Bagni di Lucca, Italy
American painter and draftsman Charles Houghton Howard is known for his abstract-Surrealist works that he described as “ideographic.” The son of the architect John Galen Howard (1864-1931) and the artist Mary Bradbury Howard (1865-1963), he was born in 1899 in Montclair, New Jersey. His sister and three brothers all had an artistic bent. Henry Temple Howard (1894-1967) was an architect; Janette Howard Wallace (1905-1998) studied architecture; Robert Boardman Howard (1896-1983) was a sculptor and John Langley Howard (1902-1999) was a painter. The Howard family moved to Berkeley after John Galen Howard was hired as the Supervising Architect for the University of California Berkeley campus, for which he designed many notable buildings. After graduating from Berkeley High School in 1917 Howard entered UC Berkeley but left to serve in the Student’s Army Training Corps until the end of World War I. He returned to UC Berkeley and earned a degree in journalism in 1921. He pursued a masters’ degree in English at Harvard University that fall and then transferred to Columbia University’s English program the following spring semester. In July he sailed for Europe, living in England, France and Italy for two years. During the summer of 1923 he traveled in Italy with the artist Grant Wood (1891-1942), who urged Howard to pursue a career as an artist rather than as a journalist. An altarpiece by Giorgione (1477-1510) in Castelfranco also inspired his choice of career. After returning to America in 1924 he settled in New York City. A self-taught artist, Howard became affiliated with Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s (1875-1942) Studio Club, a gallery that exhibited the works of such artists as Alexander Calder (1898-1975) and Robert Henri (1965-1929) and later became the Whitney Museum of American Art. Howard had his first solo show there in 1926. That year he also began working as a muralist for the interior designers Louis Bouché (1896-1969) and Rudolph Guertler (b. 1886) and wrote and illustrated “Design,” an instructional book. Howard’s mother Mary helped organize a 1928 exhibition of works by Charles and his brothers John and Robert at Beatrice Judd Ryan’s (ca.1880-1966) Galerie Beaux-Arts in San Francisco. Howard’s drawings were included in Julien Levy’s (1906-1981) groundbreaking 1932 exhibition of Surrealist art in his Manhattan gallery; other than Howard, Joseph Cornell (1903-1972) and Man Ray (1890-1976), all the artists were Europeans. Levy mounted a solo show for Howard the following year. After Howard and English painter Madge Knight (1895-1974) were married in 1933, they moved to London. The painter Edward Wadsworth (1889-1949) hired Howard to help paint a mural in the De La Warr Pavilion, a theater and restaurant complex on the East Sussex seacoast. Through Wadsworth he was introduced to the burgeoning modern art scene in London, including the English Surrealists. His work appeared in exhibitions more frequently. London’s Bloomsbury Gallery and San Francisco’s Paul Elder Gallery each gave Howard a one-man exhibition in 1935, his work was included in the important 1936 “International Surrealist Exhibition” in London, and gallerist Peggy Guggenheim (1898-1979) mounted Howard’s second one-man London show in 1939. Howard and Knight moved to San Francisco in 1940 to escape World War II. He worked at the Marinship ship-building yard in Sausalito, became a design supervisor for the Works Progress Administration’s Art Section and designed posters to support the war effort. He exhibited his works in the San Francisco Art Association’s annual exhibitions from 1940 to 1946. In 1942 alone Howard’s works appeared in a one-man show at the San Francisco Museum of Art (SFMA, now the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art), group shows at the Art Institute of Chicago and SFMA, and three group shows in New York City: the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Artists for Victory” exhibition, where he was awarded one of 41 purchase prizes for “Presence,” in Peggy Guggenheim’s first exhibition in her new Manhattan gallery, and the Museum of Modern Art’s “Americans 1942: 18 Artists from 9 States.” Howard taught briefly at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute) in 1945. The California Palace of the Legion of Honor (CPLH) organized a retrospective of Howard’s paintings, gouaches and drawings in 1946 and gave him prizes in its Annual Exhibitions in 1946, 1947 and 1948. Howard and Knight returned to England in 1946. Solo shows of his works were held in galleries in London (1949, 1956, 1957 and 1963) and Cambridge, England (1951). The Santa Barbara Museum of Art and the CPLH exhibited his paintings and gouaches in a 1953 solo show. Howard taught painting at London’s Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts from 1958 to 1963. In 1964 he and Knight began spending spring and summer in Bagni di Lucca, a town in Tuscany north of Lucca, and moved there in 1970. Howard died in Bagni di Lucca in 1978. In 2017 the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive held a retrospective exhibition of his works. (TNB 5/2018) Selected bibliography: DiQuinzio, Apsara, ed. Charles Howard: A Margin of Chaos. Exhibition catalog, with contributions by Robert Gober and Lauaren Krotz. Berkeley: University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, 2017. Moss, Stacey. The Howards: First Family of Bay Area Modernism. Exhibition catalog. Oakland: The Oakland Museum, 1988.