Click on photos to enlarge.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Charles Harold Davis

The Old Homestead, Charles Harold Davis
When it comes to landscape paintings, I set a pretty high bar. I think the reason for this is that over the years I've painted quite a number of them and, on the whole, never felt really challenged in doing so. As compared to portraits, genre scenes, still-lifes and most other types of painting, I find them to be "easy" art. In fact, I highly recommend them to beginning painters for that very reason. Except for the medium of watercolor, when painted under some degree of instructional supervision, it's very rare that even a first-time painter doesn't come up with something they'd proudly hang over their couch. And therein lies another reason I have minimal respect for such works--they very often (the vast majority) are "couch" paintings. Aside from the innate beauty of God's green earth, they convey little as to meaning and message. You could get far more satisfaction by simply cutting a hole in the wall and installing a window (with the added advantage of having a framed landscape that changes with the four seasons).

A Clearing, Charles Harold Davis
Charles H. Davis, 1914
I'm not saying landscapes don't have their place in art. They do; but most often as backgrounds for some more interesting item or element (they don't such things "centers of interest" for nothing). Charles Harold Davis was an American landscape painter born in 1856. He grew up in Amesbury, Massachusetts, and studied at the schools of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts before tripping off to Paris to study at the Academie Julian. From there it was just a short trek to the Barbizon Forests and his first flirtation with Impressionism. When he returned to the U.S. in 1890, Davis settled in picturesque Mystic, Connecticut. There he made a permanent shift in his style to the Impressionism, except that rather than concentrate on the landscapes of his Impressionist peers, he took up painting the varied cloudscapes overhead (above). It was for these that Davis became best-known.
Twilight over the Water, 1892, Charles H. Davis
Even though Charles Davis was American, his landscapes, perhaps owing to their Impressionist roots, seem to me more French that "New Englandish." Davis's Twilight over the Water (above), dating from 1892, seems quite reminiscent of Monet's famous Impression, Sunrise of 1872. Although Davis' cloudscapes do have a certain degree of interest, as seen in his Clouds After Storm (below), from 1900, to me they do not "carry" the painting, much like a beautifully filmed motion picture with little plot and no characters. Compare the work below to The Old Homestead (top). Both are landscapes but one has a center of interest. The other doesn't (beyond some colorful clouds).

Clouds After Storm, 1900, Charles Harold Davis,
Even with the addition of a road through the forest and some colorful (if somewhat monochromatic) fall foliage, they do little to rescue Davis' Golden October (below), from the realm of bland. Roads were intended for travel. Where's the traveler(s)? Perhaps a group of hunters, or even a forlorn cow would serve to lift this work from the mundane to the modestly interesting.

Golden October, Charles Harold Davis.
When Davis makes up his mind to do so, he is quite capable of injecting various elements of human interest into his paintings, such as seen in his A Ruined Homestead (below) from around 1915. The painting remains a landscape, but one loaded with pathos, and no doubt history and a lingering human presence despite it's deserted present. Even though the landscape is rather dull and uninteresting, Davis' dilapidated farmhouse is anything but.

A Ruined Homestead,  ca. 1915, Charles H. Davis.
One of Davis's best-known and most-beloved paintings is The Oak (below), dating from 1903. It's only when Davis steps back from what he knows and does best, moving outside the realm of what we've come to call a "safe zone," that his work becomes in any was exceptional and thus memorable. During his lifetime, Charles Harold Davis met with critical acclaim and commercial success. He was represented by several galleries, including the Macbeth Gallery in Manhattan, where he had eight solo exhibitions and a memorial retrospective. He was inducted into the National Academy of Design in 1906, and in 1913 he was a founder of the Mystic Art Association (now Mystic Arts Center). His works are in the collections of institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. At the time of his death in 1933, Davis was likened to Millet and to great literary figures like Hardy and Tolstoy. Though such accolades were impressive, soon thereafter he was largely forgotten. Mundane landscapes have that effect upon artists. Some claim Davis did not promote himself enough. He is often thought of as shy and diffident. If that was the case, this same trait is evident in most of his landscapes as well.
The Oak, 1903, Charles Harold Davis
All Hallows Eve, Charles Harold Davis


  1. Hola Jim,
    Hello! Can you interest my work? It is a wonder of yours, and so inconsequential is mine? is my page thank you very much!

  2. I checked your blog, however inasmuch as I understand very little Spanish I was unable to understand most of what you've written. I believe BlogSpot (or Google) has a translation widget which can be installed at the bottom of your page that will translate your words into several different languages. Also, they have a search engine widget that will go in at the top (left corner) to allow readers to search all the many items you have written for a specific subject or artist. You can check out the translation widget just below the copyright notice.

    Hope this helps.