Arthur Beecher Carles (1882–1952) is among the important artists in the development of American modernism. Known for his daring use of color and gestural bravura, Carles embraced the dynamism of life in the twentieth century.
Carles was born in Philadelphia and studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts with William Merritt Chase, Cecilia Beaux, Hugh Henry Breckenridge, and Henry McCarter. He lived in Paris for extended periods of time where he became interested in French Impressionism and modernism. In Paris Carles interacted with major figures in the French avante-garde, often visiting the artistic gatherings in the circle of Gertrude and Leo Stein.
Carles’ work was included in exhibitions at Alfred Stieglitz’s Gallery 291 in New York, and at the seminal Armory Show of 1913, also in New York. The Armory Show was the first major exhibition in America that drew together progressive European and American artists, and introduced the American public to new modernist styles. Carles became a passionate advocate for modern art in Philadelphia. He taught art at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts from 1917-1925 and encouraged modernist theories and techniques to his students.
In 1920–21 he organized and co-curated exhibitions at PAFA featuring Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, as well as American modernists who were influenced by Post Iimpressionism and Cubism. These exhibitions attracted huge crowds and much press, with conservative critics decrying “the crazy, extremist” art. In 1923 Carles and Henry McCarter persuaded Albert C. Barnes to exhibit his art collections at PAFA, an exhibition that incited violent criticism, and ultimately provoked Barnes to restrict visitation to his private collection.
Carles’ own work emphasized the use of color as the basis for compositional structure, a manner that made his paintings vibrant and strong. By synthesizing color and abstraction with bold, forceful brush strokes, Carles’ painting foreshadowed Abstract Expressionism. He continued to teach privately in the 1930s influencing many artists including Jane Piper, Morris Blackburn, Quita Brodhead, and generations of artists that followed.