Charles Henry Turner [1848-1908]
Portrait of the artist’s son, ca.1890
Oil on canvas off stretcher
7-3/4 x 7-1/4 inches
Provenance: Estate of the great grandson of the artist.
Exhibition catalog: CHARLES HENRY TURNER [1848-1908] [provided by the great grandson of the artist]
Charles Henry Francis Turner became a professional artist at the age of thirty-three, after a thirteen-year career in business. His paintings were given their first public showing at the most important event of the art season of 1881, the premiere exhibition at the elegant, new quarters of the Boston Art Club at the comer of Newbury and Dartmouth Streets. The Art Club continued to show his works, besides those of Enneking, Bunker, Hassam, Halsall, Ross Turner and Gaugengigl, until the year before his death.
Turner’s early life offered very little indication that he would come to be an artist. After his mother died in 1850, he was reared by his maternal grandparents (William and Theodate Goss) at their homestead in Hampton, New Hampshire. His early affection for the New Hampshire landscape and the Goss homestead is reflected in the innumerable landscapes that he later painted in his summer studio in Jackson, New Hampshire, and in his beach scenes of the Hampton Beach area. Yet, like many other passionate youths, he had been drawn away from home by the adventuresome prospects of a soldier’s life, and he disregarded the regulations about age when he joined the Massachusetts Volunteer Militia for ninety days in 1864. (He had given his age as eighteen although he was sixteen.) Two years later he was mustered into the Fourth Cavalry Regiment of the United States Army stationed in San Antomo, Texas, where he served for three years.
After his stint in the army Turner returned to Boston, where he had lived between his two terms of military service, to seek a career in the business world. He rose to the position of bookkeeper in 1873, the same year that he was married at the Church of the Advent to Elise Hagedorn, but, as his family began to flourish, a business career became less and less appealing.
When the Boston Museum School was formed in 1877, Charles Turner saw an opportunity to yield to his “overmastering desire” to be an artist. The lead of the school, Otto Grundmann, became his teacher, and in 1881 Turner became a painter by occupation, pursuing art in the tradition of the nineteenth century academicians. His best exhibited works were heads painted from life and etchings after paintings by American William Merritt Chase and David Neal.
Turner travelled to Europe during the early 1880s to see the works of the French, German and Dutch academicians firsthand
and to immerse himself in the European cultural heritage. He returned to France in 1887 to realign himself with the work of the French masters, and his subsequent European sojourns refreshed both the subject matter and the stylistic concerns of his work. The paintings exhibited at the Boston Art Club in later years reflect the direction his life was taking: Home Alone from Bückeburg Market, shown in the Thirtieth Boston Art Club Exhibition in 1884, essays his interest in the native costumes of his wife’s Germany homeland; Portrait of the Artist’s Son in a Tam and Raincoat (1889) and Charles Mallard Turner in Eighteenth Century Costume (1891) chronicle the development of his son; his New England seaside views of the late eighties and early nineties illustrate his concern for the European landscape values applied to the American scene; and Maternity, entered in the BAC’s 1895 exhibition, is a loving portrait of his daughter Gertrude and her first child.
At the time of his death in 1908 Charles Turner was best remembered as a portraitist, and his numerous portraits, including
those of actor William Warren and artist W .F. Halsall, graced many homes in New England. A look at his oeuvre by today’s standards, however, produces a different assessment of his work. His portraits are well done by nineteenth century standards; but the simplicity of his genre scenes, such as Waiting for the Mouse and Sunday Morning, shows a kinship with seventeenth century French genre paintings; the directness of his mountain landscapes stresses the beauty of the natural site at the expense of pictorial artifice; the quality of light and clarity of form in his views of the Provincetown dunes and North Beach at Hampton betray his understanding of Dutch and Venetian painting. The present exhibition offers an overview of Turner’s work for the first time in more than seventy years, and it reveals his talent in all the facets of nineteenth century art, each with its special integrity and appeal.