In 1880, Clarence Kerr Chatterton was born in Newburgh, New York, a bucolic small town about an hour up the Hudson River from New York City. Chatterton loved the rolling hills and rambling farmhouses of his hometown with a passion that would never subside. His intense interest in painting led him to venture beyond the Hudson River Valley to study at the New York School of Art where he found himself at the epicenter of the exciting and rapidly evolving New York art scene.
The talented Chatterton quickly became part of a remarkable group of young artists that included Edward Hopper (with whom he shared studios), George Bellows and Rockwell Kent--all students of Robert Henri, who was both one of the most influential teachers of his time and a leader of The Eight, also known as the Ashcan Painters. Through Henri, Chatterton learned to see beauty in the ordinary, use color fearlessly, and value the quality of light above all else.
In 1910, Chatterton, Hopper, and other members of the Henri group, were invited to exhibit at the MacDowell Club in New York City. Although his paintings were very well received, his modesty prevented him from seeking another venue, until, in 1925, Chatterton decided to approach the prestigious Wildenstein Gallery. Even though they did not handle American artists, Chatterton was offered his first solo exhibition.
It was his pioneering depiction of small town America that won Wildenstein and collectors over to Chatterton. A 1936 New York Times article on Chatterton was titled "The Poetry of Realism." Chatterton himself simply said, "I paint sunlight, blue skies, and houses because I like them."
At the same time that his paintings were finding acceptance, C.K. Chatterton was making a mark in an entirely different universe--academia. In 1915, at Vassar College, a small, all-female school in Poughkeepsie, Chatterton became one of the first artists in residence in the United States. He retained that position for 33 years, teaching 3000 students.
Throughout his career as an artist and as an arts educator, C.K. Chatterton rarely strayed far from New York State. The only geographic location that tempted him to leave rural New York was the coast of Maine, where, accompanied by his close friend Edward Hopper, he spent Summers in Ogunquit and on Monhegan island.
Chatterton painted because that is what he was born to do. He did not seek fame. Despite his own reticence, his importance as one of the finest artists in the United States was frequently commented on: "Chatterton must be reckoned among the indigenous - and important - American painters. He sees the white houses, the tall elms, and dusty streets of New England towns as the important things in a picture... This sentiment of place is supported by a strong, forthright technique (New York Times 1931)."
In 1948 Chatterton retired from Vassar College as professor emeritus of art and artist in residence. He would spend the next two decades in Poughkeepsie, quietly pursuing his art until his death in 1973.