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Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Carl William Peters (1897-1980)

Red House, Autumn.

Carl William Peters is best known as a poet-painter of winter landscapes that he composed directly from the fields.

By Alexandra A Jopp

Carl William Peters, “one of the best kept secrets in the history of twentieth century American art,” was born to Frederick and Louisa Peters in a Rochester, N.Y., community of working-class German immigrants on Nov. 14, 1897.1 Peters studied anatomy, perspective and illustration at Rochester’s Mechanics Institute of Technology while working for a sign painter and serving as an apprentice to a theatre scene design company. He then went to the famed Art Students League in New York where he learned landscape painting.

Peters concentrated on reproducing the ordinary places of America early in his career. He painted winter scenes and produced landscapes of his beloved Genesee Land with a rare “spirit of place” that drew critical acclaim during a long and prolific career that lasted until his death at 82. Peters could be compared to John Henry Twachtman, with whom he shared a love of the muted tones of winter subjects.

Morning on the Cove, Janus Galleries. 
Peters had a remarkable range of styles to reveal. He spent his youth in a milieu in which the ideas of sublimity had been celebrated in the splendid landscape images of Frederic Edwin Church, Thomas Cole and Asher B. Durand. Thus, the young artist was able to absorb some of these majestic nineteenth-century sublime American landscape traditions. Peters’s second major influence was American Impressionism, a movement related to, yet distinct from, the French version. Next, the artist was influenced by Tonalism, which, while deriving from the French Barbizon school, which focused on the effects of color and light in nature, was a purely American term describing sensibility rather than style. Academic Naturalism, inherited from Europe, also influenced Peters’s art, as did the vigorous Realism of Robert Henry that was associated with the Ashcan School. Finally, there was the emergence of early Modernism, which was linked to Alfred Stieglitz, the gallery director whose style was swiftly spreading in New York City.


In 1911, Peters moved from Rochester to a small farm near Fairport, N.Y., where he acquired his love for painting from nature. At the age of just 17, he had a studio and was listed as an artist in the Fairfield directory. He began to concentrate on winter scenes, which was a particularly American genre. Peters was interested in producing art that reflected the essence of America, especially the spirit of American provincial areas. He was quite fond of art colonies, especially those inn Cape Ann, Mass., Gloucester, Mass., and Rockport, Maine. Between 1923 and 1925, Peters’s style developed into a more personal and easily recognizable – and quite exceptional style.

Stream in Winter.
The Studio and Barn.

In 1922, Peters exhibited at the Thirty-Ninth Annual Exhibition of the Rochester Art Club. He was represented by three paintings – A June Day (1921, private collection), A Meadow Brook (1921, private collection), and the landscape Autumn (private collection). The works were highly acclaimed. Peters continued to exhibit broadly and won the prestigious Hall Prize at the National Academy of Design in 1926, 1928 and 1932. During the Great Depression, Peters completed several large and significant mural projects for Rochester companies, including the Genesee Valley Trust Company and the Rochester Academy of Medicine.

 At the Pier.
From 1940 on, Peters’s style turned toward more vibrant colors, but his themes and poetic mood remained the same. Each year, as soon as it started snowing around late November, Peters would set up his easel to capture the spirit of winter. He maintained a studio at the farm in Fairport and another in his beloved art colony in Cape Ann, and between those two sites, he created a remarkably large set of charming American paintings.

Snow Scene with Man and Horses.

1 comment:

  1. A lovely history. Thank you for this.