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Still Life-Duck and Partridges, 1856
Charles Fraser (1782-1860)

View Artist Bio
Oil on canvas
20 1/2 x 18 1/8 inches
Original Frame
Status: Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts, Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Best known today as an important American miniature portraitist and early landscape artist, Charles Fraser was born and raised in Charleston, South Carolina, where he spent most of his life. He took drawing lessons from the British-born merchant and artist Thomas Coram in 1795, but was largely self-taught. He studied law under South Carolina attorney general John Julius Pringle and was admitted to the state bar in 1807. Fraser practiced law in Charleston until 1818, before abandoning that profession to pursue his art for almost four decades. During his career, he painted over four hundred miniature portraits that chronicle the society of Charleston (and beyond) in the pre-Civil War nineteenth century. Although he received less support for landscape, genre, history, and still life paintings and sketches, Fraser is now recognized for his accomplishments in these areas as well.

Rendered in a simple, realistic style with rich earthy tones, fine details, and trompe l’oeil elements, Still Life—Duck and Partridges is representative of Fraser’s other known still lifes. This example was included in the Charleston exhibition, the Fraser Gallery, and noted in the catalogue as Charles Fraser’s last work, executed in April 1856. The Fraser Gallery retrospective consisted of 313 portrait miniatures and 139 other subjects. Among the latter group were twenty-four still lifes, principally related to game subjects. This record gives an indication that there was at least a small market for the genre, probably among a sporting elite who wanted paintings of their catch.

Fraser was esteemed and celebrated as an artist, author, and civic leader during his lifetime. A distinguished orator and author, his speeches, essays, and poetry were published in local newspapers, literary journals, and anthologies. His book, Reminiscences of Charleston (1854), is valued for its historical scope and accuracy, as well as the artist’s personal recollections of a rich and critical period in American history.

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This essay is copyrighted by Robert M. Hicklin Jr., Inc. and may not be reproduced or transmitted without written permission.


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