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Biography

A muralist, painter, and lithographer, CHARLES ABEL CORWIN was born in Newburgh, New York, and most of his active career was in New York City although he spent much time in Chicago where he taught at the Art Institute and was a member of the Chicago Society of Artists.  He also was in Boston and in San Francisco in 1916.

Corwin began his art studies in New York City, and then studied in Munich with Frank Duveneck in 1877 and for some time adopted the Munich Style of painting, which was a heavy palette and dark tones.  However, his fine-art work later in his career became lighter, and his subjects were landscapes, seascapes, and animals.

His specialty was museum murals, and in the late 19th century and early 20th, he was an instructor at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1883 and exhibited there regularly between 1894 and 1905, then again in 1913 and 1914. 

In 1903, he became a habitat preparator at the Field Museum, completing about 80 of the museum habitat groups of mammals, birds, and prehistoric people and animals.  One of his projects was a series of large mural paintings of trees and plants, many of exotic species, as they appeared in their natural conditions.  According to Samuels and Samuels (1976, p. 108), Corwin is responsible for eighty percent of the museum’s murals. 

He belonged to the Chicago Society of Artists, the Salmagundi Club and the Bronx Artist Guild.  Corwin’s work was exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago (1900) where he won a prize, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art between 1901 and 1906, the Chicago Society of Artists, the Boston Art Club (between 1906 and 1907), the California Artists  Golden Gate Memorial Museum in 1916, the San Francisco Art Association, and the California Palace of the Legion of Honor also in 1916.

Corwin was also part of the staff with E. Pierpont that painted the Cyclorama of “Custer’s Last Fight” for the Boston Cyclorama Company in 1888. He also assisted Paul Philippoteaux during the 1880’s in the execution of another cyclorama, The Battle of Gettysburg, which has been recently restored (2008).  At the Boston Art Club Corwin exhibited Cape Pond Wood and Drying Out in 1906 and Beeches and Boulders a year later.  Another of his landscapes, Edge of the Clearing (unlocated), appeared in the World’s Columbian Exposition. 

Probably in 1899 or 1900, Corwin spent the summer in Gloucester, where he returned in subsequent years.  He exhibited Ten Pound Island, Gloucester, Massachusetts in 1901 at the Pan-American Exposition. 

Charles Corwin was important in forming an early artists’ association in Chicago.  His brother, architect Cecil Corwin, was the first employer of Frank Lloyd Wright. Cecil was second husband of author to artist Emma Payne Erskine of Tryon, North Carolina, daughter of Alfred Payne — another Chicago artist with whom Charles Corwin was closely associated.

He died at age 81 in January, 1938 at his home in Hyde Park, Illinois.  In his obituary, it was written: “His work included scenes from every continent and landscapes and seascapes of the earth as it is today and as it was millions of years ago.”

Sources: Peggy and Harold Samuels Artists of the American WestObituary, Chicago Tribune, January 28, 1938, Courtesy, Sidney Hamper, President of the Vanderpoel Art Association.Clarkson, Ralph. “Chicago Artists: Past and Present.” Art and Archaeology 12 (September – October 1921): 129-144; Sparks, Esther. “A Biographical Dictionary of Chicago Artists 1808-1945.” Diss., Northwestern University, 1971,  pp. 341-342; Samuels, Peggy and Harold Samuels. The Illustrated Biographical Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Co., 1976, p. 108.Submitted by Michael Preston Worley, Ph.D.