Small in scale, yet huge in impact, the 30 or so exquisitely rendered landscapes on view here—most barely larger than a standard sheet of paper—look like the efforts of an Impressionist master. Yet they are the handiwork of a truly remarkable figure: Charles W. Hutson. Born in 1840 in South Carolina, Hutson was entirely self-taught, a Civil War veteran who didn’t take up painting until the last 30 years of his life—and who didn’t have his first solo show until 1931 at age 91. Still, he earned enough renown to have been included in They Taught Themselves: American Primitive Painters of the 20th Century, written by Sidney Janis.
Hutson settled in New Orleans, and certainly something about the humid countryside around the Crescent City added to the languorous mood of his pastels, watercolors and oils, which focus on the places where water meets land: quiet threshold scenes that are often punctuated with trees, reeds, staves and smokestacks that read almost like figures contemplating the water’s edge or absorbed in melancholic reflection. His nuanced evocations of atmosphere, temperature and weather give nature a palpable presence.
Hutson’s work fits into the history of American landscape painting, somewhere between the simplified modernism of Milton Avery and the hyperbolic nature-magic of Charles Burchfield. Intensely dramatic, his images conjure the immensity on the horizon, signaling a world about to change.—Jennifer Coates