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Cape Artists Relaunch Charles Hawthorne's Provincetown Painting School

Michael McCarthy | March 19, 2021 |

Escaping to the Cape to paint outdoors still has its magic.
A plein-air painting class in 1947 takes place in a perfect setting in Wellfleet, Mass. PHOTO BY ANDREAS FEININGER/THE LIFE PICTURE COLLECTION/GETTY IMAGES
A plein-air painting class in 1947 takes place in a perfect setting in Wellfleet, Mass.

Sometimes, life is about the quality of light. Anyone who visits the Cape during the warmer months knows this. In fact, the light itself becomes a memory, its brightness marking our souls. Portrait artist Charles Hawthorne, whose work includes “The Trousseau” (housed at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art), clearly understood how Mother Nature’s lumens could help his work. He founded the Cape Cod School of Art in 1899, and, within 15 years, his plein-air painting art colony in Provincetown became one of the world’s largest, attracting notables like William Paxton, Ernest Lawson, Emile Gruppe and Richard Miller. Even Norman Rockwell sought instruction from Hawthorne. A young student from the Art Institute of Chicago named Henry Hensche became one of Hawthorne’s disciples and his teaching assistant (in 1929, an eight-week summer session, with weekly critiques and demos by Hawthorne, cost $50). After his mentor’s death in 1930, Hensche launched a renowned summer painting school of his own. It was headquartered at an old barn at 46 Pearl St., eventually becoming a mecca for artists worldwide and cementing the Provincetown style—noted for the use of a palette knife and impressionist colors. Hensche continued to teach until 1984; he passed away in 1992. The brilliant light, of course, never left. Which is why, a little more than a decade ago, some of Hensche’s former students, including Hilda Neily and Cedric Egeli, launched the Cape School of Art ( in Provincetown. Its website boasts “classes designed for everyone.” This spring and summer, many of us will roll across the Sagamore and Bourne bridges chasing the surf’s sanctuary—but all of us seek the light.

Tags: art cape cod

Photography by: Andreas Feininger/The Life Picture Collection/Getty Images