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Charles Frederic Ramsey, son of Annie Ruff and the Philadelphian painter Milne Ramsey (1846-1915), was born in Pont-Aven, Brittany, France on September 23, 1875. Though happy in France, the Ramsey family relocated back to Milnes native Philadelphia sometime in the early 1880s. Charles Ramsey began to formally train in painting like his father in 1893 when he enrolled in the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art for a year alongside his sister. Then, at the advice of his mother and family friend muralist Edwin Blashfield, Ramsey returned to France to continue his training at the Académie Julian in Paris. While a student there from 1896-1898, Ramsey studied under painters such as William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Jean-Paul Laurens, Gabriel Ferrier, and Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant and developed a focus on the allegorical nude.
Upon finishing his training at the Académie Julian Ramsey returned to Philadelphia to attend the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) where his father had also trained. He studied under William Merritt Chase for his first year at PAFA in an advanced life class that served to deepen Ramseys interest in the nude but also affected his color palette. Chase's influence led Ramsey away from his previous affectation for dark colors to a more Impressionist, pastel range of colors. By 1904, Ramsey was awarded the prestigious Cresson Travelling Scholarship from PAFA and used it to return to France to observe Impressionist art in person and refine his own style. After a year of painting abroad, Ramsey returned to the United States, dividing his time between PAFA in Philadelphia and spending time with Pennsylvania landscape painter friends in New Hope. In 1908, he became the Curator of Schools at PAFA, a position he retained until 1912. During those years he corresponded with students, supervised artist models and props, aided the faculty, and traveled to Paris with PAFA students as a representative from the school responsible for student funds.
After taking his last class at PAFA in 1911 and resigning from his job in 1912, Ramsey relocated to Pittsburgh, where he became a curator at the Carnegie Institute for four years. While still living in Pittsburgh, he met Ethel Anderson. The two married in 1914 and had a son, Charles Frederic Ramsey, Jr., in 1915. The family then moved to Minneapolis in 1916 where Ramsey was to serve as the Director of the Minneapolis School of Art. However, after a trustee's wife discovered that Ramsey was a self-described socialist, he was immediately dismissed from his new position, prompting the Ramseys to leave Minneapolis for the Philadelphia area. They settled in New Hope permanently in 1917, but not before Ramsey spent a year with modernist painter Arthur B. Carles at the Philadelphia Navy Yard camouflaging ships for use in World War I.
In New Hope, Ramsey decided to paint full time in lieu of pursuing another permanent position and, as he painted in the family home on North Main Street, his work steadily became more abstract. However, in relying on thicker lines and a more expressive use of color, Ramsey never fully abandoned his focus on figure. Abstracted female forms appear in many of his paintings including The Modern Woman (1934) and Ladies in the Valley (1925), both of which are part of the James A. Michener Art Museum's permanent collection.
In addition to his work as a painter, Ramsey also founded a number of New Hope arts institutions including the town's first art gallery, The Blue Mask, in the mid-twenties; The New Group, a secessionist exhibiting organization of painters, in 1930; and a summer art school in 1931. The New Group, later called The Independents, became somewhat famous for mounting an exhibit of modernist work to counter the Phillips' Mill Community Association Art Exhibition in protest of the jury's rejection of abstract, expressive, and otherwise modernist works. In 1938, Ramsey also became involved in the Cooperative Painting Project, a venture in which artists came together to join their singular identities and styles in jointly produced paintings and sculptures. The Cooperative Painting Project was influenced by improvisational jazz and collective political theories and was comprised of Ramsey along with an ever changing mix of painters Charles Evans, Louis Stone, and Lloyd Ney, journalist William Chapman, poet Stanley Kunitz, and carpenter Karl Roos.
Ramsey's work has been exhibited at the Michener Art Museum in The New Hope Modernists, 1917 1950 (1991), Objects of Desire: Treasures from Private Collections (2005-2006), The Painterly Voice: Bucks County's Fertile Ground (2011- 2012), and The Brush is Mightier than the Sword: Twentieth Century Works from the Michener Art Museum Collection (2013).
Charles Frederick Ramsey in his home, c. 1950. Photo by Jon Vochon. Image courtesy of The New Hope Gazette.
Education and Training
Pennsylvania Museum School of Industrial Art, (now University of the Arts), Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1899 -1911
Académie Julian, Paris, France, 1904-1905
Teachers and Influences
Milne Ramsey, father, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts trained painter
Leslie Miller, Head of Pennsylvania Museum School of Industrial Art, family friend
Jean Paul Laurens, Académie Julian
Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant, Académie Julian
William Merritt Chase, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art
Connection to Bucks County
Charles Frederic Ramsey first visited New Hope in 1903 to visit William L. Lathrop. Ramsey often stayed with his sister, Ethel Ramsey Davenport, who owned a home in New Hope. He moved temporarily to New Hope in 1905, sharing a home and studio in the Huffnagle Mansion with Robert Spencer (1908 to 1912). Ramsey returned permanently to New Hope with his wife and son in 1917. Ramsey led the New Group, later known as the Independents, in secession from the Phillips' Mill Community Association Art Exhibition in 1930 and was involved with the Cooperative Painting Project beginning in 1938, along with Charles Evans and Louis Stone among others. Ramsey lived in Bucks County until his death in 1951.
Charles Frederic Ramsey, Jr. became a well known musicologist.
Colleagues and Affiliations
Phillips' Mill Community Association
The New Group, later known as The Independents
The Cooperative Painting Project
Ethel Ramsey Davenport, sister, a weaver and Crafts editor for The New Hope Gazette
D. A. Davenport, brother-in-law
Henry Baker, Adolph Blondheim, Arthur B. Carles, William Chapman, Charles Child, Ralston Crawford, Charles Evans, Lee Gatch, Frederick Harer, Robert Hogue, Peter Keenan, Stanley Kunitz, William Lathrop, Carl Lundborg, Inez McCombs, R.A.D. Miller, John Nevin, Lloyd R. Ney, Isamu Noguchi, B.J.O. Nordfeldt, M. Elizabeth Price, Richard Rogers, Karl Roos, Charles Rosen, Robert Spencer, Louis Stone, Faye Swengel Badura, Ethel Wallace
Major Solo Exhibitions
Memorial exhibition, New Hope, Pennsylvania, 1951
Major Group Exhibitions
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1902, 1903, 1910, 1912
National Academy of Design, New York, New York, 1907
Panama-Pacific International Exposition, San Francisco, California, 1915
Phillips' Mill Community Art Association, New Hope, Pennsylvania, 1930
The New Group Exhibit, New Hope, Pennsylvania, 1930
The Independents, New Hope, Pennsylvania, 1931, 1933
Philadelphia Art Alliance, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1940
The New Hope Modernists, 1917-1950, Michener Art Museum, Doylestown, Pennsylvania, 1991
Objects of Desire: Treasures from Private Collections, Michener Art Museum, New Hope, Pennsylvania, 2005-2006
The Painterly Voice: Bucks County's Fertile Ground, Michener Art Museum, Doylestown, Pennsylvania, 2011-2012
The Brush is Mightier than the Sword: Twentieth Century Works from the Michener Art Museum Collection, Michener Art Museum, Doylestown, Pennsylvania, 2013
The Artist in the Garden, Michener Art Museum, Doylestown, Pennsylvania, 2015
Teaching and Professional Appointments
Curator of Schools, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1908-1912
Curator, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1912-1916
Director, Minneapolis School of Art, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1916
Solebury School, New Hope, Pennsylvania, 1926-1932
Cresson Scholarship for European Travel, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1904