Arthur Beecher Carles 1882-1952

Corner of the Kitchen

  • 16 x 14 1/2 inches (40.6 x 36.2 cm)
  • Oil on board
  • Inscribed on verso: To Connie, A B Carles
  • c. 1915

Why We Love It

This charming interior scene is an unusually delicate early work by this important Philadelphia Modernist. The painting’s light and subtle palette of pinks, blues, and purples demonstrates Carles’ remarkable skill at orchestrating lyrical color harmonies. Moreover, the quaint setting of the kitchen table and chair almost invites the viewer right into the picture to sit down and have a cup of tea.

The Value

Carles remains one of the most undervalued American Modernist painters. This early work is obviously different from his later abstractions, but the incredible use of color and flattened planes of the still life strongly indicate the shape of things to come from this very important and influential artist.

Artist Background

1882: Born in Philadelphia, PA; 1900-07: Studied at The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts with Thomas Anshutz, Hugh Breckenridge, Henry McCarter, Cecilia Beaux, and William Merritt Chase; 1905, 1907-10: Won PAFA Cresson Scholarships to study in Paris; 1908: Founding member of New Society of American Artists in Paris; 1917-25: Taught at PAFA, where he established the modernist curriculum with Hugh Breckenridge and Henry McCarter; 1920s: Instrumental in bringing exhibitions of modernist painting to Philadelphia, including in 1923 Contemporary European Paintings and Sculpture, which showcased Dr. Albert Barnes’s collection; 1941: Suffered stroke and fell down a stairwell, leaving him paralyzed; 1952: Died

The Philadelphia modernist Arthur B. Carles was a brilliant colorist and an extraordinarily innovative painter. Though Carles trained initially at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, soaking up the more conservative teaching of William Merritt Chase and Thomas Anshutz, he was deeply influenced by the avant-garde art scene in Paris during his first trip there in 1905. In 1907, Carles won the prestigious Cresson Traveling Scholarship, which enabled him to return to Paris for several more years. This experience had a profound impact on Carles as an artist; he was extremely affected by modern French painting, especially the work of Cezanne and Matisse, and by the time Carles returned home to Philadelphia in 1912, he was a confirmed modernist.

Though the small interior Corner of the Kitchen probably painted around 1915 appears relatively traditional compared with Carles’ later Cubist-inspired abstractions, this work still demonstrates his daring exploration of lyrical color harmonies and his interest in two-dimensional surface design. This charming piece is unusually delicate for Carles; his palette is light and subtle, a beautiful range of pinks, blues, and purples. The architectural forms of the room have been carefully orchestrated into an interlocking pattern of vertical, horizontal, and diagonal lines. In fact, the diagonal line of the kitchen table in the foreground leads our eye straight into the picture to the chair, which invites us to sit down and have a cup of tea. This interior setting is almost quaint, quite unlike Carles’ more typical explosive still lifes or sensuous nudes.

In addition to his remarkable career as an artist, Carles was also an incredibly gifted teacher. He taught at PAFA from 1917 to 1925 and had a very deep impact on a number of his students such as Morris Blackburn, Quita Brodhead, and Jane Piper. However, his students were not the only ones who felt his powerful influence. His friend and fellow artist Hans Hoffman once wrote of Carles: “He’s had a big influence on me and on everyone in some way or the other. He had the courage to try things no one else was doing, and if he’d been able to go on, no one would have been greater.”