Chicago Street #1 (Untitled), c. 1948, watercolor on paper, 19 ½ x 13 inches, signed lower right
About the Painting
George Custer Warner’s Chicago Street Scene #1 (Untitled) takes us back to a neighborhood street corner which probably had not changed much since the early part of the 20th century. Although likely composed from life around 1948, when Warner was a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the streetscape retains its turn of the century facades, electric poles and by then already vintage streetlight. Warner imbues each building with its own personality which is not surprising given that his artistic career revolved around historic architecture. Warner masterfully portrays the many details that emerge as the raking light falls across the street and creates stark highlights and deep shadows on the facades. Warner was an admirer of Edward Hopper and it shows in his treatment of light and the emptiness of an urban street in what should be a bustling city. Warner also seems to take a cue from one of America’s most accomplished watercolorists, Charles Burchfield, who perhaps more than any other artist of the period rendered buildings as if they were distinct living creatures with their own stories, secrets, and temperaments. We will never know, but it is intriguing to wonder whether Warner saw Burchfield’s House of Mystery (1924), which entered the Art Institute’s permanent collection in 1941, or paintings like Ice Glare (1933) which is in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art. In any event, from today vantage point, Warner’s Chicago street scenes from the late 1940s pay wonderful tribute to both Hopper and Burchfield.
About the Artist
A native of Scranton, Pennsylvania, George Custer Warner, spent most of his adult life in Eugene, Oregon, where he excelled at depicting in watercolor the historic sites of the Pacific Northwest. During the early 1940s, Warner studied art at Michigan State University and later at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. During his time in Chicago, Warner explored the American Scene and produced watercolors that seem influenced by Edward Hopper, Charles Burchfield, and Clarence Holbrook Carter. Warner primarily painted the architecture of Chicago neighborhoods with their distinct buildings. The best of these works is filled with a strong light which casts deep shadows across the composition. In 1950, Warner moved west to Eugene, Oregon, where he continued to paint architecture, including scenes of the area’s traditional industries, logging and lumber mills. Warner quickly became an active member of the visual art community in Eugene, serving as a host at the University of Oregon’s Oriental Art Museum and becoming a member of the Eugene Art Center. By 1953, Warner’s work was accepted to the Annual Invitational Eugene Area Artists Show, which was considered the most important art exhibition in Eugene. The 1953 exhibition presented the work of thirty-eight professional and semi-professional Northwest artists, including Anne and David McCosh. In 1954, Warner exhibited at the Eugene Art and Engineering Center. His watercolors of historic sites were illustrated several times in the local newspaper, The Eugene Guard, through the balance of the 1950s and Warner exhibited his works at the Lane County Courthouse and the Eugene Public Library. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Warner produced a series of prints based on his watercolors of prominent Eugene landmarks. In 1992, the United States Postal Service selected Warner’s watercolor of Waller Hall for a 19-cent postcard to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Willamette University. The Postal Service printed ten million copies of the postcard, which was part of a more expansive historic preservation series. Warner’s watercolors are in the collection of the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at the University of Oregon.