Monday, September 7, 2009

Random Inspiration: Charles Courtney Curran (1861-1942)

Prolific American painter, Charles Courtney Curran, was born in Hartford, Kentucky, February 13, 1861, but spent the latter part of his youth in Sandusky, Ohio. At the age of 20, he began studying art at the Cincinnati School of Design with Thomas B. Noble, but after a single year of advanced training in his home state, Curran moved to the nation's artistic hotspot, New York City.

In New York, Curran studied with Walter Satterlee at the National Academy of Design, and by the age of 23, held his first public exhibition of art at the Academy. In 1886, Curran was elected an Associate of the Academy, and two years later, became a full Academician. At age 28, Curran won the Academy's Third Hallgarten Prize for the painting Breezy Day, considered then to be the most "meritorious painting in oil."

After following his instruction at the Academy with a brief schooling at the Art Students' League in New York, Curran decided to continue his studies overseas. From 1889 to 1891, he completed the "proper training of an American artist" by doing the "prerequisite" study of painting in Europe. At the Académie Julian in Paris, Curran worked under such notable instructors as Benjamin Constant, Jules Joseph Lefebvre, and Henri Lucien Doucet, and within only a few years at Julian, he achieved recognition at the Paris Salon.

Curran returned to America, and continued his success. His work at times showed the influence of Jules Bastien-Lepage, who motivated Curran and his contemporaries to paint scenes of everyday life (though Curran's were less "gritty"), and at other times, the influence of the Symbolists, who rallied against the Naturalists in order to promote scenes of imagination and spirituality. In 1903, however, with his introduction to the Cragsmoor Art Colony, Curran's oeuvre coalesced into the theme which the artist would pursue for the rest of his career: modern women, usually dressed in white, painted against blue skies and standing upon flower-covered mountain tops.

Evansville, nestled near the Shawgunk Mountains in Ulster County, New York, and which became known as Cragsmoor in 1893, was discovered by artists in the early 1870s and was founded in 1879. The small town with its "stimulating air, its distant horizon, its wide expanse of landscape, valley and mountain, the brilliancy of its sunset skies, and the grandeur and awfulness of its summer storms"¹ was the perfect escape for New York City artists seeking to "pursue nature in a place not yet touched by industrial progress."² The colony attracted such artists as Edward Lamson Henry, Eliza Pratt Greatorex, John George Brown, William Holbrook Beard, Helen Turner, Austa Sturdevant, George Inness Jr., and Frederick Samuel Dellenbaugh, the man responsible for introducing Curran to the area.

In 1910, work was completed on Curran's home, Winahdin, and he and his wife, Grace, settled happily into the congenial Cragsmoor Colony. This environment, which one journalist described in 1906 as "a harmonious community... active-minded and deeply interested in the best art, literature, drama and music,"³ was a constant source of inspiration for Curran's Impressionistic canvases. He spent the next 30 years of his life painting the land around his home, and participating in the overseeing of the colony.

November 9, 1942, the artist passed away in New York City, leaving behind a large catalog of paintings which can still be seen in many of the nation's great collections, including the Smithsonian Institution, and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

¹ Steve Shipp, American Art Colonies, 1850-1930: A Historical Guide to America's Original Art Colonies and Their Artists (Greenwood Press, 1996), p. 25.
² Shipp, p. 25. (Quote attributed to Judge George Brown).
³ Shipp, p. 25. (From an article from The Cragsmoor Journal, 1906).



Kendra Melton said...

so much its almost overwhelming. great collection of images you're accumulating on this blog. Lots of inspiration. I especially love the woman hanging out her laundry.

Gregory Becker said...

This is your best post yet. I think I have a new favorite artist. I wish I had the money to buy that first clothes line painting. I love clothes line paintings. They are in my top five themes.
Some of the most beautiful paintings I have ever seen.
You rock for posting this.

Anonymous said...

Some great stuff and some so so stuff.. he should have been better at throwing away his duds :)

innisart said...

I think it is pretty amazing to see the timespan of Curran's work, especially since he was so particular about a specific subject matter. The clothing really tells the tale of the decade in which the painting was completed, as does the style of the painting.

For me, there are decades in which the prevalent style is not always appealing, and unfortunately Curran's early works fall in that group. I think his works in the teens through the '30s are outstanding, with some exceptions; those exceptions are nearly always because the draftsmanship on the figure was suddenly weak. His composition and colors seemed to hold from work to work, but I think some pieces may have been done without aid of the model, and the paintings suffered from it. I'm glad he didn't throw any away though!

When he was on, he was brilliant!

Jennifer and Robert Liang said...

i have had the wonderful pleasure of standing on those same cliffs that Curran and his models stood on so many years ago. you see...Curran is my husbands' great grandfather. We went to Cragsmoor to see the house that Curran built and to visit Bear Hill Cliffs. i must say...the clouds there look just like the ones in Curran's paintings and i have not seen them anywhere else.
thank you so much for such a great blog post. I do not know many who have such passion for his works...

innisart said...


The first day of my freshman orientation, I bought three posters for my dorm room walls: JW Waterhouse, Magritte, and Curran (the first image in this blog). My college girlfriend (now my wife) and I had that poster on the wall of our first apartment. It is such a wonderful painting.

My wife and I both have ties to the region around Cragsmoor. My family is from the area around Orange Lake in Newburgh, and my wife's family is from Garrison. We would often visit the Shawgunks, and I asked my wife to marry me at the Mohonk Mountain House. It is easy to see from where Curran derived his inspiration.

Thank you so much for contacting me; it was great to hear from you.


Scott C. Smith said...

I am another of C.C.Curran's great grand children and find it interesting to learn about him. As a child growing up, I remember seeing a painting of his in our living room which seemed to be a permanent fixture that I mostly took for granted, but with age began to appreciate more. Thanks for your post which allows me to look up to a part of the stream of life that flowed down to me.

Aputsiaq said...

What a stunning collection! Breath taking...more than that!! Thanks for the link...the images...and your lovely comment!!

Richard Mintzer said...

I own a large documented painting
by charles c. curran
which I would like to sell

rich 917 453 0978