B.J.O. Nordfeldt - Editions & Works on Paper New York Tuesday, October 24, 2023 | Phillips
  • “Immediately, woodblock printing was revolutionized.”  
    —Ada Gilmore Chaffee 1

    During the winter of 1915-1916, a group of printmakers, many of whom had recently returned to the United States following the outbreak of the war, decided to stay in the small fishing village of Provincetown, Massachusetts for the season, building a sense of camaraderie and community as they braved the harsh New England winter to focus upon their artistic pursuits in woodblock printing. Settling down for the quiet winter, the group rented cottages on nearby streets, where they could support one another daily as they experimented with processes of printmaking.2 It was during this time that one printmaker, B.J.O. Nordfeldt, would be credited with inventing a new method of block printing that would quickly be taken up by the majority of the area’s printmakers, firmly establishing the distinctive aesthetic of the Provincetown Printers art colony.


    That winter, the white-line woodcut, otherwise known as the “Provincetown Print” was said to be born. Ada Gilmore Chaffee, who would soon also adapt her work to this process, described the difference between the white-line woodcut and the preceding techniques as such: “one day [Nordfeldt] surprised the others by exhibiting one block, with his complete design on that, instead of parts of it being cut on five or six blocks. He had left a grove in the wood to separate each color, and, in printing this, left a white line which emphasized the design. With his invention he had produced a more beautiful picture… Immediately, woodblock printing was revolutionized. Being able to see the complete picture on one piece of wood, like a painting on a canvas, gave new possibilities for creative work in that medium.”3


    A woodblock carved and inked by Provincetown Printer Agnes Weinrich and the associated print, Seated Woman, lots 25 and 24 in the present sale, respectively

    Japanese ukiyo-e style printmaking revolutionized the color print in Europe preceding World War I and served as the foundational technique for many of the Provincetown Printers. However, it was an extensive process of working from several blocks, one for each color; the white-line woodcut, while still labor intensive, simplified the process. Instead, an image could be drawn in pencil on the block; following its cutting, a sheet of paper is secured to the top of the block to insure accurate registration. Color is applied to each flat section, printed to paper, then repeated until all colors have been applied. Through applying watercolor with painterly strokes, the resulting print, like the present Wash Day, often appeared closer to a unique watercolor painting than an editioned work.


    Because of such efforts involved, editions of white-line woodcuts from Provincetown tend to be small; the extensiveness of the process indicates Nordfeldt’s interest in process and experimentation over replication, including the manner of inking impressions with watercolor, a method which resulted in varied color relationships of individual prints. Wash Day is an exemplary Provincetown Print for its utilization of the white-line woodcut technique to render a detailed composition in vibrant tones, the scene vibrantly alive through Nordfelt’s application of watercolor to the block, the superimposed hues creating shimmering, nearly iridescent effects. Provincetown women and scenes of feminine domestic life similarly became a typical subject for Provincetown prints, the artists looking toward the quaint and charming lives afforded to residents of the Arcadian, picturesque Provincetown.



    Ada Gilmore Chaffee, “Cape End Early Cradled Gifted Group of Print Makers Who Added To Art,” The (Provincetown) Advocate, October 30, 1952, p. 5

    2  University Art Museum, University of Minnesota, The Woodblock Prints of B.J.O. Nordfeldt, 1991, p. 49

    Ada Gilmore Chaffee, “Cape End Early Cradled Gifted Group of Print Makers Who Added To Art,” The (Provincetown) Advocate, October 30, 1952, p. 5

    • Exhibited

      University Art Museum, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, The Woodblock Prints of B.J.O. Nordfeldt, January 7 - March 22, 1991 (this impression)

    • Literature

      Fiona Donovan, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, The Woodblock Prints of B.J.O. Nordfeldt, 1991, cat. no. 37 (this impression)
      Sam Hunter, B.J.O. Nordfeldt: An American Expressionist, 1984, p. 34

Property from a Distinguished Maryland Estate


Wash Day (D. 37)

White-line woodcut in colors, on wove paper, with margins.
I. 11 7/8 x 11 in. (30.2 x 27.9 cm)
S. 14 1/2 x 13 3/4 in. (36.8 x 34.9 cm)

Signed, titled 'Wash day' and annotated 'imp' in pencil, additionally annotated '(one block method)' in blue pencil, framed.

Full Cataloguing

$5,000 - 7,000 

Sold for $30,480

Contact Specialist

212 940 1220

Editions & Works on Paper

New York Auction 24-26 October 2023