(1847 - 1923)
Charles Ethan Porter was active/lived in Connecticut, New York. Charles Porter is known for fruit and floral still life painting.
Biography from the Archives of askART
Citizens of Color, 1863-1890: The "Talented Tenth
Biography from the Archives of askART
Charles Ethan Porter
racism certainly was a barrier that narrowed the range of employment
and limited the satisfaction that would result from work, but it was
somewhat more permeable for Blacks with unique talents or abilities.
Such a person was Charles Porter, who has recently been rediscovered as
a major 19th painter. Only a small portion of his works are
known today, and what we do have tends to be work done in old age after
the height of his creative vigor had already passed.
family had lived in Hartford since the 18th century, but his father
moved to a house in Rockville while Charles was a young boy (we are not
sure of his birth date, which was approximately 1847-50). It appears
that, although Porter kept a studio in a tower on a Rockville hilltop
not far from his family's home, by 1877 he had also
established a studio in downtown Hartford in the tower of the Cheney
Block on Main Street, and by then he had also exhibited.
to the sponsorship of Mark Twain, Porter was able to go to Paris in
1881-84, where he came under a variety of influences and was able to
reach the heights of his ability.
Porter's personal life is a bit obscure, it is evident that he
encountered a city in which racism was increasing in intensity. Porter
was acclaimed by the press and was awarded important prizes, but after
settling in Hartford (he actually spent time travelling and also
working in his New York and Rockville studios - until the latter was
hit by lightening), his race began to result in social isolation.
Bavarian artist who shared his studio, Gustave Hoffman, had to sell
Porters paintings door to door because no one would buy the work of a
Black man. It is said that a significant part of his output in these
years still hang unrecognized on the walls of Hartford homes. By the
time of his death in 1923, racism had cast him into complete obscurity,
and it was only very recently that he is once again recognized as one
of the country's outstanding late nineteenth-century artists. For an
assessment of Porter's experience in Hartford's Black community, there
is a useful study by Professor James Miller, "Charles Ethan Porter and
the Hartford Black Community," in Charles Ethan Porter (1847?-1923)
(Marlborough: The Connecticut Gallery, Inc., 1987).
One of the first African-Americans to exhibit at the National Academy
of Design, Charles Porter specialized in fruit and floral still life
painting and was active both in New York and Hartford,
Connecticut. From 1869, he studied at the National Academy, and
from 1881 to 1884 was in Paris before settling in Hartford, where he
became a friend of Mark Twain.
Biography from Roger King Fine Art
Porter's birth date has now been established as 1847. He was born in
Hartford. The artist himself provided this information when he applied
to the Ecole des Arts Decoratifs in Paris in 1881.
Peter Hastings Falk, Editor, Who Was Who in American Art
Note on AskART Discussion Board from Hildy Cummings about birth date
The son of a poor and illiterate laborer, Charles E. Porter became one
of the first, if not the first, African-American to study at the
National Academy of Design. He traveled to London and Paris in
the 1880s to continue his studies, a pattern followed by nearly all
19th-century American painters who had the means to do so. On his
return, he set up a studio in New York, but financial difficulties
forced him to return to his family home in Rockville, Connecticut,
where he became active in the Hartford art community.
Biography from Stagecoach Gallery
His still life paintings embraced a soft, lush quality that
differentiated it from much of previous American still life
painting, which was often characterized by a virtuosic but harder-edged
technique. Porter's work embodied a soft focus while capturing a
naturalistic immediacy, qualities apparent also in his landscapes.
work was enthusiastically received in the Connecticut press and by his
colleagues and students. He was a much-admired teacher to
aspiring artists and counted among his friends and patrons artist
Frederic Edwin Church and writer Mark Twain.
He was a charter member of the Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts, and
exhibited at the National Academy of Design, the American Society of
Painters in Watercolor, and the Hartford Decorative Art Society.
his success in Hartford, Charles Porter attempted several times to
return to New York, always unsuccessfully. Nonetheless, he
encountered increasing difficulty selling paintings later in his
career. He re-worked many of his canvases, sometimes painting
over them two or three times. His financial circumstances
declined precipitously, and Porter spent his final years in poverty,
selling paintings door-to-door or bartering them for food.
Porter died in 1923 and is buried in Grove Hill Cemetery in Rockville, near his Fox Hill home.
Charles Ethan Porter was a noted still life and floral painter of the
19th century. Floral painting in the United States was limited to
a small cadre of artists in the 19th century, which was probably due in
part to a dominant European floral tradition that is still evidenced in
European museums today. Consequently, only the most courageous American
artists ventured into floral still life painting.
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Porter's paintings give a fresh American interpetation to an old
European tradition. American flora is painted with translucent colors
and rich, full brushstrokes. The use of light and dark colors are
utilized to create a dramatic floral portrait. Porter's emphasis is
upon the natural beauty of flowers. The containers, tables, and
props are considered as secondary to the miracle of nature's
beauty. Porter's interest in nature was also translated into
paintings of fruit, landscapes, marines, insects and fish.
Porter was an active artist from 1865 to 1915, the following is an overview of some of his achievements.
Exhibited: 1871 National Academy of Design
Exhibited: 1873 American Society of Painters
Exhibited: 1876 National Academy of Design
1818 Porter studied in Paris, carried with him letter of introduction from his sponsor; Samuel Clements, (Mark Twain}
1910 becomes a charter member of the Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts
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