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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Charles Courtney Curran

Lotus Lilies, 1887, Charles Courtney Curran
Having spent quite a bit of time highlighting artists of northern Europe the past few weeks I feel I should give some time to an outstanding American artist from the same turn of the century era as the others. Not only that, but he spent much of his life as a resident of my home state of Ohio. Charles Courtney Curran is as interesting for the surprising similarities inherent in his art to that of his European counterparts as well as the noticeable differences. Insofar as differences are concerned, Curran's art seems to have a certain, hard-to-define "happiness" (for lack of a better term) than that which we've seen the past few weeks. I suppose part of that might be simply the man's personal disposition, but I can't help but think that it goes deeper than that, having social and cultural elements coming into play. Keep in mind that Europe was at that time still very much a squirming conglomeration imperial political entities whereas the United States, while still licking its wounds from a recent Civil War, was well on its way to becoming a massive industrial giant without parallel anywhere else in the world. Peace and prosperity begets, if not great art, at least an impressive quantity of very good art. Charles Courtney Curran falls into that category as a creator of very good art.
On the Heights, 1909, Charles Courtney Curran.
If the work of Charles Courtney Curran appears to have a certain "dated" look to our eyes, keep in mind the virtually all Victorian art, on either side of the Atlantic, bears the same burden. It was a time bound to be quite foreign to our technological lifestyle and way of thinking. Today, class distinctions, where they still exist, are fairly subtle and fluid. During the late 19th-Century they were neither. Curran painted the sweet life, lovely young ladies of all ages living in a sort of dream world, a largely carefree, refined elegance, that was both a gilded birdcage and an enviable privilege. If it appears unreal, that's because it was.

White Turkeys, 1898, Charles Courtney Curran
As an American Impressionist, Charles Courtney Curran was memorable both for his elegant interior and exterior portraits of women and children, as well as for his leadership role at the Cragsmoor Art Colony. He is often compared to fellow American Impressionists Mary Cassatt, Frank Benson, and Edmund Charles Tarbell. Curran’s iconic paintings featuring graceful young women in flowing dresses set against the vast expanse of nature captivated art critics and the public, as well as his fellow artists. Curran’s impressionistic techniques utilized the classic loose brushstrokes and a vivid palette which, when combined with his nostalgic subject matter created a lighthearted interpretation French Impressionism.

Although Curran experimented with several contemporary styles of his time, he never departed from either the time-honored domestic content or Realism.
Charles Courtney Curran was born in 1861 in Hartford, Kentucky, though with the advent of the Civil War, his family moved north to Sandusky, Ohio. He studied under Thomas B. Noble at the Cincinnati School of Design for a year before moving to New York City in 1882. There he first attended the National Academy of Design, then later studied at the Art Student’s League (below)under Walter Satterlee. At the age of 23, he made his public debut at the Academy of Design, a venue that showcased his work for the remainder of his career. In 1887, Curran’s paintings also began appearing at the Pennsylvania Academy where he continued to show his work for nearly three decades. He left for Paris in 1889 to study under Jules Lefebvre at the Académie Julian for two years. Upon his return to the United States, the artist settled in New York and began teaching at the Pratt Institute and Art Students League.

An Alcove in the Art Students League, Charles Curran
A Deep Sea Fantasy,
Charles Curran
Around 1903, fellow artist, Frederick Dellenbaugh invited Curran to visit Cragsmoor, a bourgeoning summer art center started by Edward Lamson Henry. Cragsmoor was located along a plateau in the Shawangunk Mountains of the Hudson River Valley. Captivated by the landscape and creative atmosphere, Curran set up a summer home and studio. He soon established himself as a central figure of the art colony, painting, teaching, and with the help of his wife, editing the student art publication Palette and Brush during his summers in Cragsmoor. While he is best known for his sweeping landscapes featuring young women and children, Curran also painted many portraits and even documented the process in several of his other paint-ings, from drawing the model on canvas, to presenting the finished work to his clients (below).

Fair Critics, 1886, Charles Courtney Curran. This work strikes me as quite strange as the eye contrasts the brightly lit model with the overly dark "hole" where Curran's critics are all but indefinable.
Curran's two years of study at the in Paris likely influenced his impressionistic use of form and light in his subsequent works. He seems to have been influenced by fellow American James McNeill Whistler's nocturnes as well (below). After two and half years abroad, Curran, his wife, and infant son returned to the United States in June, 1891. Curran spent the remainder of his life dividing his time between New York City and his house and studio at Cragsmoor along with months-long periods in Ohio where they had extended family and spent most summers.

A sampling of Curran's nocturnes, influenced by Whistler, but bearing a stronger degree of Realism than those of his fellow American.
Curran often used family members as models when he painted on the shores of Lake Erie, experimenting with a variety of artistic styles including impressionism, symbolism, tonalism and naturalism. Curran died in l942 at the age of eighty-one. During his life, Curran received much recognition for his figure paintings, but his style was not limited exclusively to that genre. The widely traveled artist also painted landscapes, portraits and a series of views of the Imperial Temples of Peking. Charles Curran's work is represented in numerous museum collections, and his outdoor paintings of youthful women have remained popular with individual collectors. It has been estimated that he produced more than 1500 paintings during his career.

One title, two paintings...

Goldfish, Charles Courtney Curran


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