Internationally renowned as a portrait painter, J. Charles Arter drew his clientele from the worlds of business, culture, religion and high society, depicting such prominent personalities as Pope Pius X, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Carmen Sylva, the Queen of Romania. He was also a painter of figure and genre subjects, as well as landscapes and cityscapes, producing "wistful delineations" of such diverse locales as France, Italy and Japan.
Arter was born in Hanoverton, Ohio, a small agricultural village southeast of Alliance where his parents, Jefferson and Sarah Arter, operated a farm. A descendent of the famous American history painter Benjamin West (1738-1820), Arter became interested in art as a young boy, drawing charcoal sketches on his mother's freshly scrubbed kitchen floor. He continued to draw and paint during his teens. Although his father wanted him to become a farmer, Arter left home at the age of seventeen to pursue a career as a painter.
Arter initially went to Chicago where, intent on remaining independent, he refused a wealthy uncle's offer of accommodation. However, he soon left that city and moved to Cincinnati. Despite his lack of formal training, he began painting color floral arrangements which brought him private pupils and patrons. In two years time, Arter had managed to save enough money to go abroad. After a period of study in Munich, he went to Paris where, from 1878 until 1881, he attended classes at the Académie Julian, refining his skills as a figure painter under Jules-Joseph Lefebvre and Gustave Boulanger. It was around this time that Arter made what would be the first of many trips to Venice.
Arter is known to have been living in Cincinnati during 1884 and 1885. He returned to France during the late 1880s and early 1890s, painting and sketching in the Picardy and Brittany regions and exhibiting floral subjects and scenes of French peasant life at the Paris Salons of 1888, 1890 and 1891. Arter also exhibited intermittently at the National Academy of Design in New York during the late 1880s and 1890s.
By 1889, Arter had established a studio in New York. He would go on to maintain several studios in Manhattan, including a workshop in the tower of the Metropolitan Life building at Madison and 23rd Streets. He also had studios in Venice and London where, as in New York, he painted portraits and fraternized with the leading celebrities of the day. As well as being the only American (and non-Catholic) to paint Pius X, Arter's subjects included the King and Queen of Italy, Lady Wiltshire of London and prominent society women in New York, Chicago, Toledo, Cleveland and Pittsburgh.
Arter's income from his work as a portraitist allowed him to travel throughout the world. He made innumerable trips to Venice, where he painted lyrical street scenes and depictions of gondolas, canals and churches. On a year-long trip to Japan, Arter painted floral subjects and genre scenes such as The Umbrella Menders (Present location unknown), which was so well received that it was reproduced "by the thousands," hanging in replica on the walls of homes across the United States. He was also active in London, Rome, Sicily and Vienna, as well as in Florida and New Orleans. Towards the end of his career, Arter spent his summers in North Edgecombe, Maine; in addition to painting coastal views, he transformed the backyard of his house into a Japanese garden.
Arter suffered a paralytic stroke in October of 1923. After closing his New York studio, he returned to Ohio, moving in with his sister, Mrs. E.C. Norris, in Alliance. Although he intended to continue painting, Arter died in Alliance approximately two months later.
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