MMoFA Adds Important Painting
The Madison Museum of Fine Art (MMoFA) announces the addition of a 19th century oil painting “Still Life of Fruit” by Connecticut born, New York and Paris trained, African American art master Charles Ethan Porter (c.1847 – 1923). The painting is registered with the Smithsonian National Art Inventory as being significant to the nation’s cultural heritage.
Observes Museum Director, Michele Bechtell: “The addition of this exceptional painting is meaningful in several ways. The collection lacked a fine American 19th century still life, and Porter won international fame for this genre. There is a historic connection between Porter’s home state and Putnam County. And, Porter’s story offers an opportunity to consider the effects of racism on the recognition of artistic genius.”
Dr. Curlee Raven Holton, Art Chairman of Lafayette College, and Director of the University of Maryland David C. Driskell Center for the Study of Visual Arts and Culture of African Americans and the African Diaspora, explains Porter’s importance to American art and culture, “Porter of African American descent achieved acclaim and recognition as a master painter of classical landscapes and still life settings. These achievements represented a rare occasion when an African American artist and his work transcended many of the racial barriers faced by other artists of his generation. He was a significant artistic figure who produced beautiful works skillfully executed that have contributed significantly to the early American Tradition of Still life portraiture.”
Putnam County has long standing ties with Porter’s home state including founding fathers and Louisa Prudden Hunt who memorialized Sylvia the Ghost at Panola Hall. Sandra Rosseter, Director of the Old School History Museum at the Plaza Arts Center explains two early Connecticut connections, “Putnam County is named after the Connecticut Revolutionary War hero General Israel Putnam, famous for the quote, ‘Don't one of you fire until you see the whites of their eyes.’ In addition, Eatonton is named for the Connecticut Tripolitan War hero William Eaton who, with others, is commemorated in the Marine's Hymn: "... to the shores of Tripoli ..."
Jim Marshall, president of the Eatonton-Putnam Historical Society adds, "Many of Eatonton's early male and female schoolteachers came from Connecticut, as did many tradesmen and businessmen with their wives and children beginning in 1817. Several younger men from Connecticut in various trades, including silversmiths, furniture craftsmen, clock-makers and jewelry merchants, married local women and remained in Eatonton and raised families here. Daniel Slade came first as a teacher in the early 1820's, then built and operated Eatonton's largest general store, married a local heiress and built Slade Hall. Connecticut native Daniel Booth Hempstead opened his silversmith shop here in 1818. His partner and clock-maker, Nathaniel Saltonstall, married locally but returned to the north. George M. Woolcott is our earliest documented carpenter-architect who built himself a fine home which is still standing as well as the first Masonic Lodge and other fine homes which he built in the historic district. Woolcott lived out his life in Eatonton and Putnam County. Many of these early settlers came from Litchfield, Connecticut and its surrounding area."
Born in Hartford, Connecticut, Porter the artist graduated from high school in 1865. Following art study at Wesleyan Academy and New York's National Academy of Design, he became one of the first African Americans to exhibit at the Academy. Soon thereafter, Porter traveled to Paris carrying a letter of recommendation from Mark Twain. He studied at the Ecole des Arts Decoratifs and travelled the French countryside near Barbizon. When Porter returned to the U.S. he opened studios in NYC, again in Hartford, and later at the remains of a tower on Fox Hill that a family member owned. He became a charter member of the Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts in 1910 where most of his students were white. His fortunes later declined due to health and mounting racism nationwide. When many people would not buy from a black artist, Porter’s Bavarian studio partner sold Porter’s paintings door-to-door until Porter died in 1923 in virtual obscurity. Today Porter’s still life masterpieces of fruit and flowers are held in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, San Antonio Museum of Art, Smithsonian Museum of Art, Wadsworth Athenaeum, New Britain Museum of Art, and now MMoFA.
MMoFA offers special thanks to the Gershon Benjamin Foundation and other benefactors for the generous gift of funds that enabled the art purchase. A charitable 501c(3) tax-exempt institution, MMoFA welcomes the generosity of visitors and art patrons who help promote the value of visual art education, teach the great traditions of visual art, demonstrate how visual art masters enrich contemporary life and community contribution, and enhance the lives of travelers passing through our region. For more information on how you can support MMoFA in its mission, call 706-485-4530 or visit www.mmofa.org.