Published: November 22, 2004
Spanierman Gallery, LLC is hosting “Charles Warren Eaton (1857-1937): An American Tonalist Rediscovered” through December 31.
Comprising 70 works, the exhibition is the largest and most comprehensive show of Eaton’s art to date. Most of the works are Eaton’s oils in a tonalist vein of tranquil landscapes in the half light of dawn or dusk. The show also offers Eaton’s works in other media, including pastels, watercolors and monotypes.
Providing a full monographic treatment of the artist’s career and work, the catalog for the show includes more than 60 color plates and an essay by Charles Teaze Clark, who has studied Eaton’s art for almost three decades.
Due to an unwitting comment by the dealer William Macbeth in 1938, Eaton had a reputation as a recluse. However, as Clark’s scholarship reveals, Eaton was hardly a solitary eccentric. While never a central figure in the rapidly changing New York art world of his time, he had a secure place in American art and especially in the American Tonalist movement at the beginning of the Twentieth Century, creating works that reflect many of the currents of influence and aesthetic awareness that governed his age.
Born into modest circumstances in 1857 in Albany, N.Y., Eaton moved in 1879 to New York City, where he supported himself as a dry goods clerk and studied at the Art Students League and the National Academy of Design. He began exhibiting at the academy in 1882 and that year scored an enviable success when no less an arbiter of taste than Oscar Wilde bought one of his works.
In 1886 Eaton visited France, Belgium, Holland and London, spending time in Brolles, near Barbizon, where he made a pilgrimage to the home of Jean Francois Millet, and visited the nearby town of Grez-sur-Loing, where an informal artists’ colony had been established.
In 1888 Eaton moved to Bloomfield, N.J., where he joined a robust and growing art community that had surfaced under the shadow of George Inness. Eaton became closely allied with Inness in the years that followed. In 1889 Eaton established a studio that was adjacent to Inness’s in New York City. After a chance visit to Eaton’s studio one day, Inness bought one of the youngest artist’s works; later the two shared Inness’s studio in Montclair.
Although primarily a painter in oils, Eaton enthusiastically investigated several other media during the first two decades of his career. He was an avid watercolorist, created monotypes and experimented with pastels. In 1890 he participated in the fourth and final exhibition of the Society of Painters in Pastel.
About 1900 Eaton discovered the white pine forests of Connecticut, near his summer haunt of Thompson. For the ten years that followed, he made the white pine tree motif his primary subject, becoming so famous for it that he was often called “The Pine Tree Painter.” Today the abstract and simplified aspects of Eaton’s pine tree works have been seen as close in spirit to the decorative concerns of Art and Crafts interiors, and they have been avidly collected for inclusion in such harmoniously conceived spaces.
In the early Twentieth Century, Eaton began to spend more of his annual trips abroad in Belgium and Holland, painting the picturesque region of Bruges, Belgium, and its nearby countryside, and neighboring villages Sluis in Holland, and Knokke in Belgium. After 1910 he began extended stays in Italy, returning to Venice and staying for the first time in Lake Como.
In his Italian works, Eaton adopted a modified Impressionist palette, capturing the intense blues of the lake, the reds and corals of the tile roofs, and the greens of the olive and cypress trees under the bright summer sun.
Eventually Eaton moved his summer retreat from Thompson to Colebrook, at the opposite end of Connecticut, where he continued to paint the pine tree theme, but often worked in a higher key and created images that were more topographically specific. In 1921 Eaton created approximately 21 images of Glacier National Park in Montana, on assignment by the Great Northern Railroad Company as part of their “See America First” campaign.
The gallery is at 45 East 58th Street. For information, 212-832-0208.
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
Mon - Fri / 8:00 am - 5:01 pm