Description: Charles Fromuth Am. 1858-1937 Winter, Harbor of Concarneau 1929 Signed, numbered and dated, with artist's stamp "Ch. Fromuth, No.929.CC, 1929" on center panel, l.r. Pastel 27 x 59 3/4 in. 68.6 x 151.8 cm Provenance: Schwarz Fine Art, Philadelphia (label verso)
Artist or Maker: Charles Fromuth
Condition Report: Good condition, good appearance, no apparent problems
Provenance: Schwarz Fine Art, Philadelphia (label verso)
Notes: Lots 36???43 and 259???263
Concarneau: Charles Fromuth was there, living and painting for many years in masterful fashion in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries when Impressionism was taking hold and Modernism was soon to break free. Born poor in Philadelphia, Fromuth would study later with Thomas Eakins at the Pennsylvania Academy. But with $?1,200 in his pocket, in 1890, he arrived in Brittany. It was there he found the single theme that sustained him all his life. The Concarneau harbor entranced him. ?Boats, reflections -- boat arrangements? conquered him completely. ?DAMN! what others do, are doing, have done,? he wrote, ?I lay seige to my find.? His work was undoubtedly influenced and very much a part of the revolutions that were taking place. It featured their strengths and changes while remaining true to his own vision. The following is excerpted from an essay by Anne Sellin on askART.com, the research database online of artists, auctions and art pricing.
Brittany [in the late 19th Century] was much cheaper than Paris and was the favored summer retreat of art students seeking a country motif to work up as a painting for prospective acceptance to the Salon the following spring...
"When I [Fromuth] came, the old treatment was in power and controlled by the Salon, but some youths were Impressionists, and Gauguin at Pont-Aven...was evolving a contre impressionism or symbolism." ...
Fromuth's main focus, however, was boats: fishing boats in the port, beached in the mud at low tide, immobilized, perfect for study of their anatomy." Eakins had drawn exhaustive perspective diagrams of reflective angles of water, and had drummed into his students [among whom Fromuth had been one] the necessity of perfection in perspective. Fromuth was familiar with the rowing pictures and the importance of proper perspective in rendering a boat. With his methodical bent, he conquered the problem by spending three years rendering boats.
In 1895 all six charcoals he submitted of the harbor of Concarneau were accepted for exhibition by the Soci?t? Nationale des Beaux-Arts in Paris at the Champs de Mars Salon and given a coveted place "on the line" in the exhibition. His ten oils were rejected, however, leading him to concentrate further on charcoal and in the same year, on pastel...Pastels were cheaper than oil and offered a more immediate result...[His] subject was illusive and constantly moving?sardine and tuna boats bobbing, their sails blowing by wind, water with its constantly moving ripples, changing reflections in the water, fishermen in constant motion. Quick action was required for such a difficult and ever challenging subject...
In 1896 Fromuth was elected an associate member of the Soci?t? Nationale des Beaux-Arts and that same year received an invitation to exhibit at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts...In 1897 he exhibited a picture of snow on boats at the Cincinnati Museum Association and was represented in the exhibition of the Society of American Artists in New York, as well as the International Kunstaustellung in Munich where he won a gold medal, second class. That same year he exhibited at the St. Louis Exposition and the Soci?t? Nationale des Beaux-Arts, where he continued to exhibit for a number of years. Later on, in 1905, Fromuth won the gold medal at the International Exhibition in St. Louis...
Constitutionally incapable of promoting himself and suspicious of dealers, Fromuth sold paintings to tourist visitors to his studio, and to artists who knew of him by reputation, some of whom promoted his work. One such dedicated friend was Frits Thaulow (1847-1906), the Norwegian impressionist whom Claude Monet (1840-1926) had visited in Norway. The Canadian James Morrice (1865-1924) was impressed by the marine pastels, as was Fromuth's Philadelphia expatriate friend Alexander Harrison (1853-1930), a visitor to Concarneau since the early 1880s...
[Fromuth exhibited throughout much of Europe during the 1880?s.] During 1901 Fromuth exhibited at the third Berlin "Secession," the London Pastel Society, and the International Exposition des Beaux-Arts in Dresden. A high point of that year was a visit of the sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) and Thaulow to his studio. Fromuth must have felt proud walking with these two artists on the quay, where they admired a spectacular "art mood" in the harbor after enjoying dinner...in Pont-Aven. Three years later Fromuth in turn visited both Rodin and Thaulow in Paris. The generous Thaulow died just two years later, in 1904, and his death was a real blow to Fromuth,...
Winters in Concarneau, after the artists and tourists were gone, could be depressing. Fromuth described the dullness of the winter season: "A melancholy invasion visits my spirits just now. This visitor is familiar in the life experience. The daily sameness of existence, the lack of exhilarating contacts and the harbor's insignificance at the season and my want of working inspiration in these dark dreary stormy days are causes enough." in contrast, the height of the summer season, when the harbor was most alive, made the creative juices run; "my harbor has suddenly become dramatically animated by a change of weather?the sky has become a drama of laboring clouds, the waters have an oily fluidity, a rhythmic mobility. Far out on the sea a pressure has arisen whose reports animate the harbor. Everything is afloat and unstable condition from which I extract inspirations." ...
The sale of one of Fromuth's works to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts... brought him a large sale price [which] the artist used on a trip to ...Venice...Fromuth on his first ride down the Grand Canal found it wanting," but at a later hour he experienced a "fine evening and a wonderful impression, Venice needs the sunset and the night to become really beautiful.? He worked on pastels in Venice and on side trips to Chioggia, which he described as "the most wonderful picturesque place I've ever seen in my life.? Enjoying the cafes in the Piazza San Marco and listening to the orchestras...in mid-July, after a month in Venice, Fromuth had planned to return to Concarneau, but the lure of that watery city [Venice] proved too great. His extended stay had a dramatic climax?the crashing collapse of the campanile in the Piazza San Marco. As Fromuth described it, "[I] get up late 9:30 enter St. Mark's place, look at the tower, the crack has widened . . . I had no thought that the tower was to fall within 10 minutes. I go to take my coffee in the first side street back from St. Mark's. As I drink it I hear a roar of low thunder. It is the tower. I drop my coffee without paying and rush out against a crowd coming my way in panic . . . all this happened at 9:55 am." Back in Paris a week later. he wrote, "Since I am back from Venice I feel like a man that has been crossed in love."
Fromuth exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh in 1906 and 1908. American art institutions, however, soon began to restrict exhibition entries to oil paintings. Frustrated by this narrowness, Fromuth decided to cease submitting to institutions in his native country. Nonetheless, in 1910, persuaded by a fellow artist that American taste and sophistication had grown, he agreed to several one-man shows, at the Folsom Gallery in New York, the Art Club in Philadelphia, the Albright Art Gallery in Buffalo, and the City Art Museum in St. Louis... "A general tramway strike was on?no sales?a barbarous gallery artificially lighted, greeted me. A fiendish heated gallery stifled me, heat flues running along the walls upon which the pictures hung causing the wood breaking of the frames, so carefully done, to split." He received good reviews, including an excellent one in New York that appeared on the last day of the exhibition...
Returning to France, Fromuth exhibited at the International Exposition of Art and History in Rome in 1911.
World War I brought changes to the harbor of Concarneau. The fishing fleet still went out?a decent amount of the catch being shipped to Switzerland, where Fromuth surmised it went to feed the German army?but the commercial activity was much reduced. There were German U-boats near the Glennan Islands nearby. Although for years a fixture on the quay, Fromuth did not work as much outdoors during the war. Charcoal he frequently worked in, producing many finished works in this medium.
Fromuth's technique and use of his preferred medium, pastel, evolved over the years. By 1908 Fromuth had begun manufacturing his own pastels. It saved money and permitted him to achieve a wide gradation of colors. The high oil content of his pastels gave his works the appearance of oil paintings, but he had to work at achieving a consistency in his pastels that was neither too hard nor too soft so as not to impede his swift strokes. By 1915 his palette consisted of 241 colors, all made by himself. In that year he wrote, "I was a lover of low colors. They harmonized naturally. I found pathos and artistic color sympathy. There was something emotive in the retiring scale of colors. Brief?nature suggested my color scales." This palette changed in the early 1920s when, thoroughly familiar with his subject, he frequently painted from earlier charcoals and studies using a narrower, lighter, and brighter palette, limited to about fifty colors. Now he could create from memory: "I find my powers, such, my memories so stocked that I transport these originals into far more vitality, simplicity and movement than the originals." These later works are highly expressionistic, distilling the essence of speed, power, wind?all the restless energies of nature. He always tried to capture what he considered the emotive aspect of his subject. In 1923 he wrote, "Today I saw the landscape beset with gems, pearls of moisture like in a nimbus seemed in the desire of festivities while the liquid air was silver lighted."
By the 1920s Concarneau had also revived as a popular place for painters. With dismay Fromuth eyed the spectacle of dozens of painters on the quay all aiming their easels at his harbor, the harbor to which he had remained faithful for three decades, winter and summer alike. Nevertheless, he was pleased to receive in his studio a group of Pennsylvania Academy students who had learned of his reputation. Fromuth threw a banquet in 1920 celebrating his twenty-fifth year in Concarneau. His artist guests included Sydney Lough Thompson (1877-1973), Th?ophile-Louis Deyrolle (1844-1923), and Emile Hirschfeld. The menus were decorated with charcoal drawings he had made for the occasion.
Fromuth always considered himself American, nor would any Frenchman mistake him for anything other than that, given his accent and imperfect French. On the Fourth of July he would hang out his large American flag. His brother August would send him American magazines, such as the Atlantic. In 1919 August came over and joined Fromuth on a trip to Switzerland, where they both were greatly impressed by the drama of the mountains. A well-read man, Fromuth thought nothing of plowing through Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, which supplemented his extensive reading of classic Greek and Roman literature and history. He also liked to read artists' biographies. In 1905?a year in which he exhibited works in Manchester, London, and Bradford, England?Fromuth began his diary, inspired by Delacroix's Journal. Sitting in the cafe of the Hotel de France over an absinthe in the evening, he would write in his notebooks, later partly revising them. His habit of taking an evening constitutional around the port was so regular, the locals could gauge the time of day by his outing. He had his absinthe every evening, and when the liquor was banned, he was pleased to discover a liquid designed to be added to tooth powder, which was in fact absinthe.
The artist's usual attire was jacket, knee britches, knee socks, and wooden shoes. He had several affairs, but discreetly withheld the full name of his lovers in his diary. He never married. Still working well into the 1930s Fromuth died in 1937 at a retirement home in the old walled Ville Close, which had served as the background of many of his works. He is buried in the Concarneau cemetery, in the family plot of the Hirschfelds.
Extremely systematic, Fromuth gave all his works opus numbers, which are sometimes discernible as numbers on a boat in his paintings, accompanied by letters designating the location?usually CC, if the subject had been done in Concarneau. Like Whistler, he made stamps that could be impressed on his works?one, a stylized sailboat, the other, his initials within a bullet shape.
Fromuth was accurate in predicting that recognition of his work would take fifty years. Between 1988 and 2004 he was the subject of no fewer than three one-man exhibitions in France and America. He was not, however, ignored in his own day: he exhibited his works in France, England, Germany, Belgium, Austria, Italy, and Russia, as well in major American cities, receiving medals at international exhibitions and invariably favorable mentions in the press. It is fitting that Fromuth's works have returned to his native Philadelphia in the year of the seventieth anniversary of his death.
* All quotations from Fromuth are from his diaries, now in the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., unless otherwise attributed. Bibliography
Fromuth Diaries, Manuscript Department, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
Loe, Elva. "C. Fromuth et Concarneau, les premi?res ann?es." In Artistes Etrangers: Pont-Aven, Concarneau et autres lieux de Bretagne, 101-114. Arts de l'Ouest. Rennes, 1989.
Puget, Catherine. Charles H. Fromuth. [Exh. cat., Mus?e de Pont-Aven.] Pont-Aven, 1989.
Puget, Catherine. Journal d'un Am?ricain ? Concarneau. [Exh. cat., Mus?e de la Peche.] Concarneau, 2004. Edition by Galerie Gloux with translations by Fran?oise Gloux and Bruce Viles.
Sellin, David. Americans in Brittany and Normandy, 1860-1910. [Exh. cat., Phoenix Museum of Art.] Phoenix, Arizona, 1983.
Sellin, David. Charles H. Fromuth. [Exh. cat., Taggart & Jorgensen Gallery.] New York, 1988.
" Charles Henry Fromuth", The Schwarz Gallery, Philadelphia, //www.schwarzgallery.com/catalog.php?id=80&sort=plate&plate=3&menu=0&group=0 (Accessed 2/22/2014)
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