Editor's note: The following essay was written in September, 2001 and is reprinted with permission of The Cape Museum of Fine Arts. The essay is featured in the catalogue for the exhibition of the same name appearing at The Cape Museum of Fine Arts from November 17, 2001 to January 20, 2002. If you have questions or comments regarding the source material, please contact the The Cape Museum of Fine Arts directly through either this phone number or web address:
True Visions: The Paintings of C. Arnold Slade (1882-1961)
by Julie Carlson Eldred
"Among artists, few have given us visions as true and pure," noted the Parisian magazine La Revue Moderne on the work of American impressionist C. Arnold Slade. In the first quarter of the 20th century, Slade's landscapes, portraits, and genre and biblical scenes inspired similar accolades from critics around the world, as well as the admiration of the top collectors of the day including Isabella Stewart Gardner of Boston and John Wanamaker of Philadelphia. Slade's work was also well-known to the general public through his sold-out exhibitions, numerous reproductions of his paintings in popular magazines, and extensive coverage by the international press, who praised him as one of the most promising artists to come out of America since colonial painter Benjamin West. However, Slade's incredibly diverse body of work -- from depictions of a soldier's final moments on a French battlefield to his oil studies of the autumnal hues of grassy Cape Cod dunes -- has only recently been rediscovered with the emergence of the artist's estate.
Born August 2, 1882, in Acushnet, Massachusetts, Caleb Arnold Slade was the only child of Abbie Jane Morse and Caleb Slade. His Quaker parents operated a corner grocery store in New Bedford, Massachusetts, where Slade attended the local public schools. Around the time Slade entered Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, the family relocated to nearby Attleboro, Massachusetts, then a small but thriving industrial city of 11,000 inhabitants.
In 1904 Slade graduated from Brown and entered into a business career. Yet his destiny to be an artist was sealed when he accompanied the head salesman on a business trip to the Palisades above the Hudson River, the site of an artist colony. Catching the spirit of the lively artists, Slade joined an art class and began sketching. He had never shown an interest in art before, but apparently his parents supported his sudden career change, for they gave him the financial backing to study painting at prestigious academies in New York and Paris. Later in life Slade wrote a friend that his education, including eight years in Europe, had been very expensive, but that he had recovered most of the expense by painting portraits so his "parents were encouraged before their death because I had done fairly well."
In fact Slade enjoyed enormous success as an artist soon after beginning his career. In 1906; he married Irene Elizabeth Wells, also of Attleboro, who encouraged him to study in the academic tradition. Slade then began his formal art training, in 1907, at the Art Students' League in New York under Louis Loeb and Frank Dumond. He went on to Paris to study anatomy at the elite L'Ecole des Beaux-Arts and by 1909 was enrolled at the more egalitarian Academie Julian under Jean-Paul Laurens, Baschet, and Schommer. In a front-page article in The Providence Sunday Journal, Slade mused about the art student's experience in the Latin Quarter ateliers:
Enthused by his studies at Julian's and completely taken by the Parisian art scene, Slade settled with his bride into a tiny studio on the Left Bank. "We had little money," Slade recounted, "but we didn't need much. In those days $60 a month paid for rent and food; one could get soup, meat, two vegetables, half a bottle of wine, and a loaf of bread for one franc-fifty." Slade maintained a studio in Paris during the winters for several years before and after the "Great War"; summers were spent primarily in Normandy painting "peasant fishers," with trips to Brittany, Holland, Venice, and home to Attleboro.
Like the so many thousands of American artists in France who preceded him, as well as some emerging artists, Slade's style developed according to his academic training and the 'avant-garde' movements surfacing in Paris at the time. Essentially, Slade was part of a second, maybe third generation or successive group of American impressionists established in France. His impressionistic style was decades past currency yet was still influenced by contemporary trends, especially in his color palette. William R. Lester commented that- Slade's paintings, "...have the distinctive note of the modern French school -- vibrant, clear, luminous, and imaginative. The subjects have become well-nigh stereotyped in this branch of artistic production, but the Slade viewpoints are nonetheless original and pictorially interesting. There are few painters of this school who could render so well at once the cool greens and dull grays of a Normandy farm and the burning sunlight that blazes in the streets of Slade's Tangiers paintings."
Slade certainly knew the work of other expatriate artists whom we now consider postimpressionists and modernists, such as Frederick Frieseke and Alfred Maurer, with whom he often exhibited. The portrait of his wife Irene, a frequent model, displays the influence of the Giverny Group of postimpressionists. The subject, a beautiful woman reposing against a patterned background -- in a composition that is informed by Japanese design principles, echoes the Giverny compositions of Frieseke, Richard E. Miller, and Louis Ritman.
In Paris, Slade exhibited with the American Art Association along with Charles Hawthorne, founder of the influential Cape Cod Art School, and John Noble, a future president of the Provincetown Art Association. Frieseke, Maurer, Max Bohm, George Oberteuffer, and William L'Engle also exhibited with Slade in France and would later factor into the early Provincetown art scene and Slade's life on Cape Cod. Slade actively exhibited with this group before the war, with 1913 as his busiest year. His work was shown at prestigious English and French venues such as Salon des Beaux-Arts de Paris-Plage and Salon des Artistes Français, where he exhibited Christ on the Mountain to critical acclaim.
Perhaps because of his piousness, Slade never painted the Paris café life. He depicted the Seine in early morning light, the humble fishing folk of Cameret and Moret in northern France, the Dutch countryside, and for two months in 1909 he painted Venetian canals en plein air with "several foremost American artists" whose identities can only be guessed.
Slade painted with Hawthorne in Provincetown, but he missed painting with him in Venice by a year. However, his visits there often coincided with John Singer Sargent's. Like Sargent, who made annual sojourns to Venice from 1898 to 1913, Slade focused on the the undulating effects of light on the sculptural surfaces of buildings and over water. In the fall of 1909, Sargent was entrenched in his use of watercolor, but Slade worked in oil. His canvasses, both sweeping canal views and foreshortened vignettes of gondolas floating by Renaissance doorways, were painted quickly out-of-doors. Architectural landmarks throughout the water-bound city -- the Grand Canal, the Rialto, Santa Maria della Salute -- served as favorite subject matter for both artists.
Slade painted prolifically in Venice to the delight of critics who praised his bold and sophisticated use of "pulsating, living, vital color." Executed in wide, sweeping strokes, some of his bright Venetian scenes took on an ornamental postimpressionist style as they departed from naturalism through freer and more expressive brushwork and, at times, a high-keyed color palette. In his Venice Light, the coursing canal is represented by thick horizontals of cobalt blue playing off dabs of orange, beige, and even red for a stylized and decorative effect. Alternately, he painted in a more subdued tonal palette or an unusual spectrum of pastel colors. In a few works, form is further sacrificed to color's role with near Whistlerian subtlety. This is especially evident in his view of the famous church Santa Maria della Salute.
Within four years of his first art class, Slade was given a one-man show at the Attleboro Library that attracted 1,000 visitors upon opening, which later prompted the municipality to invest in Slade's work for its new permanent collection. The town eventually acquired The Reapers, painted in the French tradition, and in 1913 bought for the library a very academic mural titled Knowledge is Power.
The city of New Bedford (MA) also purchased Slade's work. Sea Waifs was one of Slade's most well-received paintings during his 1914 traveling exhibition. "The attention of every visitor is attracted to Sea Waifs," noted a critic, "This work was painted with the entire range of the palette, strong in composition and embodying every aesthetic quality of true art." In response to a request for more information on the subjects, Irene Slade wrote the library in 1963, "Arnold painted many character subjects whenever he could get an interesting model. These girls were in Brittany along the coast near Concarneau."
Slade's first major one-man gallery show was held in Boston at the Charles Cobb Gallery in 1909. Several more one-man exhibitions, including three at Vose Galleries, followed. His 1922 exhibition at Vose was so popular with the buying public, including a few important purchases by the Brookline (MA) collector Desmond Fitzgerald, that the show was extended for another week.
Throughout the 1910s Slade continued to exhibit abroad in both London and Paris. The press often reported that Slade "...although a young man, hardly thirty, has surpassed many of the older heads in the way of placing his thoughts on canvas through the medium of colored pigments...[he] has already brought notice on himself and his work from a great many of the authorities of the old country as well as in America. Several of his paintings have been hung in galleries in London, Liverpool, and Paris, while he himself is a member of some of the oldest artists' associations in Europe."
In 1911 Slade returned to Venice to paint, but he then continued onto Palestine and Egypt. The trip inspired a series of biblical paintings for which Slade became known as utilizing "daring realism" in depicting Christ. At the time, not many artists were still painting religious works. Almost twenty years before, artists such as John La Farge and Frank Dumond had reintroduced the subject, but the trend did not last long. Slade's works were popular because he brought a humanity to the ecclesiastic by rendering the prophets in understandable scenes that conveyed immediacy, or "realism." During his lifetime, Slade's biblical scenes reached a level of popular interest surpassed only by his war depictions. As mentioned, Christ on the Mountain, so well received in France, was bought at the 1913 Philadelphia Art Club exhibition by collector John Wanamaker.
"Visitors were astounded with the prolific zeal of this prodigy," a critic wrote of the near sell-out Philadelphia exhibition. Positive press and important acquisitions by local collectors, including Wanamaker and George Elkins, established an active market for Slade's work in the region. A letter from the Bucks County (PA) impressionist Edward Redfield once encouraged him, "Your work must be in Phila. for our oil show....Get busy!"
Also in 1913, Isabella Stewart Gardner, the venerable Boston collector of Renaissance art and patroness of Sargent, but very few other then-living artists, became interested in Slade's work. She bought the painting Village of Etaples from Slade's one-man show at Copley Hall to hang in her Venetian palazzo on Boston's green Fenway -- then the city's artistic epicenter for both brahmins and bohemians. The Boston Post headlined the event with "Buys Slade Canvas for Her Palace -- Mrs. J.L. Gardner Gets Normandy Scene," and The Boston Sunday Herald announced that his work was "big, ambitious and youthful." Other Boston collectors followed Mrs. Gardner's lead, and the eighty paintings in the exhibition sold well.
The Slades kept in touch with Mrs. Gardner for several years by corresponding during the war and exchanging Christmas cards. Before Mrs. Gardner's death in 1922, Slade fondly wrote her, "You were the first person to give me encouragement...," and of his success, "I want you to share any reflected credit."
On the eve of World War I, at a time when much of America was reeling from shock over the 1913 Armory Show of modern art, Slade's brilliantly colored landscapes, genre scenes, and biblical depictions were seen as "thoroughly sane and quite comprehensible." As Boston artist Philip Hale remarked, "One hears a good deal of the influence of Matisse on the younger American artists in Paris, but there is no hint of this in Slade's work. Rather, things are done straight from the shoulder -- very directly painted..." However, while Slade's paintings always remained representational in form, he did occasionally employ the vibrant color palette that Henri Matisse introduced in 1905. In works such as Sunlit Sails, Matisse-inspired contrasts such as deep blues underscored by yellow-orange dance boldly side-by-side to represent pulsating water.
While many expatriate artists returned to the U.S. at the onset of the First World War, Slade continued to paint in Paris and at his studio in Arras, France. His wife volunteered at hospitals, and Slade, like Sargent, painted emphatic narrative canvasses of the human devastation of the war. He was issued a photo identification by the French government to remain in the country during the war. Two of his works of this period, the symbolic Come Unto Me portraying Christ appearing to comfort a dying French soldier and The Comrade's Story (also called Letter From the Front) depicting a family receiving the news of their loss, captured the American public's attention when the Slades returned to the States in 1915. News agencies swarmed their ship before it entered New York Harbor, eager to he the first to print his renditions of the front. Suddenly, Slade's paintings were reproduced on the covers and within the pages of major publications of the day including The New York Times, Scribner's, Woman's Home Companion, and The Literary Digest. The Art Alliance of America even wrote Slade imploring him to paint more pictures in the vein of Come Unto Me in order to meet a market need for lithographic reproductions.
Come Unto Me, a moving image that mixes brutal realism with symbolic illusion, was perhaps his most often reproduced painting. Slade's business acumen is apparent through his savvy correspondence with publishers and the fact that he copyrighted this popular work and others such as The Armistice and The Peasant's Dream. The painting received national press and public exposure as part of a traveling exhibition and it eventually sold to a private collector in the Midwest. Further testament to the far-reaching popularity of his war scenes was the sale of The Comrade's Story at Vose Gallery in Boston for the sizable sum of $5,000 in 1914. "Your work is attracting the notice that it deserves," noted a Woman's Home Companion editor in a 1916 letter to Slade.
Slade returned to the front in 1917, but this time it was to paint camouflage for extensive areas. As a Captain in the U.S. Army of Engineers, he trained at Plattsburg (NY) and was then stationed in France for eighteen months. Several other artists were also developing the very new art of camouflage, including Abbott Thayer. Slade took his role in the war effort very seriously and kept copious notes on camouflage production. He wrote, "In no instance can camouflage be executed as an ordinary landscape or scenic painting. Effects must be studied at required estimated distances. As everything else at the front, it will be systematically destroyed, but if it succeeds in lengthening an object's existence, it is justified." The Philadelphia Public Ledger reported in 1917 that the artist was "...studying how to hide retreats from the vulture airplanes of Germany and is enjoying his work tremendously."
The military connection that Slade maintained throughout his life grew from his instrumental role in developing camouflage. An army captain wrote that Slade's "work at [Plattsburg] has been of the greatest value." William Kirby, Major of the Cavalry, praised the artist as "largely responsible for developing camouflage" and suitable to serve in France because he knew the language and geography. Decades later, Slade was immensely popular in the military and political circles of Washington, D.C., as a portrait painter.
At the end of the war, Slade continued painting his familiar subjects, once again taking trips to Venice and the French countryside. In the 1920s, he also painted the rugged coast of Maine in and around Ogunquit, southeastern Massachusetts landscapes, and North African everyday life and people. In 1921 the Slades lived in Hammett, Tunisia, for three months. Slade painted lively market scenes and "character studies" in Tunisia and Algeria of which art critic W.M. MacDonald commented, "Slade is evidently not content with color, with painting moods of nature and whims of light and shadow; he is after the big idea; he is striving to make human emotions speak from canvas."
The character, culture, and lives of his sitters held a fascination for Slade. He wrote of a provocative head study, "Our young Arab boy is much more important than his sister. His birth, circumcision, and wedding are celebrated with great ceremony. His father shares the responsibilities of the future with him who is to carry on the tradition of the race. He rides his own camel or donkey while his sister walks -- he is generally conscious of his superior state."
Since the Slades had lived in Truro and Provincetown on Cape Cod sporadically during the war years, it was natural that in the 1920s they settled there more or less permanently. In 1925 Slade purchased Truro's first Methodist meeting house, built in 1826, and had it dismantled and reconstructed on "Savage Point," the blustery hilltop location of his home and compound of cottages in Truro. Positioned for the north light, the former church was fashioned into a studio and an exhibition space where Slade displayed copies of his iconic war paintings and copies of old masters as well as his current portraits and New England landscapes.
Slade's popular summer rental cottages, his house called "Roselea" for its unusual rosecolored façade made from a mix of leftover paints, and his quirky church-studio became known as Sladeville. The idyllic spot overlooks the crescent-shaped opening of the Pamet River into Cape Cod Bay and is set upon a west-facing hillside providing spectacular sunset views. Sladeville was the attraction of Truro -- the subject of postcards and the destination of travelers. Still it was a remote spot, and accessibility was only afforded either by train or a rigorous motor journey along a primitive highway. Hence, the adventure to the outer arm of the Cape required a long summer stay for Sladeville cottage-renters and visiting friends at Roselea. Yet many of the Slades's friends came frequently, including numerous statesmen and dignitaries whom they knew from their second home in Washington, D.C., as well as tourists who were curious to see the works of the well-known artist on display in his studio.
While nearby Provincetown thrived under Hawthorne's art school and the influx of art students and expatriate artists after the war, Slade seems to have preferred the quietude of his compound and the companionship of friends. He exhibited his Venetian- French- and North African-themed paintings at the Provincetown Art Association from 1915 to 1924. During this period he also painted Provincetown -- vistas over the rooftops to the harbor below and town views painted from the wharves -- in every season. He also frequently depicted the rolling sand dunes, beach grass, and white cottages by his home as well as peaks of sky and hills from his studio window. Slade exhibited both foreign scenes and Cape Cod landscapes at the 1922 Vose Galleries exhibition. In a review of Sargent's work on view at Boston's St. Botolph Club and Slade's paintings at Vose that year, critic EW. Coburn wrote, "In [Slade's] paintings of Cape Cod sandhills and marshes he is seen to be moving toward a scarcity of line and cheerfulness of color that are typical of that lovely corner of the world."
Slade's Cape Cod works vary from tonal salt marsh scenes with hints of luminist skies to sundrenched impressionist sand dunes conveyed through explosive bursts of intense color -- from eye-popping yellow to cool violet. The color palette in works such as Truro relates to several Provincetown modernists, such E. Ambrose Webster, whose use of color pushed the envelope of academic convention. Similarly, Dodge MacKnight was at times employing an innovative color spectrum to his watercolors. MacKnight, active in Sandwich at the other end of the Cape, was another of the few American artists patronized by Mrs. Gardner. Today, works by MacKnight, Sargent, and Slade hang together in the American rooms of the Gardner Museum.
In 1920, after returning from a winter in Paris, Slade was elected to the "Deck Watch," an executive committee of the Beachcombers. This Provincetown artist's club included many of his acquaintances from the Parisian years, such as Max Bohm and William L'Engle. However, he was soon replaced by Hawthorne because of poor attendance at meetings. Perhaps the Beachcombers weren't Slade's style. A raucous group of painters and playwrights, mostly men, the club functioned more as a social outlet than an exhibition alliance. They did sometimes exhibit together and organize successful charitable events, hut this interesting mix of artists -- including Webster, Richard Miller, William Paxton, Gerrit Beneker, Tod Lindenmuth, and many others -- was just as likely to spend time listening to artist George Elmer Brown belt out "Camptown Races" and to play pool.
Dividing his time between Truro, Provincetown, and Washington, D.C., Slade reinvented himself as a painter of portraits in the 1930s. He was commissioned to paint dozens of portraits, including Vice President Dawes and his wife, of senators, generals, and U.S. presidents for colleges, hospitals, court houses, private collections, and the Capitol.
For at least a decade, Slade made a decent living from painting portraits of political and military men in Washington. He also painted the children and wives of those men -- in riding gear, debutante gowns, and casual and formal attire. Most of the time formal portraits were commissioned, but Slade continued to paint engaging head studies. He apparently became frustrated with this type of work because the busy schedules of his sitters never allowed for enough time to perfect a portrait. During the 1940s, it seems he stopped painting and devoted himself to the maintenance of the Sladeville rental cottages and a very large vegetable and flower garden. Portrait painting had earned him a living during the Depression years, but generally this type of work did not spark the interest of the national press or promotion by a supportive dealer. Slade's once-celebrated Venetian, French, North African, and Cape Cod paintings as well as his war and biblical scenes have not been extensively written on or brought together for an exhibition, until the present one, since the first quarter of the twentieth century.
That Slade chose to live out his days on Cape Cod is not surprising. The artist always maintained connections to Attleboro, which was not far away; he enjoyed the inexpensive living that Provincetown and its environs then offered; and his Truro spot provided a natural setting to paint, a place to gather with friends, and proximity to the largest art colony in the country that connected him to the latest art movements and his old artist-friends. When Slade died in Pocasset in 1961, his widow rented and then sold Sladeville to the artist Peter Hooven.
1. La Revue Moderne, (25 April 1912) reprinted in "Praise for Artist," Boston Evening Standard, undated clipping, Slade Archives, CMFA.
2. Quote in promotional pamphlet, Slade Archives, CMFA.
3. Undated letter, Slade Archives, CMFA.
4. "Studying Art at L'Academie Julian," The Providence Sunday Journal (9 January 1910).
5. Alton Hall Blackington, "The Church Studio," in Yankee Yarns (Howard Johnson's Ice Cream Shops, 1937).
6. Unidentified newspaper clipping (17 January 1914), Slade Archives, CMFA.
7. Newspaper clipping, probably Attleboro Sun (10 November 1909), Slade Archives, CMFA.
8. W.A. MacDonald, "Why Not an Art Collection Here in Public Library?" Attleboro Sun (1909), clipping in Slade Archives, CMFA.
10. "Slade's Art Exhibit Attracts Art Lovers" unidentified newspaper clipping, prob. 1914, Slade Archives, CMFA.
11. Letter to New Bedford Free Public Library from Irene Slade, 1963, Slade Archives, CMFA.
12. Unidentified newspaper clipping, Slade Archives, CMFA.
13. Now in the collection of Bethany Church, Philadelphia, PA.
14. International Studio column reprinted in Grand Rapids Press (17 January 1914).
15. Letter from Edward Redfield, date illegible, Slade Archives, CMFA.
16. Boston Post (11 November 1913).
17. Boston Sunday Herald (9 November 1913).
18. 1921 letter from Slade to Mrs. Gardner, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Archives.
19. American Art News (8 November 1913).
20. Quote in promotional pamphlet, Slade Archives, CMFA.
21. Letter from Art Alliance of America (18 February 1916), Slade Archives, CMFA.
22. Smithsonian's Archives of American Art recorded a few of these works in a private collection in 1999
23. Letter from Arthur Guiterman, (21 February 1916), Slade Archives, CMFA.
24. Undated typed notes, Slade Archives, CMFA.
25. Philadelphia Public Ledger, newspaper clipping, 1917, Slade Archives, CMFA.
26. Letter from Capt. Homer M. Gronenger, (27 November 1917), Slade Archives, CMFA.
27. Letter from William Kirby, Major of Cavalry, (27 November 1917), Slade Archives, CMFA.
28. Quote in promotional pamphlet, Slade Archives, CMFA.
29. Written on reverse of photo of painting, Slade Archives, CMFA.
30. Boston Sunday Herald (26 November 1922).
31 Ted Robinson, The Beachcombers, (Provincetown: Advocate Press, 1947).
About the author
Julie Carlson Eldred is a principal of Eldred's, an auction and appraisal service in East Dennis, MA. Eldred's may be reached at email@example.com.
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