Charles James Martin (artist)

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Charles James Martin
Charles James Martin, photographed by Caroline Geiger, circa 1910.
BornSeptember 1886 (1886-09)
DiedAugust 9, 1955 (1955-08-10) (aged 68)
Known forPainting

Charles James Martin (September 1886 – August 9, 1955) was an American modernist artist and arts instructor. He worked in a variety of media including etching, lithography, water color, monotype, linocut, woodcut, oil, photography, mezzotint and silversmithing. Born in Mansfield, England in 1886, Martin emigrated to the US as a boy and lived out the remainder of his life as an American. He studied art under Arthur Wesley Dow at Dow's Ipswich Summer School of Art as well as at Columbia University Teachers College, where he became an instructor himself in 1914.

Mr. Martin's work is after the new modernist school, the art that seeks essence rather than form, interpretation rather than faithful representation. The results of this first year's training in a type of work so entirely new to Teachers College students are highly gratifying to Professor Dow. According to Mr. Martin, modernist painting must be preceded by ordinary symmetrical drawing by the student. In other words, rules must be learned before they can be departed from. The exhibit showed, therefore, not only paintings of this new character, but also drawings of the old style – symmetrical, detailed, precise. One of the color experiments of particular interest in this interpretative painting is that of "optical mixtures," a process by which the mixing of colors to produce another color, is left to the eye, rather than mixed on the palette; green foliage, for example, may be represented by intermingling splotches of blue and yellow. The exhibit showed these modernist studies done in all mediums – oil, chalk, tempora, water color.[1]

Martin attained professorship at Teachers College in 1923[2] and continued his work there into the 1940s. Georgia O'Keeffe attended Martin's class at Teachers college in 1914–15, where she met Anita Pollitzer. O'Keeffe considered Martin's instruction significant enough that she continued sending examples of her work for his critique in the period after she attended his class.[3] Martin even had a fan in Winston Churchill, as a friend of his writes in a letter c. 1930s:

Wednesday afternoon Mr. and Mrs. Winston Churchill and two sons came in for tea; both Mr. and Mrs. C. are crazy about sketching and water colors. Mr. C. went back to [Charles'] picture three times and stood for ages admiring and commenting upon it – thought the light and shadows perfect and loved the simplicity of the theme. I always feel so proud to say "our friend Prof. Martin!"[4]

In the 1910s, Martin also studied photography with Clarence H. White at Teachers College, and became an instructor at White's School of Photography in 1918.[5] Also in 1918, Martin won first prize in a photography contest held by Columbia University in which Dow and White were judges.[6] During this time period, he also served on the Executive Committee of the Pictorial Photographers of America [3].

Martin spent many summers in the 1920s–50s living and teaching plein air art classes in Provincetown, Mass,[7] and also in Mexico.[8] Martin continued working as an art instructor, often on a freelance basis, for the remainder of his life. He died on August 9, 1955 in Hyannis, MA, after a short illness. He is buried at North Burial Ground, Providence, Rhode Island.[9]

Personal life

Charles J. Martin with wife Esther and son James, circa late 1920s

At Teachers College, Martin met a fellow art student named Esther L. Upton, whom he eventually married. Upton was the niece of Clifford B. Upton and Siegried M. Upton, both prominent instructors at Teachers College and also the affiliated Horace Mann School. (Mrs. Upton was also an accomplished photographer who studied with Clarence H. White.) Charles and Esther lived for a brief time in Paris, France in 1913–14. In 1918 they gave birth to their only child, James Upton "Kimo" Martin (born May 16, 1918, died Jan 20, 2007) [4]. Charles and Esther eventually separated, and spent most of the 1920s onward living far apart from each other. James spent time living with both of his parents. He grew up to become an accomplished artist and furniture designer in his own right.

Selected Exhibitions and Reviews

  • American Water Color Society Exhibition, National Arts Club, 1916

There are two "Interiors" in the exhibition which provide contrast and text. One shall be nameless... The other is a picture by Charles J. Martin in the alcove. Mr. Martin has approached his subject first of all in the spirit of an artist with analyses to make. He has taken the haphazard of nature and reduced it to orderly plan. Or to speak more truly, he has taken the fragment of nature that presented itself to him at some one moment and recreated it until by virtue of art it became a whole, an organism, in which every part is essential to the others. He has seen his room as a pattern in which the black stove with its aggressive pipe is balanced by a black chair or something, and beautiful bright threads of color run in and out of large neutral patches of violet and dull yellow. A rug designer would see how handsome it is. But the artist in this instance has had also a sense of humor and a conscience, and since his room is a human abode he has analyzed its character and made of his work a witty and penetrating comment. That is what makes it so difficult to forgive. The makers of patterns are not all so successful as Mr. Martin.[10]

  • Columbia Teachers College, 1916

Mr. Martin's method makes water color a thing to reckon with at a distance, a medium capable of decorative effect. He pays tribute to the peculiar character of the medium, its sparkling idiosyncrasy, by his use of the white outline, which detaches the masses of color from one another, keeping them in one plane as effectively as the black bounding line in favor with one school of modern painters; and which has the advantage of giving the white ground of the paper a chance to play its enlivening part in the general scheme.[11]

  • Philadelphia Water Color Exhibition, 1916[12]
  • MacDowell Club Sketch Exhibition, 1917[13]
  • Pictorial Photographers of America Exhibition, Detroit Museum of Art, January 4–28, 1918 [5][permanent dead link]
  • Painter-Gravers Of America Exhibition, 1919[14]
  • Provincetown Art Association Exhibition, 1927[15]
Charles J. Martin with water colors, circa 1930s
  • Morton Galleries, New York City, 1929[16]
  • International Water Color Exhibition, Art Institute of Chicago, May 2 – June 2, 1929 [6]
  • Provincetown Art Association Exhibition, 1931[17]
  • Morton Galleries, New York City, 1931

Charles J. Martin, well known for his freedom from academic restraint in his method of teaching design, achieves an equally unhampered expression in his creative work. "The Factory" is a boldly conceived design, especially rich in its use of resonant blacks. In contrast to the rugged construction of this work is the fluent character of the "Sand Pit," where the harmonic tour de force of combining warm and cold tonalities is skillfully accomplished.[18]

  • Morton Galleries, New York City, 1932.[19]

Possibly the most striking paper in the show is the landscape by Charles Martin. Mr. Martin, a professor of painting at Columbia, has an original and powerful technique. He achieves architectonic pattern without any important loss in realism.[20]

  • Morton Galleries, New York City, 1933[21]
  • Morton Galleries, New York City, 1934[22]
  • Delphic Studios, New York City, 1934[23]
  • Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY, 1935 "Exhibition of Water Color Paintings, Pastels and Drawings by American and European Artists, Feb 1-28, 1935
  • Morton Galleries, New York City, 1936[24]
  • Morton Galleries, New York City, 1937[25]
  • Morton Galleries, New York City, 1938[26]
  • Brooklyn Museum Art School, 1949[27]

Selected Teaching CV

  • Columbia University Teachers College (1914–1940s)
  • Clarence H. White School of Photography (1918–1920s)
  • Art Students' League (early 1920s)[28]
  • Eastern Arts Convention, Philadelphia (1940)[33]

Selected publications

  • Notes On Permanent Painting, a 1924 article for Teachers College Record.[35]
  • Creative Design In Painting, a 12-minute 16 mm educational film, 1936. "A demonstration of the organization of lines and areas within a rectangle. The illustration of these design principles is then carried over into the painting of a landscape in watercolor."[36]
  • How To Make Modern Jewelry[7], New York : Museum of Modern Art : distributed by Simon and Schuster, 1949.

Gallery of Selected Art Works


  1. ^ Teachers College Record Volume 16 Number 4, 1915, p. 388
  2. ^ Teachers College Record Volume 24 Number 4, 1923, pp. 374–392
  3. ^ "Living On Paper:" Georgia O'Keeffe and the Culture of Drawing and Watercolor in the Stieglitz Circle [1], Ann Prentice Wagner, Dissertation, 2005, pp. 160–161
  4. ^ Personal letter to Martin's family, circa 1920s, with illegible signature
  5. ^ Photos from the Clarence H. White School, online article by Verna Posever Curtis for the Library of Congress [2]
  6. ^ Teachers College Record Volume 19 Number 2, 1918, pp. 215–215
  7. ^ Teachers College Record Volume 26 Number 10, 1925, pp. 881–891
  8. ^ "New Trend In Art Found In Mexico", New York Times, Dec. 6, 1936
  9. ^ "Deaths", New York Times, Aug. 11, 1955
  10. ^ "Water Color Exhibition", New York Times, Feb 5, 1916
  11. ^ "Teachers College Students Exhibit Their Work", New York Times, May 18, 1916
  12. ^ From an exhibition label on the back of his painting "An Interior"
  13. ^ "Art Exhibitions of the Closing Season", New York Times, May 13, 1917
  14. ^ "Hogarth and Other English Painters", New York Times, March 16, 1919
  15. ^ "Modern Artists Show Work at Provincetown", New York Times, July 10, 1927
  16. ^ "A Round Of Galleries", New York Times, March 10, 1929
  17. ^ Edward Alden Jewell, "Three-Reel Travelogue", New York Times, July 12, 1931
  18. ^ "New Morton Gallery Opens", New York Times, Oct. 13, 1931.
  19. ^ "Some Interesting Water-Colors", New York Times, Jan. 20, 1932
  20. ^ "The Week In New York: A Roster Of New Exhibitions", New York Times, Oct 23, 1932
  21. ^ Edward Alden Jewell, "Superb Islamic Painting", New York Times, Oct 15, 1933
  22. ^ Howard DeVree, "Notes On Some Current Exhibitions", New York Times, Oct 7, 1934
  23. ^ "20 Art Exhibitions To Open This Week", New York Times, Dec. 17, 1934
  24. ^ Howard DeVree, "A Round Of Galleries", New York Times, March 22, 1936
  25. ^ Ruth Green Harris, "Landscape vs. Portrait", New York Times, June 13, 1937
  26. ^ Howard DeVree, "Flames In The Embers", New York Times, July 3, 1938
  27. ^ "Variety Of Shows Due At Art Salons", New York Times, Feb. 21, 1949
  28. ^ Teachers College Record Volume 22 Number 5, 1921, p. 433
  29. ^ Teachers College Record Volume 22 Number 5, 1921, p. 433
  30. ^ a b Teachers College Record Volume 28 Number 7, 1927, pp. 736–737
  31. ^ Teachers College Record Volume 29 Number 7, 1928, pp. 628–647
  32. ^ Teachers College Record Volume 31 Number 2, 1929, pp. 175–175
  33. ^ Teachers College Record Volume 41 Number 99, 1940, p. 690
  34. ^ Martin, Charles J. (1949). How To Make Modern Jewelry, New York : Museum of Modern Art : distributed by Simon and Schuster.
  35. ^ Teachers College Record Volume 25 Number 1, 1924, pp. 51–60
  36. ^ Educational Film Guide (1951), New York, H. W. Wilson Co