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Clarence Holbrook Carter (American 1904 – 2000)

Updated: Jan 15, 2022

Trees at Bloom, 1939, oil on canvas, 32 x 24 inches, signed lower right


About the Painting

Trees at Bloom was painted when Clarence Holbrook Carter lived in Pittsburgh and served as an instructor in the Department of Painting and Design at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie-Mellon University), a position he held from 1938 through 1944. It depicts a thick forest at the base of distance hills just outside the city. During his tenure in Pittsburgh, Carter was deeply influenced by not only the industrial might of the steel mills and iron forges of the city, but also the beauty of the surrounding landscape. As Frank Anderson Trapp noted in his book on the artist, for Carter “the terrain itself had its own special vitality, with its craggy, wooded hills threaded with ravine and watercourses . . . . the signs of industrial blight that were unalleviated in some parts of the country were there relieved by the geological variety of the parent landscape, and by the irrepressible presence of its natural growth, which softened the whole.” Trapp continues, “in his scenes of rural situations, Carter had a special gift for rendering those elements convincingly.” With the profusion of flowering trees which diffuse the light and the red cardinals darting from one branch to another, Trees at Bloom portrays the “irrepressible presence of nature” that Trapp describes.

About the Artist

Together with Charles Burchfield, Clarence Holbrook Carter was Ohio’s premiere American Scene painter and later an innovative magic realist. The son of a no-nonsense public-school administrator, Carter was born in 1904 outside of Portsmouth, Ohio, a small town in the heart of the Ohio River Valley on the edge of the Appalachian Mountains. Although lacking parental support for his art, he demonstrated early aptitude by winning awards at his local county fair and the Ohio State fair. Carter received his formal art training at the Cleveland School of Art. While a student and with support from William Milliken, a curator at the Cleveland Museum of Art, and Henry G. Keller, his most significant instructor, Carter began to show his work at the museum’s annual May Show, where he gained immediate recognition and commercial success, which allowed him to further his studies in Italy with Hans Hoffman. His works were included in exhibitions at every major US museum during the 1930s and 1940s, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), which purchased several of his paintings. Carter’s works are in the permanent collections of dozens of museums, including the Museum of Modern Art (New York), the Chicago Art Institute and the Carnegie Museum. His later surrealist works were recently the subject of a solo show at Various Small Fires Gallery in Los Angeles. Carter is listed in all standard references, including Who was Who in American Art.

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