"Things Is Looking Up"
Some may recall the 'Our Best to You' series, which Vose Galleries produced in 2002, 2008, and 2011. The series presented a notable selection of works of art from our inventory. We've decided to reinstate the series to celebrate works that we believe deserve special attention. This edition, written by Gallery Manager Courtney Kopplin, explores her research on The Source by John F. Carlson.
The old saying, those who can't do, teach, has been proven wrong by the successful painting-teaching careers of many American artists, and none more so in my mind than that of John F. Carlson, who thrived in both aspects of his profession. Carlson led classes at the Art Students League's summer school in Woodstock, New York, beginning in 1911, and went on to establish his own namesake school in town from 1922 until his passing in 1945. To bring his artistic philosophy to a wider student audience, he published a book in 1928 titled Elementary Principles of Landscape Painting, which, through several reprints over the decades, is still considered a bible of sorts to contemporary landscape painters. While his teaching career soared, Carlson's personal work - the tonalist winter scenes for which he is today best remembered - received glowing reviews when exhibited at top national venues, earning him prizes at the National Academy of Design and the Salmagundi Club, and a silver medal at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in 1915. His work now hangs in museums throughout the country, with several examples purchased by these institutions during his lifetime. The man could teach...and do!
Courtney Kopplin, Gallery Manager
Joining Vose Galleries in 2000, I embraced the opportunity to get up close and personal with so many paintings at once (museums frown on the up close part), and I discovered that I was partial to artists working in a tonalist manner, with Carlson a steady favorite. One of the more rewarding responsibilities of my current position is researching the lives of artists, and the provenance and exhibition history of the artwork that comes through our doors. When writing information sheets, I aim to include a direct reference to that particular painting from old articles or catalogues, or a tidbit or personal quote in the artist's usually cut and dried biography that reminds readers that he or she was a living, breathing person, a humanizing element so to speak. John Carlson's The Source allowed me to do both.
The painting is a blockbuster and as such was shown at the Pennsylvania Academy's 121st Annual Exhibition in 1926. On a lark, I searched the correspondence of Macbeth Gallery, Carlson's representative during his lifetime, which is available online through the Smithsonian's Archives of American Art, and discovered The Source sold from the show through Macbeth (a lucky find, as research projects often lead to rabbit holes and brick walls!) The letters between the artist and Macbeth's Robert McIntyre were a joy to read, with Carlson writing, "I consider it one of my very best. (Hell's fire an artist seldom knows when he has hit it)," and later thanking McIntyre upon hearing it sold with, "Hooray! Or as they say in Woodstock, 'things is looking up.' Needless to say, I was damn glad you were able to push this over, for the Gawds forsook me, for a while. It never rains but it pours." Amusingly, except for his bold signature, Carlson's typed letters are challenging to make out, and in jest McIntyre responded, "Let me suggest, now that you have made this addition to your exchequer, why not buy a little good ink for your typewriter." Needless to say, Carlson's subsequent note was fully legible and self-deprecating, commenting on the new ink as having "but one drawback, it cannot be easily erased, (which, in my amateurish stenography, is serious enough)."
John F. Carlson, The Source (detail), ca. 1924. Vose Galleries
John Carlson, The Source, ca. 1924, in its original Newcomb-Macklin frame. Vose Galleries