Charles Webster Hawthorne

Like his mentor the great American Impressionist William Merritt Chase, Charles Webster Hawthorne was equally admired in his own day as both a talented painter and a highly influential instructor. Hawthorne first studied with Chase at his Shinnecock Summer School of Art, which was specifically dedicated to open-air landscape painting. Not only did Hawthorne quickly absorb all the principles of Chase’s instruction, but he also became determined to found his own school based on the same model. In 1899 Hawthorne discovered the small fishing village of Provincetown on the furthermost tip of Cape Cod, and after purchasing a large house on Miller Hill, he opened the Cape Cod School of Art, which proved to be an immediate success.

While Hawthorne’s own approach as a teacher owed much to Chase, he developed a distinctly unique painting style and teaching method that defies easy categorization. He was greatly impressed with the work of Franz Hals, which he saw during his trip to Holland in the summer of 1898. Hawthorne was particularly struck by Hals’ Regentesses of the Old Men’s Almhouse, and from this work he absorbed a deep appreciation for the power of human expression and an economy of technique. Hawthorne applied these lessons to his own realistic portraits of Provincetown fishermen and their families; these works have a somber almost melancholy quality to them, and they reveal a sense of the vulnerability of the human condition.