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Clarence Holbrook Carter (American 1904 – 2000)

Plowing, 1955, watercolor on paper, 7 x 10 inches (image), 15 x 17 ¼ inches (framed), signed and dated lower left; commissioned by The First National City Bank of New York (Citibank); provenance includes Hirschl & Adler Gallery, New York and The Harmon Gallery, Naples, Florida; newly framed with museum glass


About the Painting

Clarence Holbook Carter painted Plowing during his Madmen Years. In the late 1940s through 1950s, The First National City Bank of New York (Citibank) commissioned important artists, including Walter Tandy Murch and Clarence Holbrook Carter, to paint advertising for national magazines which had proliferated over the prior decades, including Fortune, Time, News Week and Business Week. The bank used the advertisements to convey its important role in financing America’s post-war industrial and agricultural expansion. Plowing was one of approximately twenty-seven paintings Carter completed for the bank. For Carter, this commercial work was not only remunerative, but also provided a welcome opportunity to expand his creative vision. In 1984 Carter reflected, “During the war years, so called ‘fine art’ was going in only one limited direction which I was not sympathetic to. I found that the creative things that I did for advertising developed my desire to experiment and become more inventive. This might seem strange to many, but during my commercial art period I became more abstract and more daring than I had been before.” Scholars of Carter’s work have noted that his advertising work forms an important bridge between his American Scene and magic realist paintings of the 1940s and his surreal and hard-edged abstractions of the 1960s and beyond. Plowing is a prime example of Carter’s approach to reducing forms down to their essence and in the process creating abstract patterns that read simultaneously as very real and unreal. The message of works like Plowing was one of agricultural might and efficiency and in this specific case, the fecundity of America’s land, all financed by The First National Bank of New York. By creating compelling images which communicated clearly and effectively, Carter helped blur the lines between what was already becoming an artificial distinction between commercial art and fine art.

About the Artist

Together with Charles Burchfield and Clyde Singer, Clarence Holbrook Carter was one of Ohio’s premiere American Scene painters and later an innovative magic realist who is sometimes also viewed as a precisionist painter. 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 40s, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), which purchased several of his paintings. During the 1950s, Carter received many commissions from Madison Avenue advertising agencies and their clients. 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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