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Saturday, August 2, 2014

Charles Hopkinson

Growing old on canvas.            
I like to think that I'll grow old and gray, passing away with a paintbrush in my hand sometime after the centennial of my birth. Perhaps minus the paintbrush, we all have such delusions. Actually quite a number of artists born in the past century or two have often come close to that distinction. Picasso was ninety-two when he died. Marc Chagall lived into his 97th year, Hyman Bloom, the Jewish modernist lived to be ninety-six, Willem de Kooning, ninety-two, and of course, Anna Mary Robertson (Grandma) Moses lived to be 101. Charles Sydney Hopkinson lived to be ninety-three. For those not familiar with the name, Hopkinson was mostly a portrait artist. He was born in 1869, died in 1961. I'm a portrait artist, born in 1945. I'm in relatively good health; I have a wife who watches my diet; an agile mind, good genes, a few cases of prolonged longevity in my family tree, and still get around pretty well--so far so good.
Charles Hopkinson Self-portrait,
ca. 1890, around twenty years of age.
Charles Hopkinson Self-portrait,
1961, age ninety-two.
Hopkinson struck me as interesting in that, as a portrait artist, he painted his first self-portrait around the age of twenty (above, left). He painted his final self-portrait when he was ninety-two (above, right). Obviously he was no Dorian Gray. What is most interesting are the self-portraits he painted between 1890 and 1961 (top). He painted some sixty-seven other self-portraits at irregular intervals throughout his life, approximately one every two or three years. Even Rembrandt didn't leave such a painted record of himself growing old (counting Rembrandt's etched self-portraits, they're about neck and neck). And while Hopkinson was no Rembrandt, his self-portraits offer a level of insight into his character and his own self-image to rival any by van Gogh, Rembrandt, or Picasso.

Edward Estlyn Cummings, age one,
(though he looks somewhat older than that),
Charles Hopkinson
Charles Hopkinson was a New Englander, born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, his father the owner of a private school from which Charles graduated in 1887, then enrolled in nearby Harvard where he began his art career drawing cartoons for The Harvard Lampoon. Choosing to become an artist, Hopkinson graduated from Harvard straight to New York's Art Students League and from there to the Academie Julian in Paris. By 1895 he was exhibiting in the Paris Salon. He returned to New York in the mid-1890s to try and establish himself as a portrait painter. His first commission came to be something of a curiosity, the first portrait of the poet, E.E. Cummings, before he became famous. Cummings (right), is said to have been about a year old at the time.

Hopkinson, his wife, and five daughters pose for a family portrait, 1923-24.
Yacht Races, Charles Hopkinson. Sailing is in
the blood of virtually every New England artist.
Despite E.E. Cummings, Hopkinson's career as a portrait artist was off to a rocky start. He had better luck in returning to France where he became adept at painting with watercolors along the Brittany coast and touring Europe in pursuit of Velasquez, El Greco, Frans Hals, and Rembrandt (who perhaps inspired his penchant for self-portraits). The early 1900s were a turbulent time for Hopkinson as he divorced his first wife, Angelica, married a second, Elinor, and became the father of a daughter, Harriet, born in 1904 (four more daughters were to follow during the next ten years). Although he displayed in prestigious shows and won several awards (usually bronze) it wasn't until he began painting portraits of his uncle and his friends that his career began to gain altitude. His uncle happened to be Charles William Eliot, president of Harvard University. He painted his uncle six times. During the next several years, Hopkinson became the Harvard house portrait artist.

Photography magnate, George Eastman, poses for a 1929 Hopkinson portrait
(apparently not done from a photo).
President Calvin Coolidge, 1931,
Charles Hopkinson
Although he exhibited in the landmark 1913 Armory Show in New York, Hopkinson was not a part of the New York art scene. He was too "Boston" for that, preferring to paint watercolor seascapes of the rocky New England coast or racing yachts (above, right) instead. But for the most part, that was just a summer diversion. During the course of the next several years, as a popular portrait artist he painted such personages as John D. Rockefeller Jr, (1927), George Eastman (of Eastman Kodak, 1929), Oliver Wendell Holmes (1930, the first of three). And in 1931, Hopkinson painted the official White House portrait of President Calvin Coolidge (left) after he'd left office.

A much more relaxed 1952 portrait of the Hopkinson granddaughters,
Mary, Alice, and Marjorie
Two generations of Hopkinson girls.
Over the course of his lifetime, Hopkinson painted over eight hundred portraits, some bearing the likenesses of those quite famous, others simply friends and those who could afford his fees. In later years, following the death of his second wife in 1947, Hopkins mostly collected awards and honors. He traveled around the world, spending time with friends in Europe and one of his daughters in New Zealand. He painted what he saw there in watercolor, and what he saw in the mirror each morning in oils. His palette lightened, his style became looser, his later portraits centering mostly on his five daughters and their daughters.

Embassy Garden, New Zealand, 1952, Charles Hopkinson


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