Arthur Beecher Carles 1882-1952

Flowers (Abstract Still Life)

  • 26 x 20 1/4 inches (66 x 51.4 cm)
  • Oil on canvas
  • Signed lower right: Carles
  • c. 1932

Why We Love It

This powerful still life is an incredible example of Carles’ efforts at synthesizing a more geometric approach with his purely expressionistic explorations of color. The composition flows with a dynamic sense of movement and energy, and the color is extraordinarily rich and vibrant. This is truly Carles at his best.

The Value

Carles abstract still life paintings were his most groundbreaking and important works.  His masterful use of color and his complex abstractions laid the groundwork for such later artists as the Abstract Expressionists.  Indeed, many of them counted Carles as an important influence.  The value of his paintings has not yet caught up with his importance in the history of American modern art, making works like this one an incredible buying opportunity.  We believe that in the years to come Carles will get his due as one of the great American modernists.

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. 

Back in Philadelphia, Carles was on the brink of an important breakthrough. The paintings he produced in the early to mid-1930s demonstrate that he was still fluctuating between his more Cubist-inspired works and purely expressionistic explorations of color.  Flowers (Abstract Still Life) shows Carles working towards an ultimate synthesis of these two approaches, and the painting seems to bear evidence of the frenetic effort of this combination. The composition flows with a dynamic sense of movement and energy yet the painting retains a strong sense of balance and structure due to the organizing affects of Cubism. It is not surprising, then, that Carles’s mature works inspired such modern artists as Arshile Gorky (before his untimely death) and Hans Hofmann to name only two. Moreover his principally abstract works from the mid- to late 1930s foreshadow the advent of Abstract Expressionism.  Indeed in a 1984 review in the New York Times, Grace Glueck writes: “Carles at his best was a dynamic, adventurous colorist who developed at the end of his career works of clashing tonal forms that have the emotional pressure of Abstract Expressionism” (New York Times, October 12, 1984). The legacy of Carles’s work from the 1930s can be felt in so much of the modern American painting that came after him.