Editor's note: The following essay was published in Resource Library on August 17, 2011 with permission of the New Britain Museum of American Art. If you have questions or comments regarding the text, please contact the New Britain Museum of American Art directly through either this phone number or web address:



Charles Webster Hawthorne Founds the Cape Cod School of Art

by James R. Bakker


Cape Cod is the bared and bended arm of Massachusetts: the shoulder is at Buzzard's Bay; the elbow, or crazy-bone, at Cape Mallebarre; the wrist at Truro; and the sandy fist at Provincetown, -- behind which the State stands on her guard, with her back to the Green Mountains, and her feet planted on the floor of the ocean, like an athlete protecting her Bay, -- boxing with northeast storms, and, ever and anon, heaving up her Atlantic adversary from the lap of earth, -- ready to thrust forward her other fist, which keeps guard the while upon her breast at Cape Ann.

- Henry David Thoreau [1]


Although Marcus Waterman is frequently credited as the first artist to venture to Provincetown, there are exhibition listings of works with Cape Cod titles suggesting that R. Swain Gifford of New Bedford, Massachusetts, had painted there even before Waterman.[2] Dune Landscape (cat. no.111) by Waterman shows a quieter side of Provincetown, preserved thanks to the creation of the National Seashore during the Kennedy administration. The untouched landscape remains today as it was then. William F. Halsall, another prominent nineteenth-century marine painter, maintained a large studio there in the old shirt factory. Halsall had served in the Union Navy during the Civil War. It was at his studio that he painted his monumental thirty-foot depiction of the battleship Oregon rounding Cape Horn in 1898 during the Spanish American War (fig. 9). Halsall's Rose Dorothea, Winner of the Lipton Cup (cat. no. 43) documents the Provincetown coastline in all its glory as it was in the early 1900s. The picturesque Provincetown dunes provided source material for Waterman without requiring an expensive and lengthy trans-Atlantic crossing to paint in the Sahara desert.

"Provincetown was apparently what is called a flourishing town," wrote Thoreau. "Some of the inhabitants asked me if I did not think that they appeared to be well off generally. I said that I did, and asked how many were in the almshouse. 'Oh, only one or two, infirm or idiotic,' answered they. The outward aspect of the houses and shops frequently suggested a poverty which their interior comfort and even richness disproved. You might meet a lady daintily dressed in the Sabbath morning, wading in among the sand-hills, from church, where there appeared no house fit to receive her, yet no doubt the interior of the house answered to the exterior of the lady. As for the interior of the inhabitants I am still in the dark about it."[3]

Artists and writers from around the country would soon find their way to the little seaside town. Not unlike the Pilgrims who first took refuge there and wrote the Mayflower Compact while anchored in Provincetown harbor before coming ashore in 1620, many great American painters, including Stuart Davis, Charles Demuth, Childe Hassam, Edward Hopper, and Marsden Hartley, painted and passed through Provincetown. It took a more adventuresome soul to actually settle there and even those who did would seek refuge in a warmer climate such as Bermuda or the tropics to paint during the winter if they could afford it.

The famed Boston School painter William Paxton also made his way to Provincetown, as did R. H. Ives Gammell, who ventured there to study with Charles W. Hawthorne in 1911, the year Hawthorne had his one-man exhibition at the venerable Saint Botolph Club, which had first introduced Monet to Boston. Paxton may have learned about Provincetown from Waterman or Hawthorne, perhaps at the club, where Paxton had been given a show in 1900. This established the beginning of a long tradition of Boston artists traveling to the Cape from across the bay.

Hawthorne had a connection to the sea from early childhood. Born in 1872, he grew up modestly in Richmond, a small town located slightly inland on the Kennebeck River north of Portland, Maine. Hawthorne's father made a living as a sea captain and ice farmer. After graduating from high school in 1890, Hawthorne went to New York to become an artist. Three years later, he had earned enough money as a dockworker and later at a design studio to study for the next three years at the Art Students League. It is interesting to note that Hawthorne completely bypassed artistic study in Boston, where the School of Drawing and Painting at the Museum of Fine Arts was attracting students, including E. Ambrose Webster, who enrolled there in 1892, from around the country to study with Frank Benson and Edmund Tarbell. In what would seem an odd series of coincidences, both Webster and Hawthorne, born within three years of each other, would wind up opening art schools in Provincetown within one year of each other and living on Miller Hill within one hundred yards of each other (fig. 10). The Boston artist and teacher Charles Woodbury was already painting in Ogunquit, only eighty miles from Hawthorne's home, and would soon establish his own art school there in 1898. Ogunquit and Provincetown share many similarities, in that both seaside towns would become tourist destinations for vacationers and artists alike as well as important art colonies and home to art associations and museums. Hawthorne may have wanted to get as far away from Maine as he could and to get the best possible education.

The Art Students League provided exactly such an opportunity for Hawthorne and an ample choice of many progressive courses from which to choose. Hawthorne's teachers included George DeForest Brush, Frank DuMond, and Henry Siddons Mowbray. Hawthorne was among the first of many Provincetown painters to attend classes at the League and, through this connection, went to paint, spend summers, or ultimately settle in Provincetown. This list includes Milton Avery, Will Barnet, Peter Busa, Edwin Dickinson, Dorothy Lake Gregory, Blanche Lazzell, George McNeil, Ross Moffett, Margery Ryerson, Jack Tworkov, and Agnes Weinrich, among others. Hawthorne met fellow student Oscar Gieberich, who later worked for Hawthorne as monitor at the Cape Cod School of Art at the League. Arthur Cohen, Sal DelDeo, Paul Resika, and Selina Trieff, among other former League students, continue to paint and exhibit there today.

Hawthorne, who had helped William Merritt Chase when he left the Art Students League to establish the Chase School of Art in 1896, enrolled in Chase's Shinnecock Hills Summer School of Art in Southampton, New York. Chase was one of the most prominent and recognized American painters of the period and had studied at the Royal Academy of Munich. Hawthorne's early canvases show a decidedly tonal influence, with bold brushwork favoring dark brown and black backgrounds similar to the work of Frank Duveneck, another major teacher and proponent of the Munich school of painting at that time. Hawthorne once again found himself living on the water. One of a hundred students with Chase that summer, Hawthorne would learn to paint in plein air. It was there that he would also learn many of Chase's teaching traditions such as the weekly criticism and private instruction follow-up that Hawthorne would later improve and utilize at his own school. Chase clearly was impressed by Hawthorne's progress and invited him to come back next summer as his assistant. Hawthorne also probably met his future wife, Ethel Marion Campbell, another talented student who worked for Chase as his secretary that summer. Charles and Marion were married in 1903.

After Hawthorne learned that Chase, for whom he had assisted in summer 1897, had closed the doors of his Shinnecock, Long Island, school, he embarked in 1898 for a summer of painting in the fishing village of Zandvoort in the Netherlands. In Holland, Hawthorne had the opportunity to discover and more closely study the work of Frans Hals and other Dutch Old Masters. Not unlike other revered American artists of the day spending time in Europe, Hawthorne emerged from this trip totally enriched by the experience and influenced by what he had seen but with a style uniquely his own. Following his return to New York, Hawthorne maintained a studio at 146 West Fifty-fifth Street.

When Hawthorne journeyed to Provincetown in 1899 to establish his own art school, Provincetown was still recovering from the damage of the horrendous 1898 Portland Gale, named after the steamer Portland that sank offshore in late November, claiming the lives of her entire crew and passengers. The storm destroyed nearly half the wharves in Provincetown Harbor and had a devastating effect on the fishing industry at the time in a town that "lived from the sea and by the sea and whose one crop was fish."[4] The fishermen and their catch provided bountiful subject matter as well as sustenance for the artist. This combination of portrait and still life appears over and over throughout Hawthorne's career, and his rendering of fish is unrivaled. One might argue that the fish was the focal point and that the inclusion of a model was in some way incidental. The strong sunlight enhanced by a landscape surrounded on both sides by water created an extraordinary, if not unique luminosity, at the tip of the Cape.

Provincetown had a population of 4,555, with 140 births and 113 dog licenses in 1899. The total real estate assessed valuation was $1,174,790. There were seventy-six vessels of seven tons and over, including a fishing fleet of sixty, a whaling fleet of nine, and three steamers.[5] The steamships ran from Boston from June 15 to September 10 for one dollar round trip, and it was one such steamship trip that brought Webster to discover Provincetown.[6] The railroad provided yet another practical and economic means of transportation to and from the tip of the Cape, starting in 1873. Provincetown had yet to be electrified and entertainment was held in the auditorium of Town Hall. That May, Louis Salisbury brought moving pictures accompanied by natural sound effects at a cost of twenty-five cents for adults or a reserved seat for thirty-five cents, and Memorial Day brought a new war drama, Santiago, stirring up memories from the Spanish-American War on the Town Hall stage.[7] William McKinley was president of the United States.

Hawthorne exhibited his first picture at the National Academy in 1900 and was elected an associate member in 1908. He painted The Fisher Boy (cat. no. 48) that year. Clutching a green glass demijohn, the young man is portrayed in his oilskin fishing gear returning tired from his voyage, with sails billowing in the background behind him. The dark, brooding, almost monochromatic color palette tells a story of the sea and of a boy becoming a man. This square format was a favorite of Hawthorne's. Three years later, Hawthorne was elected a full academician. He exhibited his paintings consistently and won numerous prestigious awards, including the Carnegie, Hallgarten, and Altman Prizes. He received important portrait commissions and was represented by the Macbeth Gallery, where he had two solo exhibitions.

In 1900 Childe Hassam painted several fine oils in Provincetown, including Rigger's Shop, Provincetown (cat. no. 46), in which Webster's distinctive Carpenter Gothic home appears, with its steep pitched roofs visible from Miller Hill in the background.

Oliver Chaffee, whom Ross Moffett declared "modern before modernism became popular,"[8] went to Provincetown from Detroit to study with Hawthorne in 1904 and again for the next three years before ultimately settling there. Chaffee's married fellow artist Ada Gilmore in 1926,[9] forming yet another dynamic duo. There were many of these notable pairings during the time -- Tod Lindenmuth and Elizabeth Warren, Ross Moffett and Dorothy Lake Gregory, Jerry Farnsworth and Helen Sawyer, William and Marguerite Zorach, and Henry Hensche and Ada Rayner. Perhaps one of the most notable and innovative couples was Lucy and William L'Engle.

In 1906 Charles and Marion Hawthorne took their first extended trip together to Europe. That would be the source of the second major influence on his work and techniques. One of these techniques, the mixing of pigment within and on top of the varnish, would come to haunt twenty-first-century painting conservators, as they attempt to remove the since-yellowed varnish only to find a layer of Hawthorne color had also disappeared.

Provincetown was bustling in 1907, when President Theodore Roosevelt arrived aboard the presidential yacht Mayflower for to lay the cornerstone of the Pilgrim Monument. Built to dispel the notion that the pilgrims first landed in Plymouth, the monument rose like a beacon, signaling that something very important happened there. For the next three years, artists and residents alike watched in awe as the 252-foot granite tower, patterned after the Torre della Mangia in Siena, Italy, rose into the sky. Earlier that summer Provincetown was also in the national headlines with a big win for the schooner Rose Dorothea, beating out the favored Gloucester schooner and other boats from Boston in the Fisherman's Race for the first Lipton Cup provided by Sir Thomas Lipton of tea fame. The impressive silver trophy is still proudly displayed in town and the Great Schooner Regatta has been revived again. Houghton Cranford Smith, another gifted Hawthorne student, arrived in summer 1908 at the suggestion of Oscar Gieberich, whom he met while attending a class at the Art Students League. Gieberich worked for Hawthorne as his class monitor, and the following year Smith came back to work for Hawthorne as monitor, sharing space with Gieberich. Houghton so loved Provincetown that he remained on that fall to study with Webster. Smith gleefully recorded these early days in The Provincetown I Remember. "As monitor for Hawthorne," Smith recounts, "I had to find models for outdoor classes and for the portrait class. Out of doors we usually had girls in light colored dresses with big hats or parasols. I would pose the model on a sandy beach (fig. 11) or on the end of a wharf (fig. 12) then tell Hawthorne where he could find us when he came to give us an outdoor criticism."[10]

What was once a town prospering from fishing and whaling, Provincetown was now starting to become a popular tourist destination, making money by selling souvenirs and feeding and housing summer visitors. Charles and Marion Hawthorne had a baby boy in 1908. The family was an important theme and inspiration for Hawthorne, and both Marion and Joseph appear in numerous canvases. Marion devoted much of her time raising her son and helping to run the school, but she maintained her own studio and still managed to find time to paint on a regular basis. She also enjoyed gardening, her flowers brightening both her table and her canvases. Like so many artists' wives before and since, Marion did more to promote and advance her husband's career, during his lifetime and after, than she did to enhance her own. Thousands flocked to Provincetown again in 1910, when another president, William Howard Taft, attended the dedication of the completed Pilgrim Monument. Hawthorne painted The Trousseau (fig. 13) during his trip to Bermuda in 1910. One of his most important and reproduced oils, it won the prestigious Thomas B. Clarke Prize for the best figure painting in 1911 and was purchased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Isaac Caliga ventured from Boston in 1912 to study with Hawthorne and settled with his wife, the artist Elizabeth Howland, next door to the renowned Impressionist artist Richard E. Miller, who maintained a home and studio at 200 Bradford Street. Oscar Gieberich married Miller's daughter.

Another former Chase student Edwin Dickinson also went in 1912 to study with Hawthorne. It was during his continued studies with Hawthorne that following summer that he made the acquaintance of Ross Moffett, who had ventured from Iowa with his friend and fellow painter Henry Sutter, with whom Ross had roomed at the Art Institute of Chicago. Moffett and Dickinson occupied studios 1 and 2 at the Days Lumber Yard, next door to each other near Hawthorne. Both modeled for Hawthorne in his 1915 masterpiece The Crew of the Philomena Manta (1915; Provincetown Art Commission) painted in studio number 10. Dickinson wrote years later in his introduction to Hawthorne on Painting, "Though Mr. Chase, his master, was a famous and beautiful demonstrator, Mr. Hawthorne surpassed him. Seen by us during the rest, the perfectness of his first spots, coupled with the delighting surprise that they could be stated that way, made us readier than before to give his advice the almost implicit trust which paved the way to our learning the basic principles he gave us."[11]

Stuart Davis went to Provincetown in 1913, and Charles Demuth painted Landscape #4 (cat. no. 25) there the following year and returned again in 1919­20 and 1930.[12] Not all students shared this praise for Hawthorne as a teacher. Dorothy Lake Gregory, who married Moffett in 1920, went to Provincetown in 1914 to study with Hawthorne. She thought he was a terrible teacher.

Mr. Hawthorne is the worst teacher I have ever seen. He can paint himself but that is all he can do. He uses fearfully bad grammar and is a flirt, and doesn't give a rap for his students. Some of the old ladies that come and study year after year, think that he is a genius in that he is so wrapped up in his own work that he can think of no one else. But the more he neglects them, the more they worship him. . . . My out of door figure work is a hundred times better than when I first came, but only through my own efforts. Mr. Hawthorne has not helped me one bit. On Tuesday of each week, he gives a tiny little criticism not worth a row of beans and a very vague one on Saturday. Mr. Gieberich (Hawthorne's assistant) has helped me much more.[13]

Gerrit Beneker went to Provincetown in 1912-13 to study with Hawthorne. Born in Michigan, Beneker was trying to earn a living as an illustrator in New York at the time. Noon Hour (cat. no. 6), painted in summer 1915, clearly shows the strong influence Hawthorne had on Beneker: the choice of a common working-class man, John Worth,[14] as the subject, combined with the still-life element of lunch and the dark brooding color palette for the background. Beneker continued to utilize the skills he learned from Hawthorne when he painted a portrait series of Ohio factory workers at the Hydraulic Pressed Steel Company, Canton Sheet Steel Company and the Cleveland Welding Company in 1919 and General Electric Company at Schenectady in 1924.[15]

The Hawthornes spent the fall and winter in Paris from 1911 to 1914. It seems likely that Charles Hawthorne's path may have crossed that of Charles Demuth when the latter was also residing in Paris during this most creative period. The influence of Cubism was blossoming and Piet Mondrian had moved to Paris from the Netherlands. Unlike Hawthorne, Demuth returned to America inspired by the new art form taking shape there. Many of the Provincetown artists were also living and studying in Paris. Agnes Weinrich and her sister Helen, who would marry the artist Karl Knaths nine years later, spent a year in Paris in 1913. Agnes studied with Hawthorne in 1914, when she and her sister went to Provincetown for the summer. They returned numerous summers until 1924, when they built a house together in the far West End, where she and Knaths had their studios. All roads led to Provincetown.

Hawthorne was a founder and vice president of the Provincetown Art Association in 1914 and remained an active participant throughout his lifetime. He showed six works in the opening exhibition, in 1915, held at Town Hall. Marion Hawthorne showed a Venetian canal scene and an interior that year, perhaps Woman Sewing (cat. no. 51). Her gouaches had an almost translucent quality that captured the sunlight coming through the window.

Despite Hawthorne's growing reputation and his burgeoning financial success, even by 1915 there were still some trials and tribulations to keep up with his lifestyle, and Hawthorne's dealer, William Macbeth, needed to advance $250 against future sales to "strengthen" Hawthorne's bank account balance of $129.19.[16] Hawthorne enjoyed a good game of golf, the theater, and an occasional dinner out.

In 1916 the Boston Globe art critic A. J. Philpott described Provincetown as the "biggest art colony in the world," stating that it had . . .

More than 600 in the colony, from all sections of the United States, including painters and sculptors, etchers, actors, musicians, writers and playwrights of distinctions, art students of all kinds and a choice assortment of models whose faces and forms will be seen on the magazine covers and in the picture exhibitions of the future. . . . As I turned the corner of the building I almost tripped over a young woman with a sea-green smock and a panama hat, seated in front of an easel sketching. She was thoroughly involved in her work. I asked her pardon. She merely nodded and kept right on painting purple shadows in the sketch of an old wharf across the bay. "The place is a color dream," answered one of the artists to Philpott's question "if she found many picturesque bits in Provincetown?" And that is just what it is. And that is why artists flock there. The sun doesn't always shine in Provincetown, however. There are stormy days, and drab days, but these are also interesting to the painters though anything but interesting to the tourist and casual visitor. There is the mystery of gray luminosity in such days. There is a distinctive quality in the light of the place at all times, so that nearly every phase of the weather has a particular color charm for the painter.
Mr. Hawthorne has about one hundred pupils at the present time. He has a very distinctive style of painting, in which the chief aim is to get out-of-door quality of light and colo -r -even in portraits. In his work is combined both impressionism and realism -- the impressionism of pure color juxtaposition, always softened and blended in the mystery of light effects and the realism which does not offend by too close attention to detail.
Apparently his purpose is to study the illuminant effect of light on color. And this includes, on clear days, the midday iridescence of white light, the warmer radiance of the afternoon, and the cool blue of forenoon, and if the sun is observed there are subtle beauties of the grays.[17]

Hawthorne's teaching was much more about color than subject and much more about form than drawing. Girl with Parasol (cat. no. 12) demonstrates a model posed with the sun behind her coming through the parasol. Hawthorne used bold brushwork to capture the shapes and color, paid little to no attention to detail, and found contrast only in the sunshine and shadows. The model's face becomes a virtual head of mud, thus coining the term "mudhead." Philipott continued:

Mr. Hawthorne has his students paint from the model out-of-doors usually on a wharf and without umbrellas (fig. 14). The model must be painted in relation to the broad color and light effects of the environment. He tries, however, to impress the student with the necessity of his, or her, own individuality.
He simply desires that they shall paint on the broad principles that he lays down and he criticizes the work on the spot two or three times a week. In addition he also makes a sketch himself from the model in the presence of the students and this goes to the student fortunate enough to draw it by lot.
It is the work of the "Master" and is highly prized, for there is no doubt among his students and the artists of the colony about Mr. Hawthorne's mastership. His pictures are in great demand these days for the museums and big private collections.
Charles Hawthorne has done more to put Provincetown "on the map" as a resort for painters than any other one man in the place.
Now comes a much more radical school than either of these- ­ the school that is led by E. Ambrose Webster. He has a large following and many of them follow him to Bermuda in winter.
Even more than Hawthorne his object is to paint light -- to get vibration and luminosity by means of pure color and a generous use of purple. It is a high key in which he paints and the very nervousness of his style seems somehow to give a sort of vibrating character to the whole light effect.
Those who paint in the Webster style are apt to "look down" on those who paint in the Browne or Hawthorne methods, and vice versa. For any style of painting is right -- for those who follow that particular style -- and all others are wrong. Yet no two people see colors exactly alike.[18]

These two art schools seem to have dominated the scene until 1914, when the Provincetown Art Association was formed. Both Hawthorne and Webster would play key roles as newly elected vice presidents in the fledgling organization. George Elmer Browne, another popular teacher and artist, founded the West End School of Art two years later.

With the outbreak of World War I, many artists forced to leave Europe or unable to return there sought safe haven in the welcoming Provincetown artist community and environment. Blanche Lazzell was one such artist who found her way from Morgantown, West Virginia, to Provincetown to study with Hawthorne in 1915, when travel to Europe was all but impossible. Lazzell shared so many of Hawthorne students' connection to the Art Students League and William Merritt Chase. Her friends Ethel Mars and Maude Squire arrived on the scene from Paris, and they all banded together with other interested women to form the Provincetown Printers, taking the color woodblock to another level. Many of these artists brought a new worldly perspective that continued to gnaw away at traditional and more conventional approaches. Marguerite and William Zorach, along with Bjor Nordfeldt, who is credited with bringing the technique of making color prints from a single rather than multiple blocks to Provincetown, opened the Modern School of Art (fig. 15). Nordfeldt and the Zorachs were all involved with the Provincetown Players and produced some of their costume design and stage sets.[19] "The success of the Provincetown Players was, in a small degree, one of those explosions of talent which from time to time transform art and science. Such explosions come only in times when a creative breath is blowing through all of society," wrote the journalist Mary Heaton Vorse.[20] The Provincetown Players produced O'Neill's first play in Provincetown, Bound East for Cardiff, in 1916.

All this creativity helped pave the way for a major division within the fine-arts community, establishing two yearly annual members' shows at the Provincetown Art Association -- one for the "traditional" and one for the "modernistic" -- from 1927 to 1937. Tensions were already mounting in 1926, with complaints that the juries were not diversified enough for adequate representation of the "new" style and a request to add more sympathetic jurors to the roster. Ross Moffett recalled the incident in which Richard E. Miller submitted a canvas signed "Ad Wolgast," mocking the Cubist style. The canvas, entitled Hence the Pyramids, was accepted into the 1926 show, causing even greater ridicule for the juried process.[21] John Whorf, a former Hawthorne student for six summers, took great delight in recounting the story. "We made all sorts of daubs on canvas, painted blind-folded, over our heads and every which way." After the painting received critical acclaim, Whorf said, "It was really too good to keep a secret so we let the critics know about it. Believe me, there were plenty of red faces."[22] Forming the twelve-person jury for the first "modernist" exhibition of 1927 were Floyd Clymer, Edwin Dickinson, Charles Kaeselau, Karl Knaths, Blanche Lazzell, Lucy L'Engle, William L'Engle, Tod Lindenmuth, Dorothy Loeb, Ross Moffett, Ellen Ravenscroft, and Agnes Weinrich. This show would mark the first appearance of works by George Ault, Niles Spencer, and Jack Tworkov.

By 1937 both groups realized that they had more in common than they thought and returned to a joint exhibition. Moffett wrote:

With ruler, triangle and divider we inspected the reproductions of the Gothic and the Renaissance masters in search of underlying secrets; so we also examined prints of the near and the far East. Known were the several procedures for dividing a line into extreme and mean ratio, the result being a division that aestheticians from time immortal had called the golden section. As Coronado had pursued his dreams of gold and emeralds into Kansas, so we followed the hope that somewhere beyond the horizon we would find a mathematical construction that would at last confer on our compositions proportions of perfection.[23]

Mathematical theories proved an important influence in the work of E. Ambrose Webster, Karl Knaths, and their students.

In winter 1917 Hawthorne traveled to Saint Augustine, Florida, where there was an active growing winter art colony that attracted such Provincetown artists as the Moffetts, the L'Engles, and the Lindenmuths. The Lindenmuths were very active in Provincetown from 1915 to 1940, when they moved to Saint Augustine and began summering in Rockport, where another major art colony prospered.[24] As Mary Heaton Vorse observed, the 1920s were a time of great change throughout the country:

During 1921 and '22, prohibition and cars changed the whole life of the country. Directly after the war everybody took to wheels. But we in Provincetown were still cut off, more accessible by sea. Long, sandy, windy roads kept motorists away. Now the state road had come through. Cars had come to Provincetown, and there was a never-ending line of them. Horns honked, loud speakers blared on the front street. The town looked as if there were a costume ball. Clothes were up to the knees over pink stockings. Little girls wore knickers flapping around their legs, their bosoms wrapped flat in tight bras. They had as much as possible the look of young boys. Old ladies in cardigan jackets, visored caps, and pants waddled through the crowd. We were no longer an isolated place. The summer crowd had come to stay.[25]

Jack Tworkov studied with Hawthorne at the National Academy of Design in 1923 and traveled to Provincetown that summer with his sister, Janice Biala, also an artist. Perhaps one of Hawthorne's most talented students turned out to be William Henry Johnson, an African American painter from Florence, South Carolina. Johnson met Hawthorne in 1923­24 while attending his life drawing classes at the National Academy and followed Hawthorne that summer to Provincetown. Johnson was clearly taken with the master's teaching and returned for the following two summers. Johnson's talent made a considerable impression on his teacher as well, and after Johnson did not receive a Pulitzer Travelling Scholarship from the National Academy in 1926, the disappointed Hawthorne was personally responsible for raising $1000 to send Johnson to Paris to further his studies. Johnson recalled one of the master's quotes from class in a letter to Hawthorne: "Painting is a lie to be gain [sic] with and the one who can tell the most interesting one is the best artist."[26] Many students had wonderful recollections about Hawthorne, and notes of his comments were collected from his students and organized into Hawthorne on Painting by his wife, Marion Hawthorne; Margery Ryerson, a Hawthorne student; and his son, Joseph Hawthorne. This book remains timeless and, like The Art Spirit by Robert Henri (1923), is treasured by teachers and art students to this day. Hawthorne was "interested in all new movements" of painting and did not condemn or judge the "Futurists." E. Ambrose Webster's Modern School also continued to prosper and attract students. "We all live in a world of color. All nature is color; white, black and grey do not exist except in theory; they are never seen by the eye-they could only exist in a world that was colorless,"[27] wrote Webster in Color, Drawing, Painting. This pamphlet methodically explains the palette, key, local color, color of the shadow itself, perspective, holes, reflections, juxtaposition, and mixing of pigments.

As much as Hawthorne advanced his theories on how to see color and paint, he did not tell his students what to paint. It was as much a philosophy on how to see and live life to the fullest as a philosophy of painting. He taught his students how to look at life in a new light. A tin can transformed into an object of beauty was worthy of being painted. He wrote, "Anything under the sun is beautiful if you have the vision-to see it is the seeing of the thing that makes it so. The world is waiting for men with vision -- it is not interested in mere pictures. What people are subconsciously interested in is the expression of beauty, something that helps them through the humdrum day, something that shocks them out of themselves and something that makes them believe in the beauty and the glory of human existence."[28]

Word of Hawthorne's wisdom traveled and so did Bruce McKain, who hitchhiked to Provincetown from Indiana to study with him in 1928. Philip Malicoat came the following year and then again in 1930 to study with Hawthorne at the urging of his art-school classmate McKain, and so the chain continued.

Hawthorne's watercolors show a remarkable fluidity and refreshing looseness in contrast to his works in oil. Hawthorne had always painted watercolors and tried to exhibit them throughout his career. Figures on the Pier (cat. no. 47) has all the vibrancy and vitality of a watercolor by Prendergast. One can feel the wind coming off the water, yet Hawthorne's dealers seemed reluctant to show them despite his efforts. That is not overly surprising since most watercolors and works on paper are still considered by many to be inferior and have only very recently commanded the price or attention given to oils. The body of watercolors documenting his trips around Europe and the Southwest continued to become looser and even more saturated in color and abstracted in the late 1920s. There is a newly found freedom not seen in his figural work. Perhaps an escape from the more structured world of commissioned portraits, these works provided a release for the artist to express his inner joy.

Hawthorne's life was soon to come to an untimely end before critics would have the opportunity to observe where his work was heading or not heading. Hawthorne was now considered a great celebrity in the town, which marked another major milestone -- the three hundredth anniversary of the landing of the pilgrims in Provincetown -- with a parade on August 5, 1927. The Cape Cod School of Art parade entry of "about sixty students marching with palettes and smocks"[29] with Hawthorne was among the highlights (fig. 16). Provincetown parades continue to be a source of pride to the local residents and have become a mainstay for Cape Cod tourism today, attracting thousands of spectators to Provincetown every year. By the end of the Roaring Twenties, Hawthorne was declaring an income of $12,000 from teaching and the sale of his paintings [30] despite the stock-market crash of October 1929 and the coming Great Depression. The annual per-capita income was only $750.[31]

On November 29, 1930, Hawthorne died of renal failure in Baltimore. After his death, his former student Henry Hensche established the Cape School of Art (fig. 17) in the hopes of filling the big shoes Hawthorne had left behind after more than thirty years of successful teaching in Provincetown. Hensche's method differed somewhat from Hawthorne's, most notably regarding Hawthorne's separation of color from drawing. "I don't say much about drawing," wrote Hawthorne, "because I think drawing the form and painting are better separated. Realize that you haven't yet the painting point of view -- after you have got the spots of color true and in their proper relations you have something to draw with and you can then consider it."[32] Hensche continued to run his school for more than fifty years. Much of Hawthorne and Hensche's guiding principles continue to flourish and inspire artists in Provincetown today.

Although Hans Hofmann, who opened his summer art school in Hawthorne's barn in 1934 had never met the man, his "appreciation," as published in the 1952 memorial exhibition of Hawthorne at the Provincetown Art Association, sums up the feelings of so many of his students and admirers: "What Hawthorne as a painter aimed for and gave by intuition has become today a conscious tool of his successors. I am not surprised to find in the vanguard of today's movements, painters who still appreciate the privilege of having been his students."[33]


1. Henry David Thoreau, "Chapter 1: The Shipwreck," The Thoreau Reader: Annotated Works of Henry David Thoreau, http://thoreau.eserver.org/capecd01.html (accessed March 3, 2011).

2. Stormy Weather at Naushon Island was exhibited in 1868 at the Boston Athenaeum.

3. Henry David Thoreau, "Cape Cod," 1855-65, in The Writings of Henry David Thoreau, 4 vols. 4 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1906), vol. 4, p. 216.

4. Mary Heaton Vorse, Time and the Town (New York: Dial Press, 1942), p. 9.

5. Town of Provincetown, 1899 Annual Town Report, Report of the Assessors, Marshall L. Adams, James A. Small, John N. Swift, Assessors of Provincetown, pp. 61-62.

6. Gail R. Scott, E. Ambrose Webster, Chasing the Sun: A Modern Painter of Light and Color (Manchester, Vt.: Hudson Hills Press, 2009), p. 26, n. 31; and Dorothy F. Earle, "E. Ambrose Webster: Painter and Teacher," Detroit Sunday News, November 2, 1919.

7. Poster from Archives Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum.

8. Ross Moffett, Art in Narrow Streets (Provincetown: Cape Cod Pilgrim Memorial Association, 1989), p. 98.

9. Solveiga Rush, Oliver Newberry Chaffee (Cincinnati: Taft Museum, 1991), p. 40.

10. Houghton Cranford Smith, "The Provincetown I Remember" (Laura Cranford Smith, 1991).

11. Charles Webster Hawthorne, Hawthorne on Painting (New York: Dover, 1938), p. v.

12. Dorothy Seckler, Provincetown Painters (Syracuse, N.Y.: Everson Museum of Art, 1977), p. 280.

13. Quoted in Josephine Del Deo, Figures in a Landscape, The Life and Times of the American Painter Ross Moffett, 1888­1971 (Virginia Beach: Donning Company, 1994), pp. 48-49.

14. Sitter's name courtesy of Katrina Beneker, the artist's granddaughter.

15. Works illustrated in Gerrit A. Beneker (1882-1934): Painter of American Industry (Boston: Vose Galleries, 1975).

16. William Macbeth to Charles W. Hawthorne, January 19, 1924, Charles Webster Hawthorne and Marion Campbell Hawthorne Papers, 1870­1983, Smithsonian Archives of American Art, Washington, D.C., microfilm, reel D38.

17. A. J. Philpott, "Biggest Art Colony in World at Provincetown," Boston Globe, August 27, 1916.

18. Ibid.

19. Leona Rust Egan, Provincetown as a Stage (Orleans, Mass.: Parnassus Imprints, 1994), p. 168.

20. Vorse, Time and the Town, p. 116.

21. Moffett, Art in Narrow Streets, p. 46.

22. Quoted in Frank Crotty, "Provincetown Profiles," Barre Gazette, 1958.

23. Moffett, Art in Narrow Streets, p. 52.

24. Robert W. Torchia, Lost Colony: The Artists of St. Augustine, 1930-1950 (Saint Augustine, Lightner Museum, 2001), p. 83.

25. Vorse, Time and the Town, p. 183.

26. William H. Johnson to Charles W. Hawthorne, 1926, Hawthorne Papers, reel 38.

27. E. Ambrose Webster, Color, Drawing, Painting (Nice: Éclaireur de Nice et du Sud-Est, ca. 1920), p. 1.

28. Hawthorne, Hawthorne on Painting, p. 17.

29. Marion Hawthorne to Joseph Hawthorne, August 7, 1927, Hawthorne Papers, reel 2885.

30. Hawthorne income tax return, ibid., reel 5113.

31. Steve Kangas, comp., "Timeline of the Great Depression," Resurgence Magazine, http://www.hyperhistory.com/online_n2/connections_n2/great_depression.html (accessed January 31, 2011).

32. Hawthorne, Hawthorne on Painting, p. 20.

33. Charles W. Hawthorne (1872­1930): Exhibition of Paintings, July 4-September 7, 1952 (Provincetown: Provincetown Art Association), p. 3.


About the author

James R. Bakker is Executive Director, Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum, Provincetown, Massachusetts.


Resource Library editor's note

The above essay was published in Resource Library on August 17, 2011 with permission of the New Britain Museum of American Art, granted to TFAO on August 15, 2011.

Resource Library wishes to extend appreciation to Alexander J. Noelle, Assistant Curator, and Claudia Thesing, Director of Development, of the New Britain Museum of American Art for their help concerning permission for reprinting the above text.

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