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Mattison, Donald Carnival, 1935


Donald Mattison was born in Beloit, Wisconsin. He studied art under Eugene Savage at Yale University and spent three years studying in Rome. He taught in New York City from 1931 until he came to Indianapolis in 1933. Mattison served as dean of the Herron Art Institute from 1933 until 1970, by which time it had become the Herron School of Art. He was a good administrator and played an important part in the expansion of the school. Among his many important commissions was his portrait of Harold W. Handley for the Indiana Governors’ Portraits Collection.

  • Carnival, 1935
  • 25″ x 30″
  • Indianapolis Museum of Art
  • Keywords: paintings, cultural landscapes, oil on canvas
  • Subjects: outdoors, people, men, women, events, summer, night, stairs, musical instruments, carnivals, amusement rides

Painted in 1935, Carnival is typical of the style of painting referred to as American Scene painting, which was very popular in the 1930s. Artists took subjects from everyday American life and painted them in a representational and recognizable style. The subject matter of Carnival is universal, and fairs such as this can still be seen today in communities across the United States. The sleeveless dress of the woman in pink suggests that it is summer, and the lighting indicates the time of day is evening. In the foreground we see two women ready to climb down the stairs to the carnival and a seated man plays the violin. In the middle distance we see the Ferris wheel and the lighted carousel.

Some Points to Consider

  • Ask students to describe how the artist used the contrast of light and dark to achieve visual impact and deep space. What do they think is the mood of this painting? (Art 4.3.1)
  • Ask students to describe what is happening in this painting. (4.3.2)
  • Point out to students the forms of the people and the shapes used to paint them. Ask: Have you seen figures painted in this style before? Where? (Art 4.2.2)