Corwin, Charles Abel (1857-1938)
"Rocky Landscape", c. 1900-1910.
24"h x 36"w, overall size is 31"h x 42"w, oil on canvas, signed lower left
Landscape and mural painter Charles Abel Corwin was born at Newburgh-on-Hudson, New York, the son of a clergyman whose postings took the family to Honolulu and to Oakland, California. Corwin received his initial artistic training at the Cooper Union in New York City, followed by two years of study at the Royal Academy in Munich. He was one of the famed “Duveneck Boys,” a group of younger artists who followed the influential Cincinnati-born painter Frank Duveneck on sketching expeditions in the Bavarian countryside and to Venice and Florence between 1879 and 1881. Back home, Corwin’s extensive work as a painter of cycloramas—large in-the-round paintings popular in the era preceding the introduction of motion pictures—brought him to Chicago in the early 1880s and prepared him for his later successful career as a painter of murals and dioramas.
Corwin began teaching at the Art Institute in 1883 but did not settle in the Chicago area until 1891. In the 1890s, in addition to undertaking large-scale painting projects, he emerged as one of Chicago’s rising painters of landscapes in oils and watercolors. He exhibited at the Art Institute’s various annual exhibitions, beginning in 1894. Corwin painted in Indiana, along the Michigan shore, and on the New England coast, particularly in picturesque Gloucester, Massachusetts, long a haunt of landscape artists. The brother of architect Cecil Corwin, a close friend of Frank Lloyd Wright, Corwin made architectural renderings for Wright and painted a mural in the playroom of Wright’s home in Oak Park, Illinois. At the turn of the century, Corwin further demonstrated the diversity of his artistic talents when he completed a figural design for a stained-glass window in a South Side church and also won the Art Institute’s Martin B. Cahn Prize for his Gloucester landscape painting Ten Pound Island (formerly The Friedman Collection).
After 1900, Corwin continued to paint easel works, showing them in the annual salons at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia and the Boston Art Club. He also painted portraits as well as landscapes and figural works, many of Western and Indian subjects. Increasingly, however, Corwin devoted himself to monumental painting. In 1903, he began a long-lived association with Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History, painting some eighty backgrounds for habitat displays as well as a series of large murals of exotic plants. He undertook similar work for the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco and for the University of Iowa. By the time he died at age eighty-one, Corwin was remembered not as a talented landscape artist but as one of the nation’s foremost creators of illusionistic backgrounds for museum displays.
FRAMED: HEIGHT: 31 in | WIDTH: 42 in
UNFRAMED: HEIGHT: 24 in | WIDTH: 36 in
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