Charles PorterAmerican, 1847-1923
Porter studied at the National Academy of Design and was among the first African Americans to exhibit there. He opened a studio in Hartford in 1878 and traveled to Paris several years later, bearing a letter of recommendation from Mark Twain. After studying at the Académie Julian from 1881 to 1884, he returned to the States and became best known for his detailed still lifes of fruit and flowers painted in soft colors. Porter died in poverty, owing perhaps to health issues and no doubt to mounting racism worldwide.
By 1877 Porter had set up a studio in downtown Hartford. Mark Twain so admired his work that in 1881 he paid for Porter's travel to Paris for further study. Porter was exposed to the exquisite Impressionist flower paintings of Henri Fantin Latour, who strongly influenced his own carefully composed and loosely- painted flower and fruit still lifes. For several years after returning to the United States, Porter successfully sold his work and exhibited at major venues, such as the National Academy of Design and the American Society of Painters. Only a handful of African-American artists succeeded as-professionals in the nineteenth century, and Porter was the only African-American painter of-his generation to specialize in still life. Inevitably, racism eventually took its toll and he fell into obscurity. Only recently has his fine contribution to American art been recognized.
Porter was born in or about 1847 in Hartford, Connecticut. His family moved to the nearby village of Rockville (now part of Vernon, Connecticut) by the early 1850s. He graduated from the local high school in 1865.
In 1869, after two years of art study at Wesleyan Academy (now known as the Wilbraham & Monson Academy) in Wilbraham, Massachusetts, Porter went on to study at New York's National Academy of Design and was one of the first African Americans to exhibit at the Academy. In 1873 and 1875, he held an exhibit for the American Society of Painters in water color. A subsequent 1876 exhibit was at the National Academy of Design.
In 1878, he opened a studio in Hartford, Connecticut. In 1879, Frederic Church commended Porter's paintings. When he traveled to Paris several years later, he took with him a letter of recommendation from Mark Twain.
While in France, in 1881, he enrolled in the Ecole des Arts Decoratifs. He was in France from late 1881 to early 1884, probably also studying at the Académie Julian. He spent several months in the French countryside as well, including the village of Fleury, near Barbizon. Porter returned to the U.S. and opened a studio in New York City in 1885, and then returned to Hartford, where he opened a studio in 1887.
He left Hartford for Rockville in 1889, where he briefly had a studio in the Fitch Block, and later at the remains of a tower on Fox Hill, which a family member owned.
In 1910, Porter become a charter member of the Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts.
Later, his fortunes declined, possibly because of health issues and certainly because of mounting racism nationwide, and he sold his paintings door-to-door in Rockville, Connecticut, where he died in 1923 in virtual obscurity, around the age of 75.
In recent years, Porter has been rediscovered and is now remembered as the creator of minor masterpieces of American still life painting. He is most famous for fruit and floral still life.