Charles Whedon Rain (1911 - 1985)
The Sundial, 1964
Oil on masonite
8 x 10 inches
Signed at lower right: C Rain
Inscribed on the verso: THE SUNDIAL / C. RAIN / JAN 1964 / NEW YORK
Period reverse profile cassetta frame
Banfer Gallery, New York, New York (label verso)
Essex County Section National Council of Jewish Women, American Art at Mid Century (label verso).
Charles Rain was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1911. He grew up and was educated in Lincoln, Nebraska. In 1933, following two years of study at the Art Institute of Chicago, he traveled to Europe, studying in Berlin and visiting the museums of Vienna and Paris. Knowing little beyond abstraction Rain was experimenting with other styles when he saw a portrait by the 16th-century Italian mannerist painter, Agnolo Bronzino, in Berlin's Kaiser Friedrich Museum. This encounter began his life-long fascination with Renaissance painting. It was the clarity and precision of Bronzino's linear compositions that excited Rain and set him on a path to perfect an almost-lost technique of underpainting and glazing, so meticulously done that not a brush stroke is visible.
Rain had not yet achieved Bronzino's technical mastery when he returned to New York where reaction to his recent work was discouraging. In a 1935 exhibit at the Julien Levy Gallery his paintings were described as "dark in color and moody in spirit slipping in style from mannerism to realism". Giving up painting for a year, Rain instead designed costumes for Lincoln Kirstein's Ballet Caravan productions.
A turning point came in 1937 when he met Charles Gilbert, an established realist painter. While Gilbert did not paint like Bronzino he had as part of his training studied the Renaissance masters and understood what technical skills were involved in their work, what materials were required, and how effects were achieved. Recognizing Rain's potential Gilbert shared this knowledge. Rain then abandoned abstraction in favor of realism. His transition to surrealism and magic realism followed, made easier by his vivid imagination, a keen eye for detail and a photographic memory.
Rain usually worked on wood panels covered with gesso. After he had assembled the elements to be included in a composition and laid out the general outline he would apply thin layers of paint, one on top of the other. Upon this underpainting he would develop the picture with thin glazes of color often using brushes having only two or three bristles. In terms of output, such laborious detail meant that at times only fractions of an inch might be painted each day. As a result Rain could spend six months or more on a single painting.
An unusually disciplined artist Rain had a life that revolved around his craft. For over forty years he worked as if every moment counted. His daily routine rarely varied. Mornings by eight o'clock he was at an easel set up in the bedroom of his New York apartment. Precisely at noon he would break for lunch and in the afternoon resume painting or visit galleries and museums. Daily he read for an hour or so and particularly favored authors who wrote of the classical Mediterranean world, the source of many of his ideas. His total output was probably about 150 paintings and many of these that he considered inferior were destroyed, sometimes years later.
Rain is now one of the lesser-known realist painters of the mid-twentieth century. Partly his obscurity reflects the scarcity of his work. Another explanation may be his solitary nature, which kept him an outsider in the vibrant New York art scene of his day. This aloofness or shyness separated Rain not only from other artists and the general public but also from his collectors, few of whom he would agree to meet.
Charles Rain died in New York City in August 1985.
Julien Levy Gallery, NY 1935-1937
MAJOR GROUP EXHIBITIONS
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York 1941-1949
Source: Henry W Grady, Executor, Charles Rain Estate