained in Düsseldorf, Germany, before spending the next four years working in Paris and London. He died in London in 1855 having completed fewer than 15 oil paintings.
lower right: R.C.W. 1851. / Paris
The artist; by descent through his family; (Samuel P. Avery, New York); purchased 1867 by Lucius Tuckerman, Esq., New York; by descent to Mrs. James Lowndes, Miss Emily Tuckerman, Lucius C. Wolcott, and Walter R. Tuckerman, by 1907. Private collection, by 1959; purchased October 1960 by the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington; acquired 2014 by the National Gallery of Art.
- Private Collection of Oil Paintings by American Artists, made by Samuel P. Avery during the past 15 Years and now to be sold on account of his going to Europe, by Henry H. Leeds & Miner's, Henry H. Leeds & Miner Gallery, New York, no. 68.
- The Lucius Tuckerman Collection, Department of Fine Arts of the National Museum, National Gallery of Art [Smithsonian Institution], Washington, 1909, unnumbered catalogue.
- American Painters of the South, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 1960, no. 122.
- Progress of an American Collection, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 1963, unpublished checklist.
- Past and Present: 250 Years of American Art, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 1966, unpublished checklist.
- Richard Caton Woodville: An Early American Genre Painter, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington; Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore; Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute, Utica; High Museum of Art, Atlanta; Brooklyn Museum, 1967-1968, no. 17.
- Corcoran [The American Genius]. Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 1976, unnumbered catalogue.
- Arts in America: The Land of the Free, High Museum of Art, Atlanta, 1986, no catalogue.
- Figuratively Speaking: The Human Form in American Art, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 2004-2005, unpublished checklist.
- Encouraging American Genius: Master Paintings from the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Parrish Art Museum, Southampton; Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte; John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, 2005-2007, checklist no. 24.
- American Journeys: Visions of Place, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 21 September 2013-28 September 2014, unpublished checklist.
- New Eyes on America: The Genius of Richard Canton Woodville, Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, 2013, no. 14.
- Strong, Lisa. "Richard Catton Woodville, Waiting for the Stage." In Corcoran Gallery of Art: American Paintings to 1945. Edited by Sarah Cash. Washington, 2011: 106-107, 262, repro.