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Charles Webster Hawthorne

Charles Webster Hawthorne
Portrait of a Lady, oil on canvas, 44" x 34" (image), 49" x 39" (with frame), signed upper right
Born in Lodi, Illinois, Charles Hawthorne spent his early years in Maine. In 1890, he went to New York City, where he worked alternatively on the docks and in a stained glass factory. In his spare time, however, he studied at the Art Students League and then at the National Academy of Design. In 1896, he enrolled in William Merritt Chase’s school at Shinnecock Hills. He ultimately became Chase’s assistant and helped Chase found the Chase School in New York. After Chase closed his school, Hawthorne went to Europe to view the old masters first-hand and was particularly intrigued with the work of Frans Hals.

The year 1899 began Hawthorne’s association with Provincetown on Cape Cod, at the time a picturesque fishing village. The artist established there the Cape Cod School of Art, with which he was associated for over 30 years. The fame of the art colony he had founded grew with the personal reputation of the artist. Hawthorne won the National Academy’s Hallgarten Prize in 1904 and again in 1906, initiating a string of prizes and medals he acquired over the next two decades. Under his guidance, the Provincetown art colony became well known for plein air figure painting. In the last decade of his life, Hawthorne fought something of a rear guard action against the forces of Modernism invading America and the art colony at Provincetown.

Hawthorne was known for counseling students to work quickly and assertively, abandoning drawing and letting color do the work. His practice of laying in unblended color and his fascination with capturing the effects of daylight at different times of day has led to his being categorized as an “impressionist” painter, a label which is probably as much distorting as revealing. Although there are “impressionist’ elements in his work, his style seems as much a combination of plein air light, the emergent ‘realism’ of the Ashcan painters, and the dark manner of both Hals and the Munich school à la Chase.

Hawthorne’s work can be found in the many of America’s finest collections, including the Albright-Knox Gallery, the Butler Museum of American Art, the Chrysler Museum, the Metropolitan Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Wadsworth Atheneum, and the Whitney Museum.


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