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 Arthur Beecher Carles, Jr.  (1882 - 1952)

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Lived/Active: Pennsylvania      Known for: abstraction and figure painting, flower studies

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Ad Code: 2
Arthur Beecher Carles
from Auction House Records.
Flower Arrangement
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Arthur Carles was a painter whose work went through phases of Realism, Impressionism, Fauvism and Abstract Expressionism, and of the latter style, he was one of the first American proponents.

It has been expressed that his facile, technical skills led to his inability to settle on a style, which worked against him because he was not known for any specific type of work.  He spent most of his life in Philadelphia where he studied, taught and exhibited at the Philadelphia Academy of the Fine Arts.

At the Pennsylvania Academy, he was early influenced by the bravura technique of William Merritt Chase as well as by early works of Edouard Manet. At the same time, he also painted in a precise realist manner. In 1907, he went to Paris to study and developed an interest in Post-Impressionism and Fauvism and fell under the influence of his friend, Henri Matisse. He also associated with Paul Gaughin, Hans Hofmann, Gertrude and Leo Stein, Alfred Maurer and the American, John Marin.

In New York, he participated in Alfred Stieglitz 1910 avant-garde show "Younger American Painters," which made the distinction between the popular American Scene painters and those including Carles who were painting abstraction.

In 1913, his work was part of the New York Armory Show, another exhibition that included modernist painting and sculpture of Europeans and Americans and shocked many Americans.  During World War I, Carles was among a group of artists who served as civilian ship camouflage artists for the U.S. Shipping Board in Philadelphia.

In the 1920s and 1930s, he did little exhibiting, but his work became increasingly abstract, and between 1937 and 1941, he created works whose heavily brushed surfaces and violent-appearing rhythms anticipated the Abstract Expressionism that became pervasive in America in the 1950s.

Carles was so alone in the critical eye because he was so far ahead. He slowly digested his European lessons, then moved on to a symphonic orchestration of colors all his own.

He also did portraits and floral studies, but he stopped painting in 1941 because of an accident.  Since his death in 1952, his work has remained relatively obscure, a condition that some attribute to his alcoholism and the fact he had no ongoing relationship with a gallery that promoted him. Also his work was left in disarray with many pieces undated and some disappearing. However, in 1983, Barbara Wolanin organized a retrospective of his work at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts with the idea of causing viewers to appreciate his painting.

Sources include:
Peter Falk, Who Was Who in American Art

Art in America, 11/2002

Additional information courtesy of Jean Ershler Schatz

Roy R. Behrens, who referenced an essay by William Bell Clark, "Camouflage Painting on the Delaware" from the book, Philadelphia in the World War 1914-1919.

Biography from Hollis Taggart Galleries (Artists, A-D):
Known for his use of expressive and uninhibited color, Arthur B. Carles explored modernist principles without following a particular formula.  At times, he arrived at artistic innovations in advance of other painters of his day.  Considered a precursor of the Abstract Expressionists, he and his work were respected and admired by major critics and fellow artists including Hans Hofmann.  He was recognized by ARTNews as one of the most important art teachers in America.

Born in Philadelphia on March 9, 1882, Arthur Beecher Carles, Jr., may have received his first artistic instruction from his father, who was a designer and amateur artist.  As a young man, Carles studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts between 1900 and 1907.  His teachers—among them Thomas Anshutz, Hugh Breckenridge, Henry McCarter, Cecilia Beaux, and William Merritt Chase—were inspired by modern French painting and all stressed color and design to varying degrees.  In 1903, Carles won the Henry P. Thouron Prize for best student composition and participated in the Philadelphia Watercolor Exhibition.  Two years later, Carles was awarded the William Emlen Cresson Traveling Scholarship. Accompanied by artist friend George Oberteuffer, he visited London, Paris, and possibly Chase’s class in Madrid.

In 1907, Carles embarked on another extended stay in France provided by the two-year Cresson scholarship.  John Trask, director of the Academy, took a special interest in Carles and arranged for a commission from a Philadelphia church for a copy of Raphael’s Transfiguration in the Vatican.  Trask was later instrumental in placing the artist’s work in the Panama-Pacific Exposition of 1915, where Carles won a silver medal for White Nude with Apple.

Carles stayed in Paris until 1910, immersing himself in the newest trends in art.  He visited Leo and Gertrude Stein’s salon and associated with other American artists such as John Marin and Edward Steichen.  Carles was particularly attracted to the work of Paul Cezanne and Henri Matisse, and his canvases from this period reveal Matisse’s influence.  In March 1910, through Edward Steichen’s intervention, Carles’s work was included in the “Younger American Painters” show held at Alfred Stieglitz’s New York gallery, 291.  In its review of the show, the Philadelphia Inquirer remarked of Carles, “he represents more ably and fully than anyone else at present working in America the spirit of the new or modern movement in art in France today.”  Stieglitz gave Carles his first one-man show at 291 in January 1912. The following June, Carles returned to Voulangis, the village outside of Paris where the Steichens lived.

Carles returned from France in December 1912 with several landscapes, two of which he exhibited at the Armory Show of 1913.  He painted still lifes with Breckenridge in which they used similar objects, and their compositions are almost indiscernible in style.  By this time, Carles was a confirmed modernist and he became a fervent spokesman for modern art in Philadelphia.  During this period, Carles also painted his only major allegorical piece, The Marseillaise (Philadelphia Museum of Art), inspired by his love of France.  When exhibited at the Academy’s annual exhibition of 1919, the painting took the Stotesbury Prize and the Fellowship Prize, and it was hung in the Place of Honor.

Carles was instrumental in organizing three exhibitions at the Pennsylvania Academy in Philadelphia with the help of Stieglitz and others and the encouragement of his friend Leopold Stokowski, the conductor of the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra. His efforts took place in the context of the city’s cultural renaissance of the teens and 1920s.  The 1923 exhibition of European modernist paintings from the collection of Dr. Albert C. Barnes provoked particularly strong reactions.  Carles also played an influential role as a teacher of younger artists.  He taught the Saturday morning Sketch Class at the Academy from 1917 to 1925 and taught privately afterwards.

Carles lived in France for part of a year spanning 1921 and 1922, and for two years between 1929 and 1931.  During this decade, he began experimenting with breaking up forms with cubist planes of color.  After his return to the United States, he renewed his friendship with Hans Hofmann, whom he had met years before in Paris. He shared Hofmann’s love for Fauvist color and interest in Cubist space.  The two artists, accompanied by Carles’s daughter Mercedes, who was Hofmann’s pupil, lived together in Gloucester, Massachusetts during the summer of 1934.

In the last phase of his career, Carles painted a number of ambitious abstract compositions, despite repeated hospitalizations for alcoholism.  His life as an artist drew to an abrupt close in December 1941 with a fall and stroke that left him an invalid until his death in 1952.

Carles is represented in major public collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Museum of Modern Art, all in New York; the Newark Museum, New Jersey; the Baltimore Museum of Art; the Phillips Collection, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, and the Corcoran Gallery of Art, all in Washington, D.C.; the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the Philadelphia Museum of Art in Philadelphia; and the Art Institute of Chicago.


Biography from MB Fine Art, LLC:
Arthur B. Carles was born in Philadelphia.  His first teacher was probably his father, a craftsman who designed watch covers for the Keystone Watch Company and spent his free time drawing and painting.  Always encouraged to be an artist, Carles entered the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts on scholarship in 1900 and studied there for six and one-half years.  His favorite teachers were William Merritt Chase and Thomas P. Anshutz.

Carles won many prizes during his stimulating years as a student, ending his career in triumph with the $400 first prize in figure painting, and a long-term $2,000 scholarship that allowed for two years of study in Europe. (Carles's contemporaries at the Pennsylvania Academy were Charles Demuth and John Marin.

The artist spent the period between 1907 and 1910 in Paris, at that time considered the center of cultural and intellectual ferment.  There he discovered modern French painting and was impressed by the work of Cezanne and Matisse.  Carles became aware of the revolutionary paintings of Picasso and the brilliantly colored paintings of Braque, Gauguin and others.  He met informally in cafes and studios with other artists, including fellow American Patrick Henry Bruce.

His primary circle of friends included other young American modernists whose work was exhibited in New York by Alfred Stieglitz at his "291" gallery.  Stieglitz expressed his confidence in Carles by giving him his first one-man show in 1912. A Philadelphia Inquirer reviewer wrote of Carles's work:  "he represents more ably and fully than anyone else at present working in America the spirit of the new or modern movement in art in France today."

During this period Carles painted portraits, figure studies and landscapes, including Landscape - Garden in France.  His paintings, among the boldest in the famous Armory Show of 1913, placed him among the leading American modernists.

In 1917, Carles was hired as an Instructor of Drawing and Painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.  He taught there until his dismissal in 1925, a result, according to Carles biographer Barbara Wolanin, of "uninhibited behavior and flaunting of convention."  Wolanin writes, "The Academy, following a nationwide conservative trend, became more entrenched at the same time that Carles was becoming more outspoken and freer in his own work."

Carles was endlessly experimental as he searched to find new meaning in his work and new ways of expressing himself.  In his work in the early 1930s, space becomes intentionally ambiguous as forms are simplified and increasingly abstracted. By the end of his career he was well ahead of his time.  Regarded as a pioneer early in the century, he became an innovator.  In 1955, William Seitz wrote that Carles was "one of the least appreciated of our pioneers. . . . one of the most notable native precursors of Abstract Expressionism."

Throughout his career Carles retained a reputation as an innovative teacher, but his work was appreciated primarily by critics and other painters.  He was plagued by alcoholism, loneliness, and frustration at not being understood by the public. Ultimately, his drinking resulted in a fall in late 1941 that left him partially paralyzed, confined to a wheelchair and unable to paint at age fifty-nine.  In 1946 he was admitted to a nursing home where he died in relative obscurity in 1952.

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Arthur Carles, Jr. is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
New York Armory Show of 1913
Fauves/Fauvism
San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exhibition 1915



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