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 Charles Abel Corwin  (1858 - 1938)

About: Charles Abel Corwin


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Lived/Active: New York/California/Illinois      Known for: museum habitat backgrounds, land-and seascape paintings, lithography

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BIOGRAPHY for Charles Corwin
1858 (Newburgh, New York)
1938 (Hyde Park, Illinois)

New York/California/Illinois

Copyright by Owner

Often Known For
museum habitat backgrounds, land-and seascape paintings, lithography

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
A muralist, painter, and lithographer, Charles Corwin was born in Newburgh, New York, and most of his active career was in New York City, although he spent much time in Chicago where he taught at the Art Institute and was a member of the Chicago Society of Artists.  He also was in Boston and in San Francisco in 1916.

Corwin began his art studies in New York City, and then studied in Munich with Frank Duveneck and for some time adopted the Munich Style of painting, which was a heavy palette and dark tones.  However, his fine-art work later in his career became lighter, and his subjects were landscapes, seascapes, and animals.

His specialty was museum murals, and in the late 19th century and early 20th, he was also an instructor at the Art Institute of Chicago.  In 1903, he became a habitat preparator at the Field Museum, completing about 80 of the museum habitat groups of mammals, birds, and prehistoric people and animals.  One of his projects was a series of large mural paintings of trees and plants, many of exotic species, as they appeared in their natural conditions. 

He belonged to the Chicago Society of Artists, the Salmagundi Club and the Bronx Artist Guild.  Corbin’s work was exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago (1900) where he won a prize, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art between 1901 and 1906, the Chicago Society of Artists, the Boston Art Club (1906-07), the California Artists, Golden Gate Memorial Museum (1916), the San Francisco Art Association, and the California Palace of the Legion of Honor (1916).

Corwin was also part of the staff with E. Pierpont that painted the Cyclorama of Custer's Last Fight for the Boston Cyclorama Company in 1888.

He died at age 81 in January, 1938 at his home at 1423 Hyde Park Boulevard in Hyde Park, Illinois.  In his obituary relative to his work at the Field Museum, it was written: "His work included scenes from every continent and landscapes and seascapes of the earth as it is today and as it was millions of years ago. In addition to more than eighty backgrounds for groups, he painted a series of large murals of exotic plants and trees for the walls of the Hall of Plant Life.  His technique produced realistic results, which have been admired by visitors to the museum."

Peggy and Harold Samuels Artists of the American West

Obituary, Chicago Tribune, January 27, 1938, Courtesy, Sidney Hamper, President of the Vanderpoel Art Association; Obituary to the New York Times, January 27, 1938 from Gene Meier of Chicago.

Edan Hughes, Artists in California 1786-1940

This biography from the Archives of AskART:

Charles Corwin studied in Munich with Frank Duveneck in 1877.  After returning to Chicago two years later, he taught at the Art Institute in 1883 and exhibited there regularly between 1894 and 1905, then again in 1913 and 1914. 

Corwin, a member of the Chicago Society of Artists, contributed to the cyclorama called Custer’s Last Fight for the Boston Cyclorama Company in 1888, and he also assisted Paul Philippoteaux during the 1880's in the execution of another cyclorama, The Battle of Gettysburg, which has been recently restored (2008). 

At the Boston Art Club Corwin exhibited Cape Pond Wood and Drying Out in 1906 and Beeches and Boulders a year later.  Another of his landscapes, Edge of the Clearing (unlocated), appeared in the World’s Columbian Exposition. 

Probably in 1899 or 1900, Corwin spent the summer in Gloucester, where he returned in subsequent years.  He exhibited Ten Pound Island, Gloucester, Massachusetts in 1901 at the Pan-American Exposition.  Corwin became the Field Museum of Natural History’s habitat preparator in 1903.  According to Samuels (1976, p. 108), Corwin is responsible for eighty percent of the museum’s murals. 

Clarkson, Ralph. “Chicago Artists: Past and Present.” Art and Archaeology 12 (September - October 1921): 129-144; Sparks, Esther. “A Biographical Dictionary of Chicago Artists 1808-1945.” Diss., Northwestern University, 1971,  pp. 341-342; Samuels, Peggy and Harold Samuels. The Illustrated Biographical Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Co., 1976, p. 108.

Submitted by Michael Preston Worley, Ph.D.

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Charles Corwin was important in forming an early artists' association in Chicago.  His brother, architect Cecil Corwin, was the first employer of Frank Lloyd Wright. Cecil was second husband of author & artist Emma Payne Erskine of Tryon, North Carolina, daughter of Alfred Payne -- another Chicago artist with whom Charles Corwin was closely associated.

Submitted by Michael McCue

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