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 Charles Whedon Rain  (1911 - 1985)

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Lived/Active: New York/Tennessee      Known for: magic realism, still life, landscapes

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Ad Code: 3
Charles Whedon Rain
from Auction House Records.
The Magic Hand
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Charles Rain was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1911. He grew up and was educated in Lincoln, Nebraska. In 1933, following two years of study at the Art Institute of Chicago, he traveled to Europe, studying in Berlin and visiting the museums of Vienna and Paris. Knowing little beyond abstraction Rain was experimenting with other styles when he saw a portrait by the 16th-century Italian mannerist painter, Agnolo Bronzino, in Berlin's Kaiser Friedrich Museum. This encounter began his life-long fascination with Renaissance painting. It was the clarity and precision of Bronzino's linear compositions that excited Rain and set him on a path to perfect an almost-lost technique of underpainting and glazing, so meticulously done that not a brush stroke is visible.

Rain had not yet achieved Bronzino's technical mastery when he returned to New York where reaction to his recent work was discouraging. In a 1935 exhibit at the Julien Levy Gallery his paintings were described as "dark in color and moody in spirit slipping in style from mannerism to realism". Giving up painting for a year, Rain instead designed costumes for Lincoln Kirstein's Ballet Caravan productions.

A turning point came in 1937 when he met Charles Gilbert, an established realist painter. While Gilbert did not paint like Bronzino he had as part of his training studied the Renaissance masters and understood what technical skills were involved in their work, what materials were required, and how effects were achieved. Recognizing Rain's potential Gilbert shared this knowledge, and Rain then abandoned abstraction in favor of realism. His transition to surrealism and magic realism followed, made easier by his vivid imagination, a keen eye for detail and a photographic memory.

On the Charles Rain's Summary Page of AskART the image of "The Magic Hand" highlights both Rain's imagination and the techniques he used. In this painting he shows his passion for disparate objects including an egg, a shell, feathers, playing cards, and a manikin's hand. As if this was not enough to work with, he also creates within the composition a framed painting that repeats many of the same objects, all set against a vivid background of shadows and light. As with his other work Rain invites viewers to provide their own interpretation of the scene. In fact he had probably collected these unusual objects without much thought to their meaning or even their arrangement in a painting.

Rain usually worked on wood panels covered with gesso. After he had assembled the elements to be included in a composition and laid out the general outline he would apply thin layers of paint, one on top of the other. Upon this underpainting he would develop the picture with thin glazes of color often using brushes having only two or three bristles. In terms of output, such laborious detail meant that at times only fractions of an inch might be painted each day. As a result Rain could spend six months or more on a single painting.

An unusually disciplined artist Rain had a life that revolved around his craft. For over forty years he worked as if every moment counted. His daily routine rarely varied. Mornings by eight o'clock he was at an easel set up in the bedroom of his New York apartment. Precisely at noon he would break for lunch and in the afternoon resume painting or visit galleries and museums. Daily he read for an hour or so and particularly favored authors who wrote of the classical Mediterranean world, the source of many of his ideas. His total output was probably about 150 paintings and many of these that he considered inferior were destroyed, sometimes years later.

Rain is now one of the lesser-known realist painters of the mid-twentieth century. Partly his obscurity reflects the scarcity of his work. Another explanation may be his solitary nature, which kept him an outsider in the vibrant New York art scene of his day. This aloofness or shyness separated Rain not only from other artists and the general public but also from his collectors, few of whom he would agree to meet.

Charles Rain died in New York City in August 1985.

Written and submitted February 2005 by Henry W Grady, Executor of the Charles Rain Estate


December, 1947 Art Digest
'Realistic Phantasies' by Margaret Breuning

March, 1952 American Artist
'Magic Realism in American Painting' by Parker Tyler

October, 1952 Newsweek
'Magic Realist' by Archer Speers

November, 1954 American Artist
'Magic Realism of Charles Rain' by Ernest Watson


Julien Levy Gallery, NY 1935-1937
Tommi Parzinger Gallery, NY 1941
Knoedler Gallery, NY 1947-1952
Banfer Gallery, NY 1963
FAR Gallery, NY 1979
Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, Lincoln NE 1981-1986
Jonathan Edwards College, Yale University 2004


Whitney Museum of American Art, New York 1941-1949
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 1942
Museum of Modern Art, New York 1943
Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh 1943/44, 1946/49
Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston 1944
The Art Institute of Chicago 1933-1947
Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, Lincoln NE 1947/49-1950/51-1954-1967
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia 1947
Trenton Museum, Trenton, NJ 1947
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. 1947-1957
California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco 1948/50
University of Illinois, Urbana 1949/51-1953-1957
Institute of Contemporary Arts, London 1950
Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1950
Edwin Hewitt Gallery, New York 1950
Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, OH 1950-1953/54
Los Angeles County Museum of Art 1951-1956
Montclair Art Museum, Montclair, NJ 1952
The Walker Art Center, Minneapolis 1953
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond 1954
Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines, IA 1954
University of Miami Lowe Art Museum, Coral Gables FL 1954
San Diego Museum, San Diego CA 1956
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston 1956
Denver Art Museum, Denver, CO 1957
The Albright Gallery, Buffalo, NY 1961
Banfer Gallery, NY 1964
Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, NE 1967
Rutgers University Art Gallery, Rutgers, NJ 1977
Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York 1996
Pennsylvania Southern Alleghenies Museum, Loretto, PA 1999
Jonathan Edwards College, Yale University 2000
National Academy of Design Museum, NY 2005
Phoenix Art Museum 2005 (3 paintings): SURREALISM USA
Knoxville Museum of Art 2008 (3 paintings): HIGHER GROUND

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