Charles Hawthorne discusses painting

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Charles Webster Hawthorne (1872-1930) was born in Illinois but raised in Maine. His father was a sea captain. When Charles was eighteen, he went to New York, worked in a stained glass factory by day and studied at the Art Students League at night. His early teachers were George de Forest Brush and Frank Vincent Dumond. His biggest influence however was William Merritt Chase.

Charles Hawthorne


Chase founded the Shinnecock Hills Summer School in Long Island, NY in 1891. Hawthorne became one of his pupils and eventually worked as his assistant for several years. Chase was renowned for his outstanding demonstrations, but it is noted that Hawthorne surpassed him in this ability. Hawthorne opened his own summer school in 1899. The Cape Cod School of Art was the first outdoor summer school for figure painting.


Charles Webster Hawthorn – “A Study in White” – 36″ x 22″ – Oil


The following are some notes from his teaching, collected by his wife.

“Anything under the sun is beautiful if you have the vision – it is the seeing of the thing that makes it so. The world is waiting for men with vision – it is not interested in mere pictures. What people subconsciously are interested in is the expression of beauty, something that helps them through the humdrum day, something that shocks them out of themselves and something that makes them believe in the beauty and the glory of human existence.

“The painter will never achieve this by merely painting pictures. The only way that he can appeal to humanity is in the guise of the high priest. He must show people more – more than they already see, and he must show them with so much human sympathy and understanding that they will recognize it as if they themselves had seen the beauty and the glory. Here is where the artist come in.

“We go to art school and classes to learn to paint pictures, to learn our job. Our job is to be an artist, which is to be a poet, a preacher if you will, to be of some use in the world by adding to the sum total of beauty in it. We like to do it. There always have been and always will be people of our kind, who like to look at nature and make representations, and others who like to look at what we do.

“We must teach ourselves to see the beauty of the ugly, to see the beauty of the commonplace. It is so much greater to make much out of little than to make little out of much – better to make a big thing out of a little subject than to make a little thing out of a big one. In every town the one ugliest spot is the railroad station, and yet there is beauty there for anyone who can see it. Don’t strain for a grand subject – anything is painter’s fodder.

“Beauty in art is the delicious notes of color one against the other. It is just as fine as music and it is just the same thing, one tone in relation to another tone. Real sentiment in art comes as it does in music from the way one tone comes against another independently of the literary quality of the subject – the way spots of color come together produces painting.

“A great composer could find inspiration for a symphony in a subject as simple as the tinkle of water in a dish pan. So can we find beauty in ordinary places and subjects. The untrained eye does not see beauty in all things – it’s our profession to train ourselves to see it and transmit it to the less fortunate. The layman cares for incident in a picture but the artist cares rather for the beauty of one spot of color coming against another, not a literary beauty. There are just so many tones in music and just so many colors but it’s the beautiful combination that makes a masterpiece.”

Notes are from “Hawthorne on Painting” by Dover Press, available through Amazon. Click image to order.

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