Charles Spencer Humphreys was born on 18 February 1818 in Moorestown, New Jersey. He was one of seven children of Joshua Humphreys and Abigail Cox. By the age of nineteen Humphreys was living in Camden, New Jersey, where on 10 May 1837 he placed the following advertisement in the Camden Mail and General Advertiser: "House, Sign and Ornamental Painting: The subscriber respectfully informs his friends and the public generally that he has commenced the above business, in all its branches, in the shop on Federal Street, in the rear of Mr. Garrett's Harness Store, opposite Toy's Ferry Hotel."
Since the artist's first studio was located behind a harness shop, it is not surprising that he later made a specialty of painting horses and horse races. Furthermore, nearby Philadelphia was the birthplace (in 1788) and center of trotting and harness racing as sports. Most of Humphreys' twenty signed and attributed works, which include signs, paintings, and carriage and interior decoration projects, are concerned with equestrian subjects.
From 1840 to 1844, Humphreys apparently shared a studio with his brother Richard at 5 Lanning's Row, Camden. It was probably during these four years that Charles married Caroline Fetters (1825-1888), as the first of their five children was born in 1846. Probably from the time of his marriage and definitely from 1867 to 1878, Humphreys lived at 41 North Third Street, Camden. He moved his studio within Camden at least six times, though apparently never very far from his home.
Like the careers of many other naive artists, Humphreys' was varied and developed from modest beginnings. His earliest known productions were lettered and painted signs, some of which included depictions of horses; the first of these was a lettered sign detailing the guest regulations of the Mansion House in Cape May, New Jersey. He was also employed by a harness-maker, probably the one close to his first studio, to paint harnesses and breast straps. His diverse projects also included the painted decoration of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Camden when it was renovated in 1850; at least one portrait, of Rachel White; two still lifes; and wagon painting and decoration for a well-known Camden wagon builder, Charles S. Caffrey.
After about 1853 Humphreys' attention turned from sign painting toward nondecorative renderings of horses and horse races. From 1856 on, he produced fourteen known paintings of equestrian subjects, including the two National Gallery works, The Trotter (1953.5.95) and Budd Doble Driving Goldsmith Maid at Belmont Driving Park (1971.83.6). The artist's account books do not survive, but it seems likely that these paintings were commissioned by the horses' owners; in two works, the owners appear with the horses. In two others, the drivers are almost certainly the owners, given their formal dress, stiff poses, and fancy carriages. His two portraits of the famous horse Volunteer, now known only through lithographs, were surely commissioned by the owner, Alden Goldsmith; both prints bear Goldsmith's name under that of the horse, and the 1859 version was copyrighted by him. Judging from the number of commissions from wealthy patrons, his forty-three-year career, and the quality of his work, Humphreys must have been a painter of some renown in the Philaelphia/Camden area. He reportedly exhibited horse paintings and carriage designs at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876.
In 1880 Humphreys and his wife retired for reasons of health to Long Branch, New Jersey, where the artist died on 24 October. Humphreys' death is said to have been chronicled in foreign as well as American papers. [This is an edited version of the artist's biography published in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]
Biographical Review 19 (Boston, 1897): 299-300, s.v. Louis Booth Humphreys.
Kemble, Howard R., and Arthur D. Pierce. "A Distinguished Camden Artist." The Bulletin of the Camden County Historical Society 4 (May 1961): unpaginated.
Munn, David C. "Charles S. Humphreys, Revisited." Camden County Historical Society Communicator (Winter 1986/1987): 6-7.
Chotner, Deborah, with contributions by Julie Aronson, Sarah D. Cash, and Laurie Weitzenkorn. American Naive Paintings. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1992: