Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Porter, Charles Ethan

Mountain Laurel
oil on canvas
50.9 x 61.3 cm
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C., USA

Charles Ethan Porter (c.1847 - 1923), one of the finest still-life painters in America during the nineteenth century, was the first African American admitted into the National Academy of Design in New York. He grew up in Connecticut, moving from Hartford to Rockville, at an early age. After graduating from high school in 1865, he studied art for two years at Wilbraham Wesleyan in Wilbraham, Massachusetts. In 1869, he moved to New York to study at the National Academy of Design in New York. From 1887 until 1896, he moved back and forth between New York and Connecticut, managing to live off his income as an artist. According to the Hartford Black History Project, Porter shared a studio in Rockville, Connecticut with a Bavarian artist, who sold Porter's paintings door-to-door because people would not buy art from a black artist. He died poor and in relative obscurity.

Here, Charles Ethan Porter captured a cascade of laurel in full bloom, gathered in a simple blue-gray vase. The green leaves and the simple, shaded background convey the season’s warmth and vibrancy. He lived and worked in Connecticut, where mountain laurels were named the state flower. His meticulous touch and astonishing luminescence testifies to an exceptional talent from any era. His native state, Connecticut, proved to be his most powerful muse, from his mother's lustrous garden to the fields and woodlands of Connecticut. Porter's fascination with nature's vegetation and topography provided endless inspiration throughout his career.