Monday, July 12, 2010

Eaton and the Reverence of Nature

This post was written by Charles Clark, whose Charles Eaton painting, Evening Quiet, is featured in the current exhibition Connecticut Treasures: Works from Private Collections. The work is a promised bequest to the Museum. We thank him for sharing his thoughts with us!

For the last thirty years I’ve been researching and writing about Connecticut artists who were in their day famous but owing to shifts of taste became, or remain, obscure. Threats to Connecticut’s beautiful countryside drove me first to landscape painters like Charles Warren Eaton, but recently I’ve become interested in contemporary artists like Norman Ives, a graphic designer, painter, and printmaker, who worked with abstracted type forms, and who lived and worked in the New Haven area.

My great-grandparents were patrons of Eaton’s and all my relatives had his paintings and drawings hanging on their walls. This is how I first saw his work. From 1900 to about 1910, Eaton gained fame as the “Pine Tree Painter,” the sole artist to record the white pine forests that were so common across the Northeast at that time. These are the paintings he is best known for today.

When I was a boy, paintings like Evening Quiet, a good example of the pine tree genre, struck me for their mystery, their peacefulness, and their rich glow. They didn’t look like anything else, and as I learned more about Eaton, and wrote about him, I realized we were bound by a love of the New England landscape and an absolute reverence for trees (a critic once commented on the unvarying beauty of Eaton’s trees – whether he painted in Connecticut, or Belgium, or Italy, here was an artist who knew nature and whose landscapes are more than an assembling of natural forms.) That he read Emerson and Thoreau comes as no surprise.

As a little jest, but in truth, sincerely, I once told a friend that after a bad day, as a form of meditation, I’d “take little walks in these paintings.” Art not only amuses and pleases, and shocks, but can edify and even console. Rather than announce “look at me, aren’t I pretty,” paintings like Evening Quiet quietly establish a rapport with the viewer. They are antidotes to this noisy age, evidence that, upon reflection on the timeless beauty of nature, mankind can, with any luck, live a life of modesty.

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