Clarence H. Carter

American, 1904–2000

Down the River, 1937

Oil on canvas

36¼ by 45¼ inches

Signed Clarence Carter and dated 1937 center right

Carter was born in Portsmouth, Ohio, and, although he attended art school in Cleveland and later moved to Pittsburgh and New Jersey, memories of his childhood in southern Ohio continued to inform his work. Floods were a regular occurrence in Portsmouth, and in January 1937 the Ohio River swelled to devastating proportions, killing more than 375 and destroying the homes of a million people.

Down the River portrays two women looking out over floodwall that surrounds Portsmouth. The painting is imbued with a quality of stillness and solitude, as the stoic female figures witness a scene that remains hidden from the viewer. There is a mysterious quality to the composition that foreshadows the surrealist manner Carter would embrace later in his career. His work became increasingly abstract after 1960, but Carter never completely abandoned his roots: he painted another version of the present subject, titledThe Flood, in 1976–77.