DescriptionCHARLES WEBSTER HAWTHORNE (American, 1872-1930)
Portrait of Joan Becker, 1920
Oil on board
30 x 25 inches (76.2 x 63.5 cm)
Mrs. Eulabee Dix (Becker), mother of the sitter, New York;
By descent to her daughter, Mrs. Joan Becker Gaines, Seattle;
By descent to her daughter Ms. Nonie Gaines, Townsend, Washington.
In addition to his expressive, often haunting, plein-air portraits of New England women, children, and fishermen, artist Charles Hawthorne's most enduring legacy was the Cape Cod School of Art, which he founded in Provincetown, Massachusetts, in 1899. By this time in his career, Hawthorne had already accumulated major National Academy of Design awards for his paintings, which coupled the Impressionistic brushwork of William Merritt Chase with the muted palette and figural power of Frans Hals and Rembrandt. His students, including Richard Miller and John Noble, learned the importance of simplifying compositional color and details, employing bold brushstrokes, and working outdoors in order to capture true light effects. The success of the Cape Cod School helped grow the once-sleepy fishing of Provincetown into the largest art colony in the world by 1916. Flocking to the bohemian mecca were such notables as artists Henry Demuth, Chile Hassam, Ernest Lawson, and Ben Shahn; writers Eugene O'Neill and Susan Glaspell; and art patron Mabel Dodge.
One of the women painters in the Provincetown community at this time was the miniaturist Eulabee Dix (Mrs. Alfred Leroy Becker) from New York, who quickly gravitated to Hawthorne's circle. In her biography Looking for Eulabee Dix, Jo Ann Ridley elaborated on Dix's and Hawthorne's relationship: "Aside from the connection with the [Richard] Millers, the major attraction for Eulabee in Provincetown was the artists' colony founded . . . by Charles Hawthorne, another famous American artist who became her friend and colleague. Later, he painted two portraits of Eulabee and one of [her daughter,] young Joan. The two of Eulabee are owned by the Grand Rapids Art Museum and the Indianapolis Museum of Art."1 Eulabee, too, described these portraits in her own memoir: "Charles Hawthorne, who had been painting Portuguese fishing folk, began to do portraits. He painted my daughter, then me."2 Especially exciting in its freshness to the market, Portrait of Joan Becker is this very same painting of Eulabee's daughter, which Hawthorne executed in 1920 when Joan was five. Despite her young age and youthful accessories of hoop and hat, sitter Joan manifests a confident presence, her gaze engaging the viewer and her body forming a monumental pyramid. Indeed, true to his fashion, Hawthorne here transforms even the sweetest subject into a modernist tour de force, foregrounding active brushwork, strong geometric planes, and bold color fields of green, umber, and yellow.
1J.A. Ridley, Looking for Eulabee Dix, The National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C., 1997, p. 174.
2E. Dix, As I Passed By: An American in Portugal Reminiscing, p. 119.
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