Charles Partridge Adams

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Charles Partridge Adams (January 12, 1858 – October 14, 1942) was a largely self-taught American landscape artist who painted primarily in Colorado, and secondarily in California. Some paintings were also made in other Rocky Mountain states, the Pacific Northwest and Canada, and a few in Louisiana, the East Coast and Europe.


Adams was born in Franklin, Massachusetts; his family moved to Denver in 1876. In 1877 he began work in the Chain and Hardy bookstore in Denver, and received lessons from Helen Henderson Chain, an artist who had studied with George Inness. In 1885 he traveled to the East Coast and visited the studios of George Inness and Worthington Whittredge, and in 1888 he traveled to California and visited the studios of William Keith and Thomas Hill. He traveled to Louisiana in 1890, and to Europe in the summer of 1914. He spent the winter of 1916 in California, and moved to Los Angeles in 1920, and built a second home in Laguna Beach in 1926. He died in Los Angeles.


Adams is widely considered to have been Colorado’s finest landscape artist.[who?] He is best known for his stunning views of snowy mountain peaks in early morning or sunset light, or wreathed in storm clouds, and for his luminous sunset and twilight paintings of the river bottoms near Denver. His works show an intensely personal and poetic response to the Colorado mountains and plains, with unusual sensitivity to the changing effects of light, atmosphere and season.

Adams early work in the 1880s was largely representational and somewhat prosaic, with only hints of the more impressionist works to follow. His style began to coalesce in the early 1890s with some excellent luminous sunsets, some of which were in a Barbizon style, but overall his output was still uneven. In the later 1890s his painting became much more consistent, impressionist, and colorful, and this style prevailed through about 1915. After that his style became progressively “looser,” with larger brush strokes, brighter colors, more impasto, and much less attention to foreground and detail. Some paintings left at his death show only traces of his previous skill.

His mature style is best characterized as broad, impressionistic and subjective. Adams experimented freely with different palettes and lighting, and some of these were much more successful than others. He must have created several hundred paintings of Longs and Meeker Peaks from his studio in Estes Park, Colorado, yet no two are alike, and some are strikingly different.

A hallmark of Adams’ paintings was his ability to capture very fleeting lighting: the soft first pink light of alpenglow sunrise on snow-capped peaks, the colors of sunset seen through cottonwood trees, the effect of the sun shining through swiftly changing storm clouds or a summer shower. Although this lighting usually lasts for only a few minutes at most, he was able to catch it and preserve it.

All art enhances aspects of its subject matter, and de-emphasizes others. Most of Adams paintings are enhanced primarily by the use of stronger colors than one would actually find in a photograph. The evening shadows are bluer, the spring grass is greener, the sunsets more strikingly yellow or orange—and occasionally he went too far, becoming garish. He sometimes used very small areas of intense blue and red to enliven a dark shadowed area such as the heart of a clump of willows or the dark base of an aspen tree. He also made the mountains look about twice as tall as they actually look, as if seen through a telephoto lens.

Some of his earlier paintings include animals or human figures, but he was not very successful at rendering these, and later paintings do not include them.

Roughly half of Adams paintings are oils and half are watercolors, which he began painting in the early 1890s. Although some of his watercolors are masterfully detailed and very carefully done, others are much less detailed, and must have been done very quickly for the tourist trade. As one watercolorist remarked about one of these, “That one must have taken him all of 15 minutes.” Over 950 paintings have been documented.[1] His total output is unknown, but it is estimated to have been 3,000 or more.

Selected works[edit]

  • Mount Sopris - Watercolor c.1896
  • Platte River Near Denver - Watercolor c.1900
  • Early Morning in Autumn, Needle Mountains, Colorado - Oil on Board c.1920
  • Pines and Boulders - Oil on Board c.1920
  • Spanish Peaks Sunrise - Watercolor c.1920



  • Charles Partridge Adams web site, containing additional information, photos of paintings, signatures, etc.
  • Dines, Dorothy, Leonard, Stephen J., and Cuba, Stanley L. The Art of Charles Partridge Adams Fulcrum Publishing Co, Golden CO. Three substantial essays about Adams’ life and work are illustrated with 92 full color plates. 146 pp.