He was an enormously prolific and successful painter for nearly five decades beginning in the i880s. Charles Courtney Curran (13 February 13, 1861 – November 9, 1942) was known for his paintings of women, largely outdoors. He was known for his mastery of capturing light and nature in motion. Many of his later subjects are lovely young women wearing romantic white wind swept dresses. On the cusp of radical change in women’s roles, he portrays a new breed of women perched bravely on mountain ledges.
A new type of woman was emerging in art, literature and the popular press. In Off The Pedestal, collection of essays edited by Holly Pyne Connor, Curator of Nineteenth-Century American Art at The Newark Museum in New Jersey, these women were characterized as intelligent, professional, and physically active. Artists including Charles Courtney Curran, Winslow Homer, William Merritt Chase, John singer Sargent, and their contemporaries portrayed this New Woman.
“These innovative artists were fascinated by those who mirrored the dramatic changes in women’s lives as they went to college in growing numbers, entered professions previously dominated by men, and claimed greater personal freedoms. Liberated from the confines of home and no longer chaperoned by their families, emancipated women are portrayed riding bicycles, hiking in the mountains and bathing on deserted beaches. …They are shown in assertive, bold, and even aggressive poses that in previous art had been seen only in portraits of men.” (Connor, p. 1)
Born in Hartford, Kentucky in 1861, Curran spent most of his childhood on the shores of Lake Erie in Sandusky, Ohio. He painted more than 1500 canvases in his career, belonged to many important art organizations including the National Academy of Design, edited Palette and Bench and won many prestigious awards.
1881–Like his contemporary Elizabeth Nourse, he studied first at the McMicken School of Design in Cincinnati (now the Art Academy of Cincinnati)
1888—Already successful as a painter, he married his childhood sweetheart, Grace Wickham. She became the model for many of his works. They moved to Paris where he studied at the Académie Julian. He embraced the Impressionist’s passion for working en plein air. He showed three of his paintings at the Paris Salon.
1889-He captured brilliant light for which he became known in Afternoon at the Cluny Garden.
1891-Returned to New York where he established a studio and acted as his own agent.
1893-Exhibited 11 canvases at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
1903-He and his wife began spending summers in Cragsmoor, about 100 miles north of New York City in the Hudson River Valley—the location of a robust artist colony.
1909-On The Heights depicts women silhouetted against clouds of a summer sky, poised on the edge of a peak, as if bravely facing a new century.
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