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 Charles Rollo Peters  (1862 - 1928)

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Lived/Active: California      Known for: painter of nocturnes, tonalist landscape

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Charles Rollo Peters, called "The Poet of Night", is best known for his Tonalist landscapes, especially nocturnes, with much of his subject matter being scenes around his home in Monterey, California.   James McNeill Whistler, who promoted the Tonalist aesthetic in Europe,  was a major influence on his painting and "is reported to have said that Peters was the only artist other than himself who could paint nocturnes." (Gerdts)  As Peters matured, his life became increasingly tumultuous, but the one stable part of his existence was his painting.  He continued to pour his emotions into his work, creating lonely, mysterious nocturnes with a palette of deep blues and blacks.  The scenes were invariably dotted with a speck of light emanating from the moon or a lighted window.  His landscapes usually displayed a more prominent sky view and often included a winding path or road trailing off in the distance.

Peters was born in San Francisco, California in 1862 to a wealthy family, and attended Bates Private School for Boys in San Francisco and the City College of San Francisco, where his talent for sketching and painting became obvious and was encouraged.  After graduation from the College, he spent time as a commercial artist, but this pursuit did not hold his interest.  In the mid 1880s, he began to study  privately with Jules Tavernier and also attended classes with Virgil Williams and Christian Jorgensen at the California School of Design.  During this period, he painted Bay-Area scenery.

In 1886 he began a four-year period of study and travel in Europe, enrolling in Paris at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and the Academie Julian.  His teachers were Jean-Leon Gerome and Fernand Cormon. 

In San Francisco, where he returned in 1890, he met and married Kathleen Mary Murphy, and the couple immediately departed for an extended trip to England and France.  Peters painted the countryside and produced numerous landscape paintings, especially moonlit views of Brittany and Paris---his first nocturnes, encouraged by the aesthetic of Whistler, whose influence was pervasive in England and France. 

Upon his return to California about 1895, Peters held a large show in San Francisco and was able to sell many of his works.  Soon after, he and his family relocated to Monterey, California where Peters became interested in California adobe ruins and missions as subjects for his paintings.  Night paintings with rich blues highlighted by moon light became his signature work.  Like most Tonalists, he painted in his studio.  It was written of him that Monterey residents often saw him "wandering about in the semi-darkness, taking down notes here and there, studying the different phases of light, and creating a vivid mental picture of the scene he wished to paint."  (Lowrey 158).

In 1899, he made a tour with his collection of paintings through Chicago, Maine, Long Island, and New York City where he held a solo exhibition at the Union Club where he received very favorable publicity.  One reviewer of the Union Club work wrote: "The artist has studied the atmospheric effect of the night to good purpose, and in the representation of the silvery gray of moonlight he has arrived at singular proficiency."

Peters returned to Monterey in 1900 and purchased thirty acres of land where he built an estate.  He exhibited in the annual exhibitions of the San Francisco Art Association and the Bohemian Club.  Along with William Keith, Xavier Martinez, Karl Neuhaus and Will Sparks, he established in Monterey the Del Monte Art Gallery, which was the first gallery focused exclusively on work by California-based artists. 

The later part of his life was stricken with sadness and grief with the death of his wife in 1902 and daughter in 1904.  During this period, Peters began to compensate for his emotional losses by throwing lavish parties for his artist friends, sparing no expense. Following the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, his estate became the hub of activity for Bay Area artists.

In 1909, Peters met Mabel Prudhomme Easley, a sophisticated and worldly woman.  She was an artist who painted delicate landscapes and had recently shown her work in the San Francisco Bay Area when she met Peters.  They were soon married and spent a year in England where Peters had a very successful exhibition in London in 1910.  When the couple returned home to California it became evident that Peters spending had caught up with him.  Authorities foreclosed on his Monterey estate.  Suffering depression, he began to drink regularly which resulted in the deterioration of his health.  He and his wife separated in 1920 and Peters became ill soon after.  However, when Mabel heard the news of his illness, she returned and remained with him until his death in San Francisco in 1928.

Sources:
Carol Lowrey, "Charles Rollo Peters", The Poetic Vision: American Tonalism (Spanierman Galleries, LLC)
William Gerdts, "American Tonalism: An Artistic Overview", The Poetic Vision: American Tonalism (Spanierman Galleries, LLC), p. 27
Edan Hughes, Artists in California, 1786-1940
Birgitta Hjalmarson, Artful Players: Artistic Life




This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in San Francisco, CA on April 10, 1862 into a wealthy pioneer family. Peters studied locally at the School of Design under Virgil Williams and Chris Jorgensen and privately with Jules Tavernier. In 1886 he went to Paris where he was a student of Gérome and Cormon at Ecole des Beaux Arts and of Boulanger and Lefebvre at Académie Julian. While in Paris he exhibited at the Paris Salon and was greatly influenced by Alexander Harrison and James McNeil Whistler (who once remarked that Peters was the only artist other than himself who could paint nocturnes). Peters returned to his home in 1890, married the following year, and again spent four years studying in Europe. Upon his return to California, he settled in Monterey where he built a 30-acre estate called "Peters Gate." His home was a haven for other artists and he entertained lavishly until the money ran out. Following tragic losses of both his wife and small daughter, Peters remarried in 1909. The Monterey house was sold and the family went to Europe for two years. The remainder of Peters' life was spent in San Francisco with sporadic trips to Europe. He died in his native city on March 1, 1928. Eugen Neuhaus wrote, "He loved to paint the crumbling façades and tiled roofs of some moonlit Spanish adobe, and in developing the inherent textural and color qualitites, he achieved a very unique and personal style. His color schemes are the rich analogues of the blue and purple of night with the complementary nuances of a small bit of orange light peeping through a half-shut window." Exh: Mechanics' Inst. (SF), 1885, 1890; Munich, 1888; Paris Salon, 1889; SFAA, 1891-1923; Union League Club (NYC), 1899; Pan Am Expo (Buffalo), 1901 (bronze medal); Lotus Club, 1904 (prize); Louisiana Purchase Expo (St Louis), 1904 (silver medal); Salmagundi Club, 1904 (medal); Cincinnati and Boston, 1904 (medals); Gould Gallery (LA), 1907; Del Monte Gallery, 1907-20; Alaska-Yukon Expo (Seattle), 1909; Steckel Gallery (LA), 1912, 1926; Bohemian Club, 1913, 1923; Golden Gate Park Museum, 1915; Stendahl Gallery (LA), 1926; CHS (San Marino), 1966; Colton Hall (Monterey), 1968 (solo); Oakland Museum, 1972. In: CHS; De Young Museum; Bohemian Club; Oakland Museum; Monterey Peninsula Museum.
Source:
Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
American Art Annual 1907-23; Calif. Design 1910; History & Ideals of American Art (Neuhaus); Dictionnaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs, et Graveurs (Bénézit, E); Dictionary of American Painters, Sculptors & Engravers (Fielding, Mantle); Artists of the American West (Doris Dawdy); California Art Research, 20 volumes; Del Monte Revisited; Artists of the American West (Samuels); Art in California (R. L. Bernier, 1916); Los Angeles Times, 3-2-1928 (obituary).
Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

Biography from William A. Karges Fine Art - Carmel:
Charles Rollo Peters was born in San Francisco in 1862, where he studied at the School of Design, and with Jules Tavernier.  In his mid-20’s Peters left for Europe to study at the Ecole des Beaux Arts and the Academie Julian in Paris. While abroad, Peters was greatly influenced by the work of James McNeil Whistler (who was likewise impressed with Peters).

Upon returning to the U.S., Peters settled on a 30-acre estate in Monterey where he entertained visiting artist friends lavishly. Peters was receiving great acclaim for his work. His paintings from this period are almost invariably nocturnes of the crumbling historic adobes left from Spanish Colonial times.  In 1909, following family tragedies, Peters remarried, his estate was sold, and he moved back to San Francisco, where he died in 1928.

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at registrar@AskART.com.


Charles Peters is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
California Painters
Tonalism



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