Arthur B. Carles 1882-1952
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Bouquet of Flowers (Still Life with Flowers), 1927

Arthur B. Carles was among the most innovative and virtuosic practitioners of early American modernism, establishing himself both as a highly successful painter and teacher. Born in Philadelphia and living much of his early life in the same neighborhood as Thomas Eakins, Carles embodied much of the same contrarian and daredevil spirit of the elder painter. While he was beloved by students and his paintings were prized in their day, he often found himself in conflict with authority and disdained conventional avenues. If this spirit dimmed his financial prospects, it also elevated the success and ambition of his paintings well beyond many of his cohort, for his brightly-colored pictures that verge on abstraction, he is sometimes classified among the Synchromists. His involvement with Philadelphia art circles earns him membership in brief modernist flourishing of that city. Still, his friendship with Alfred Stieglitz and European connections puts him also on the forefront of a more cosmopolitan modernist movement than Philadelphia offered. He never moved entirely into abstraction, remarking “I think that when a painting gets so concrete, that it looks so much like itself that it doesn’t look like anything else, ‘abstract’ is a hell of a word for it” [as quoted in The Orchestration of Color, 2000, p. 63]. Nonetheless, his explosive canvases show the broad influence of Wassily Kandinsky, as well as post-impressionists, Fauves, and, late in his career, a move toward Cubism. A painter of broad technical and aesthetic gifts, he is one of the category-defying visionaries of American art. Influential in many channels, Carles produced a tremendous body of work and left a wake of profound influence.