Carl Gordon Cutler is an example
of a painter who began in the genteel Salon milieu who grew into
a modernist later on in his career.
He was born in Newton and graduated from Newton High School.
He attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston in
the late 1890s at the time that the institution's faculty favored
the Bostonian tradition of portraiture in oils. That tradition
derived much from the work of European Old Masters. Later he
was a student at the Acadimie Julien, Paris, where he met with
some success and periodically exhibited work in oils. Even at
this early date, Cutler reveals a special interest in color,
while most Salon painters maintained a naturalistic palette of
grays, yellow ochers, dull reds, and brown hues. However, it
was not until he had been back in the States for several years
that Cutler's mature style began to develop.
On his return to Boston, he took rooms
at the Fenway Studios, where he worked until 1941. He also kept
a studio in South Brooksville, Maine.
In 1913 Cutler formed "The Four
Boston Painters" with Academie Julien alumni Maurice Prendergast,
E. Ambrose Webster, and Charles Hovey Pepper. Later in 1913,
Cutler exhibited two oils in the Armory Show. This groundbreaking
exhibition featured the work of American artists alongside masterworks
of the major European Modernist movements such as Cubism and
Fauvism. Many American painters, including Cutler and his fellow
"Four Boston Painters," were inspired by what they
saw in the Armory Show to break free from what they perceived
as the bourgeois traditions of American painting. From the work
of John Marin, the Zorachs, and Marsden Hartley, Cutler gained
valuable insight into what would become his two greatest artistic
passions: the medium of watercolor and the landscape of Maine.
It was not long after the Armory Show that Cutler made his first
painting trip along the coast of Maine, and by the mid-1920s
he had dedicated himself solely to picturing the Maine landscape
in his plein-air watercolor style. His Maine watercolors met
with considerable critical acclaim; soon he had established himself
as not only a popular and successful artist, but also a well-respected
theorist on the subject of color in painting. His 1923 book Modern
Color describes a detailed system involving a scale of 168 pigments;
he explains how to mix pigments so that they imitate the appearance
of natural light.
By 1920 he joined with four other Boston painters who were also
using watercolor in innovative ways: Charles Hovey Pepper, Marion
Monks Chase, Harley Perkins and Charles Sidney Hopkinson. They
called themselves the Boston Five and over the next 15 years,
they exhibited their works together at the Boston Art Club, Vose
Galleries and the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard. Until his death
in 1945, Cutler used this technique to produce hundreds of sensitive
and immediate views of well-loved spots such as Mount Desert,
the Camden Hills, Deer Isle, and Eggemoggin Reach. He continued
to exhibit in the urban centers of Boston, New York, and Philadelphia,
yet his inspiration was to be found almost exclusively the dramatic
landscape and the rich artistic tradition of Maine.
He spent the last 30 years of his career focusing exclusively
on watercolors of the Penobscot Bay region.