Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Hawthorne from Monet and Post Impressionists

Charles W. Hawthorne was an artist and teacher.  His mentor was William Merritt Chase who was influenced by Monet's paintings of light and colour.  Charles became Chase's assistant, then went to Holland to study art.  Hawthorne set up his own art school in Provincetown in New England - the Cape Cod School of Art.  The year was 1899.

He presented problems to students in an inescapably direct way.  These lessons were posed and students were coached to concentrate on putting one spot of colour next to another - as the fundamental thing.  Paintings were done exclusively from life.  Models on the beach, still live in the studio, and finally the landscape.  During this study process students were encouraged to make many starts as opposed to finishing.  Notable students include Norman Rockwell, Henry Hensche, and Hans Hofman.

Hawthorne’s reputation as a great painter and educator attracted such scores of artists and writers to Provincetown, that it quickly became the largest art colony in the world. His unconventional approach to learning color theory became legendary. Students painted models posing in glaring sun on the beach, using only a 2 inch putty knife. The clumsy tool forced them to apply large dollops of paint, making it impossible to render the model’s features. The objective of these “mud-heads" as they came to be known, was to capture the effects of sunlight on the figure using large simple masses of colour without detail.

Mudhead with Braids

Mudhead Boy in Blue

Mudhead Girl on Green Box

Mudhead Girl with Pink Bonnet

From these images you can immediately see the influence of Monet.  The feel is there, not the detail.


  1. Great pieces. I've taken two workshops at Studio Incamminati in Philadelphia. It was started by nelson Shanks who was a student of Hensche. The classes are based on this method!

  2. Hi Pam,
    So, do you use the approach in some fashion? I mix it in to varying degrees.