DescriptionHENRY MCCARTER (American 1866-1942)
Men's Gods, circa 1923
Oil on canvas
42 x 50 inches (106.7 x 127 cm)
Signed at lower left: Henry McCarter
Carved verso into frame: HARER
Harold Adams (Philadelphia) in 1926;
February 4-March 25, 1923, The 188th Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts Annual Exhibition, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, no. 247 (label verso, artist's address given as The Hamilton, Philadelphia);
1923, Corcoran Biennial Exhibition, The Corcoran Museum of Art, Washington, D.C., no. 290 (label verso, artist's address given as 219 S. 17th St. Philadelphia);
1926, The Sesqui-Centennial International Exhibition, Department of Fine Arts, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (label verso indicates "invited work");
January 16-March 13, 1955, The One-Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary Exhibition, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (label verso, owner given as Harold Adams, Chestnut St.)
The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Catalogue of the 188th Annual Exhibition, February 4 to March 25, 1923, Philadelphia, 1928, n.p., ill.
The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts Annual Exhibition Record, ed. Peter Hastings Falk, Sound View Press, 1989, vol. III, p. 318.
The Biennial Exhibition Record of the Corcoran Gallery of Art 1907-1967, ed. Peter Hastings Falk, Sound View Press, 1991, p. 193.
For forty years (1900-1940), Henry McCarter taught on the faculty of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, initially as the school's first Instructor in Illustration in 1900, and eventually as its primary advocate of modern painting. McCarter's dominant presence at the Academy influenced many artists, including Arthur B. Carles and Charles Demuth (both represented in the present auction), as well as Charles Sheeler, all of whom became important American modernists. Born in Norristown, Pennsylvania, McCarter himself was a product of the Pennsylvania Academy, and had trained under Thomas Eakins before making an extended trip to Paris in the later 1880s where he came into contact with the art of the Post-Impressionists. On a second trip to Europe he met many celebrated French artists, including Puvis de Chavannes and Léon Bonnat, with whom he studied as well as van Gogh, Pissarro, Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec whose work profoundly influenced the future direction of his painting.
McCarter's estimable reputation as a successful illustrator in New York following his return from Paris preceded his tenure at the academy. He produced many illustrations for Collier's, Scribner's and Harper's. From this conservative beginning, McCarter grew to become a champion of the moderns, and by the 1920s his mythic, dreamlike subjects (such as the present work) as well as his landscapes of the Lancaster countryside changed radically from the realism that had won him medals at the Buffalo and St, Louis expositions in 1901 and 1904. Although like that of his colleagues at the academy, Hugh Breckenridge and Thomas Anschutz, McCarter's teaching was considered progressive, and invoked an expressive use of color evident in the present work, the painter consistently placed primary emphasis upon draftsmanship. One of the students who most completely absorbed McCarter's flair for stylized draftsmanship married to prismatic color, and a knack for grand design was James Daugherty, who went on to a versatile career as illustrator, easel painter, and muralist.
Men's Gods of circa 1923, a work McCarter exhibited widely, possesses the hallmarks of his particular interpretation of modern painting. As many contemporaries noted, McCarter's work doesn't have the plasticity of a Leger and Picasso. Rather, his modernity relies heavily upon (and succeeds almost effortless as the result of) its forceful insistence upon the primacy of color and design. In Men's Gods, McCarter presents an Art Deco-style frieze of deities drawn from Christian, Buddhist, African, Egyptian, Chinese, and Norse religions and mythologies, all rendered in a vigorous manner that easily calls to mind the work of the Post-Impressionists in its daubs, dabs, and sinuous outlines. McCarter was essentially painting alla prima-drawing with the brush. Moreover, there seems to be a subtext to the work of art, painted shortly after the Second World War, which moves beyond pleasing decoration. In this commanding canvas, McCarter parades the world religions across a painted stage bearing the loaded title "Men's Gods." Unfortunately, no artist's statement survives to explicate his specific painterly intentions.
As a writer for the Arts Digest noted in his December 1, 1942 obituary of McCarter, who died of a heart attack at age 76: "Perhaps the most pleasant duty for McCarter during his last years was his work as sole surviving administrator of the famous Lambert Fund-through which the Academy acquires exhibits from its annuals. More and more toward the end McCarter's choices were promising unknowns. It seemed as if the old man were renewing his own youth by helping some young artist up the ladder, which he himself had first attempted a half century ago."
In an even more personal tribute to the artist, published in the brochure to the McCarter Memorial Exhibition held at the Pennsylvania Academy from December 12, 1943 to January 9, 1944, Weeks Hall wrote: "How difficult it is to write about such a man. No one who really knew him remained unaffected by him, and yet this curious and pervasive influence, however strong, is so subtle that printed words seem uselessly to fracture an emotion which might best remain inviolate. There was something magical about him as there is about his painting. That, I repeat, is a quality beyond words to convey."
unlined, in original frame
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