Charles H. Davis (1856-1933)
Founding Member
Former President
Summer
c. 1930
Oil on canvas
Mystic Museum of Art Permanent Collection
Donated by Mrs. Frances Darby Davis

Charles H. Davis was born in Amesbury, Massachusetts in 1856, the son of a school teacher and a librarian. From a young age, Davis displayed an interest in art, music, and literature. At 15 he was apprenticed to a local carriage maker, but soon decided to devote his life to art, spending two years at the Museum of Fine Arts School in Boston before venturing on to Paris in 1880.

Davis studied briefly at the Academie Julien, but a visit to the Barbizon Forest and the art colony of impressionist painters working there changed the direction of his art. He decided then and there to become a landscape painter, and spent a decade in France before returning to America with a French wife, Angele LeGarde Davis, and their young son and daughter.

After studying the New England Coast, Davis found the atmosphere he was looking for here in Mystic, and he purchased a lovely house with a large yard along the Mystic River. Sadly, Angele died soon after. To help with the expenses of Angele’s long illness, and the caring of the two children, Davis began to take in students. In 1900 he married one of them, Frances Darby.

In 1913, Davis organized The Society of Mystic Artists, the precursor to the Mystic Art Association, which itself is now the Mystic Museum of Art. The first members were M. and Mrs. Davis, Dr. George Leonard, Elizabeth Mallory, Lorinda Dudley (also represented in this exhibition), Mr. And Mrs. A.W. George, G. Albert Thompson (also represented in this exhibition), and Reverend Albert Earnshaw. Davis was first President and Earnshaw the first secretary and treasurer.

In his early career, Davis was regarded as a leading painter of Tonalism, an American art movement popular between 1880 and 1915. Tonalism was regarded as more American than Impressionism and developed around the same time. Artists painting in this style would typically focus on landscape scenes, which had found precedence in the French Barbizon colony as a direct result of young artists like Claude Monet and Camille Pissaro having been influenced by the work of JMW Turner. Working in a unified tonal value, Tonalist painters aimed to create harmonious application of color, and evoke a poetic mood.

However, around 1915 Davis began to reject the Tonalism that characterized his early works in favor of a brightened palette influenced by Impressionism. It was also during this time period that Davis began to place heavy emphasis on a bright, cloud-filled sky in his works. He was so well known for this trait that this type of sky became known as a “Davis sky.”

Davis’ painting style continued to evolve as he got older. By the 1930s, when he painted Summer, his brushwork had become much looser and more expressive.