Anne Goldthwaite

Anna Goldthwaite Self Portrait

The artist I am showcasing today is a lady who hailed from the American Deep South.  Anne Wilson Goldthwaite was born into a genteel Montgomery, Alabama family on June 28th, 1869.  She was a true daughter of the South and the oldest of four siblings. Her father was Richard Wallach Goldthwaite, who served as an artillery captain for the Confederacy during the Civil War and the son of Alabama senator George Goldthwaite.

Portrait of a Young Man by Anna Goldthwaite (1913)

Her family moved to Dallas,Texas when she was young and remained there for the majority of her childhood while her father looked for work.  After her parents both died, in the early 1880s, she and her siblings were taken back to Alabama where they lived with different relations. Anne went to live with her aunt Molly Arrington and her aunt’s nine children.  Her aunt presented her to society as a promising young debutante who was destined to become a southern belle. However this ended when her fiancé was killed in a duel.

 

As a teenager Anne liked to sketch and paint and soon developed into a talented artist, so much so, that in 1898, one of her uncles, Henry Goldthwaite, who was so impressed by her artistic talent, he offered to pay for her to have private art tuition.  He offered to support her financially for up to ten years if she relocated to New York City to study art. Anne Goldthwaite accepted his offer and arrived in New York around 1898.  She then enrolled at the National Academy of Design, where she studied etching with the German-born immigrant, Charles Mielatz and was tutored in painting by the Scottish-American painter and illustrator, Walter Shirlaw and American artist, Francis Coates Jones.

Young Mother by Anne Goldthwaite

She also spent one summer in Princeton, New Jersey, in the 1890’s, where she met then-professor Woodrow Wilson who had been appointed by Princeton to the Chair of Jurisprudence and Political Economy.  Two decades later he would become the twenty-eighth President of the United States.  He commissioned her to paint a portrait of his wife.

Young Nude Woman in a Hat by Anne Goldthwaite

In 1906, Anne Goldthwaite decided to travel to Paris to further her interest in the early modern painting styles of Fauvism and Cubism.

4 Rue de Chevreuse, Paris by Anne Goldthwaite (1908)

On her arrival in Paris Anne headed for the American Girls Art Club at 4 rue de Chevreuse, on the Left Bank.   The property was built by the Duc de Chevreuse and back in the 18th century it was the Dagoty porcelain factory. Later, in 1834,  it was turned into a Protestant school for boys called the Keller Institute.  It was in the 1890’s that Elisabeth Mills Reid, a wealthy American philanthropist and wife of the American ambassador, had the idea to turn it into a residential club for American women artists in Paris.  Anne Goldthwaite made this her base for the next six years.  According to Mariea Caudill Dennison’s article in the Woman’s Art Journal (2005) entitled The American Girls’ Club in Paris: The Propriety and Imprudence of Art Students, 1890-1914, Anne viewed the Club as a “chateau that was not a club at all, but a glorified pension for American women art students. We paid little board and lived in the midst of luxury and romance”

One day, while she was at the Luxembourg Gardens sketching, she met American writer Gertrude Stein. After a long conversation, Stein invited Anne to visit her apartment, but Anne was somewhat wary due to Stein’s scruffy appearance but eventually she agreed. Goldthwaite recalls Stein describing her as

“…a large, dark woman…who looked something like an immense brown egg. She wore, wrapped tight around her, a brown kimono-like garment and a large flat black hat, and stood on feet covered with wide sandals…”

Gertrude Stein’s legendary Montparnasse apartment at 27 rue de Fleurus

Despite Anne having doubts about Gertrude Stein, she was impressed with what she saw in Stein’s apartment.  A large collection of contemporary paintings hung on the walls.  Little did Anne realise that this chance meeting with Gertrude Stein, the most influential pre-war and avant-garde person of the time, would provide her with an opportunity to join the art circle of Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso. In her memoirs, Goldthwaite wrote about he visit to Stein’s apartment:

“…Crossing a little pebbled court, we went into a beautiful large studio filled with antique Italian furniture. The walls were covered with the most remarkable pictures I had ever seen. I knew they must be pictures because they were framed and hanging on the walls […] There was what I know now was a head by Picasso, looking like a design made of the backbones of fish; “Le Joie de Vivre [sic] ” by Matisse; a small grey canvas by Cezanne, and a yellow nude on a peach-colored background, the feet hanging down as in an ascension […] This was my introduction to what we now call Modern Art, made some six days after my arrival in Paris. It was with surprise, later, that I saw American students who had been in Paris a long time, yet had not heard the names of Matisse, Picasso, et. al., and had never heard of l’Art Moderne, or if they had, thought it completely negligible …”

Anne was adamant that but for Gertrude Stein, Modernism would not have arrived in America. A page from her unpublished memoirs testifies to this belief. She wrote:

Page from the memoirs of Anne Goldthwaite

“Cones” refers to the Baltimore Cone sister, Dr Claribel and Etta Cone, who from 1898 to 1949 amassed a collection of primarily post-impressionist and modern French masterpieces.

Anne Goldthwaite later recalled her time in Paris and wrote:

“…Fate gave me several years in Paris at the most exciting time: during the great reconstruction from art to modern art…”

During her stay in Paris Anne moved from one atelier to another searching for a teacher that she could work with.  Eventually, she joined a small group of young artists called Académie Moderne.  This was a free art school in Paris, founded by Fernand Léger and Amédée Ozenfant who also taught at the academy.  The school attracted students from Europe and America.  They also held an exhibition each spring and their work was periodically critiqued by the post-impressionist painter, Charles Guerin.

The House on the Hill by Anne Goldthwaite (1911)

According to an article in the American Art Annual published in 1911, Anne served as president of the American Woman’s Art Association (AWAA) which was based at the The American Girl’s Club, from 1910-1911.

Cottage in Alabama by Anne Goldthwaite (c.1920)

In 1913, the Association of American Painters and Sculptors, also known as the International Exhibition of Modern Art organised a grand art exhibition.  It was the first large exhibition of modern art in America, and a shocking introduction of Modernism to an American audience. It was an exhibition that had been held in the vast spaces of U.S. National Guard armories.  It was a three-city exhibition which started in New York City’s 69th Regiment Armory, on Lexington Avenue between 25th and 26th Streets, on February 17th and ran until March 15th.   The exhibition then moved to the Art Institute of Chicago and finally arrived at The Copley Society of Art in Boston.  The Armory exhibition, as it became known, was an important event in the history of American art for it introduced Americans, who were accustomed to realistic art, to the experimental styles of the European avant-garde, which included Fauvism and Cubism. The show acted as a catalyst for American artists, who wanted to become more independent and by so doing, create their own artistic language.  Upon her return to America in 1913, Anne Goldthwaite exhibited two of her works at the New York Armory exhibition.  One was entitled The Church on the Hill, now known as The House on the Hill which she had completed around 1911.  The other painting was entitled Prince’s Feathers.

Rebecca by Anne Goldthwaite (c.1925)

Now back in America, Anne lived most of her adult years in New York but travelled south during the summer months to spend time with her family.  She became a member of the Dixie Art Colony in Wetumpka, Alabama, which was thought to be one of the Deep South’s first art colonies. These summers she spent in and around Montgomery established Anne Goldthwaite as one of the South’s most important regional artists for the period.  During this time she often depicted rural African Americans in their post-slavery contexts in oil paintings, watercolours, and etchings.

Women’s suffrage march on New York’s Fifth Ave. in 1915

Anne Goldthwaite’s politics were said to be progressive and she was a staunch supporter of women’s suffrage, serving on the organizing committee for the 1915 Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture by Women Artists for the Benefit of the Women’s Suffrage Campaign, open from September 27-October 18, 1915 at the Macbeth Gallery in New York which coincided with the Women’s Suffrage March held that year in New York during which it was said that 20,000 supporters attended.

The Atmore Post Office mural: The Letter Box, by Anne Goldthwaite, 1938

The Atmore, Alabama Post Office

The Great Depression hit America at the end of 1929 and lasted almost ten years.  It was both a financial depression and a mental depression which affected many American citizens.  The American government thought that cheering people up during these hard times was something they needed to achieve.  It was part of the New Deal, a series of programs, public works projects, financial reforms, and regulations enacted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the United States between 1933 and 1939.  One of the projects in the New Deal was the Public Works of Art Project which was developed to bring artist workers back into the job market and assure the American public that better financial times were on the way. The idea was to employ artists to beautify American government buildings.  The mission of the post office murals was multifaceted – to boost morale in communities, employ artists by the thousands and create world-class art that was accessible to everyone. The murals revolved around local folklore, landscapes, industry and, unsurprisingly, mail delivery. They told the story of life across the United States.

Tuskegee Post Office mural: The Road to Tuskegee, by Anne Goldthwaite, 1937

Anne Goldthwaite had two of her murals accepted for Alabama post offices.  One was in the town of Atmore, the other was in the town of Tuskegee. The Road to Tuskegee mural painted in 1937 by Anne Goldthwaite was restored and moved to the new Tuskegee post office in 1996.

Portrait of Frances Greene Nix by Anne Goldthwaite (c.1940)

Anne Goldthwaite executed a number of portrait commissions, one being that of Frances Nimmo Greene Nix, the Museum Director, Artist, Portrait Painter, and Writer.  Frances was clerk, director, and curator of the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts and studied with Anne Goldthwaite.

Goldthwaite’s work is included in the permanent collections of The Metropolitan Museum, Whitney Museum, Montgomery Museum, Montgomery Alabama, Greenville County Museum of Art and History, Greenville, South Carolina.  She was a member of the National Association of Women Artist, New York (Co-founder), Watercolor Society, Salons of America and the Society American Etchers/Brooklyn Society of Etchers.  Goldthwaite began teaching at the Art Students League, where she was a very popular teacher until her death in 1944.

Anne Goldthwaite (1869-1944)

Anne Goldthwaite died in New York City on January 29th 1944, aged 74.

Ralph Blakelock Part 2.

The sad ending and Beatrice Van Rensselaer Adams

During the 1880’s, Blakelock carried on painting.  He still derived pleasure from painting and showed his work at various exhibitions.  Often, unable to pay the rent, Blakelock was repeatedly forced to move his large family from home to home in northern New Jersey and Harlem including a period of time spent with his in-laws who lived in Brooklyn.  His wife, Cora, gave birth to more children. The seventh-born, Ruth, arrived in 1893, the same year that Blakestock exhibited some of his work at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.  In 1897 Cora and Ralph’s eighth child, Allen, was born.  During his ongoing mental health issues brought on by the financial stress of not being able to feed his family, he fluctuated in and out of lucid periods, but he still managed to capture beautifully haunting scenes of moonlit skies, glades of leafless trees and multicoloured streaks of clouds.

The demands of housing and feeding his family continued to worsen his mental health.  In his 2003 biography of Blakelock, entitled The Unknown Night: The Genius and Madness of R. A. Blakelock, an American Painter, the author Glyn Vincent, described Blakelock’s eccentric behaviour at that time:

“…Mr. Blakelock began grandiosely adding price tags of millions of dollars to the backs of his paintings. He based his images on scratches in his enameled bathtub; started carrying around an antique dagger; and draped himself in embroidered sashes and belts with trimmings that his wife described as “long strings of beads and trinkets of all sorts…”

Moonlight by Ralph Blakelock (c.1899)

In 1899, on the day of the birth of his ninth child, Douglas, Ralph Blakelock was once again sectioned in a mental ward at the Long Island State Hospital at Flatbush. He was later transferred to Middletown State Homeopathic Hospital in June 1901, where he was treated for dementia praecox, which we know today as paranoid schizophrenia, leaving his wife and children destitute. Initially he was confined to a secluded ward but later was placed in an open ward where he had the freedom to move about the grounds and even visit the nearby village.  This was just the beginning of an increasingly unbelievable story.

1902 Auction catalogue for Lotos Club exhibition

There now follows a strange twist in Blakelock’s life. Almost as soon as Blakelock went into the Long Island State hospital, his works began to receive recognition from the critics especially after his one-man exhibition of his work at the New York Lotos Club in December 1900. Further exhibitions at the prestigious club followed including one held in September 1902 for Exhibition of paintings by Ralph Albert Blakelock, from the collection of Hon. Frederick S. Gibbs.

Moonlight Sonata by Ralph Blakelock (c.1892)

Within a few years Blakelock’s paintings that he had once sold for a pittance were being resold for several thousand dollars.  It is so ironic that the moment of his greatest triumph with his art came while he was sectioned at the Middletown hospital. On February 21st 1916, his painting, Brook by Moonlight sold at auction, part of the Catholina Lambert collection, for $20,000.  This, at the time, was a record amount ever paid at auction for a living American artist.   Later in 1916 he was finally elected to full membership at the National Academy of Design. 

The news of the record payment for his painting Brook by Moonlight was extensively covered in the media and it captured the imagination of a young New York woman, Beatrice Sadie Filbert Adams.  It is a story which has a hint of the Anna Sorokin/Anna Delvey story which has recently become famous through Netflix.   But who was Sadie Filbert Adams?

Mrs Van Rensselaer (c.1925)

Beatrice Sadie Filbert was born in 1884 in the town of Fishkill, sixty miles north of New York.  Her mother had been employed as a servant and Sadie never attended state schooling but was educated for a number of years at the home of her mother’s employer.  When she was sixteen, she and her older sister went to live in New York.  Two years later, in 1902, she married Louis Adams whom she described as a Chicago millionaire.  Louis actually had rich relatives but none of their wealth ever came to him and he was “a person of interest” to the Cincinnati police.  He went by a number of aliases as he plied his trade as a scam artist and swindler who had taken money from many unsuspecting and naive women.    It is thought that Sadie was complicit in many of his scams.  In October 1906, Louis Adams was convicted and jailed for his crimes and their two children were temporarily taken into care at an Albany orphanage.  Two months later the younger child, a daughter, died of diphtheria.    Sadie was heartbroken and managed to remove her son, Van Rensselaer, from the care facility.

Sadie or Mrs Van Rensselaer Adams, as she liked to be called, now gained money by writing begging letters to wealthy prominent people, mainly men and this soon led to a duplicitous lifestyle similar to that of her jailed husband. Two such wealthy philanthropists who gave her money to cover her living expenses as well as a loan whilst they pondered over how best to help her were Henry P Crowell of the Quaker Oats Company and Harold F McCormick of the International Harvester Company, the son of Cyrus Hall McCormick, an American inventor and businessman who founded the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company, which later became part of the International Harvester Company in 1902.  McCormick was also treasurer of International Harvester subsidiary, Wisconsin Steel Company which leased mines including the Victoria Iron Mine of which Mrs Adams had an eighth share which it is believed she had acquired from her husband.  Wanting to see her prosper legitimately they arranged for her to embark on a three-year nurse-training course at the Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago.  She was not enthused by the nurse training and lasted just seven months before quitting, citing the ill health of her son as her reason for leaving.

Illustration in Tacoma Ledger newspaper Blakelock confined in an insane asylum

Sadie Adams left Chicago and returned to New York but still kept close to wealthy philanthropists.  Here she involved herself in fundraising for the women’s division of the endowment association of Lincoln Memorial University, Tennessee.  She would send out begging letters for financial contributions including ones to President Taft and President Woodrow Wilson.  In the Spring of 1916, she became aware of the extensive publicity surrounding Ralph Blakelock who was languishing in a mental institution.  One such article appeared in the Washington newspaper, the Tacoma Ledger, dated May 14th 1913 in which an imaginary illustration depicts Blakelock in his cell at the Middletown (New York) State Homeopathic Hospital

Mrs Van Rensselaer then began to involve herself with Blakelock’s friends and help organise an exhibition of his work and the money raised would go to achieving his release and provide for him and his family once released from the asylum. It was also a trust, which purported to help the poverty-stricken artist and his destitute family. She contacted a young newspaper reporter, Harrison Smith, who was working for the New York Tribune, and told him about Blakelock.  Smith then went to visit the artist at the mental hospital.  The young journalist found the artist to be lucid and yet rambling and reported that Blakelock was fantasising about an imagined “diamond of the Emperor of Brazil” which he said had been stolen from him.  The journalist believed that Blakelock’s claim to be a great artist was not being believed by the asylum authorities or staff and so arranged for the artist and the asylum director to visit Manhattan where a gallery was holding a retrospective of Blakelock’s work.  The rookie journalist was hailed for his major news story despite omitting the part in which Blakelock had told him that some of the paintings on show at the gallery were forgeries.  In an account given by Smith many years later he said that he had omitted Blakelock’s comments as he believed Blakelock’s sanity at the time was in question.

Front page of New York Evening Journal (September 18th 1916)

By now Adams had assumed absolute control of the Blakelock Fund, which was reputed to be $35K,  and in early September 1916, she, with the help from money she took from the Fund, managed to afford to move Blakelock from the Middletown Hospital to a bungalow studio at a private sanatorium in West Englewood, New Jersey.  Not only was the money used to facilitate the move it allowed her to lavishly furnish the place and bring in large canvases, paints and brushes so that Blakelock would continue to paint more masterpieces which she could sell.  The newspaper headlines at the time read:

Blakelock May Recover Genius.

(New York World, September 10th 1916)

Freed from Insane Asylum, Has Six Months’ Probation to Prove Sanity

(New York Times.  September 6th 1916)

Untitled – Moonlight with Figures by Ralph Blakelock (1916)

Adams realised that Blakelock could be her cash-cow and took on the sole control of his artistic output.  Adams maintained that it was all done for Blakelock’s benefit and she said in a gesture of his gratitude Blakelock painted a rough sketch on cardboard which he gave to her.  It was unsigned but on the reverse, Adams had written:

“…This picture was painted by Blakelock for me as a momento of my efforts in his behalf and the figures are supposed to represent he and I…”

In the depiction we see the couple standing in the moonlight, surrounded by woods and mountains, at a gateway which probably leads symbolically away from the Middletown Asylum.

The Vision of Life by Ralph Blakelock (c.1897)

Adams managed to limit visits to him from his family and even had his wife Cora sign a waiver of her right to contest the guardianship as Adams had told her it would be best for her husband to be under Adams’ guardianship.  Adams also promised Cora that funds would be released to her and her family to move to a more respectable residence and which would be fully furnished.  Cora never received this promised payment.  The family tried to visit Blakelock but Adams always blocked their requests and even moved Blakelock to a new, but secret, sanatorium so they even lost contact with him.  She even returned Blakelock to the Middletown Asylum when the money ran out or as a punishment.  By the Spring of 1919, Blakelock had become fearful of Adams and her wild physical tantrums and decide he would be safer at the Middletown facility.  However on July 2nd 1919, Adams managed to extricate him from that safety and back into her custody for the last time.  A month later, on August 9th 1919, seventy-one-year-old Blakelock was dead.  Cause of death was given as a stroke or heart attack.

Such a sad end to the life of an extremely talented artist.

For a full account of the relationship Sadie Filbert (Beatrice Van Rensselaer Adams) had with Blakesock you should try and read an excellent twelve page article written by Dorinda Evans, entitled Art and Deception: Ralph Blakelock and his Guardian which appeared in The American Art Journal (Volume 19, No.1 Winter 1987). I discovered the article at the JSTOR website. It is a fascinating read and supplied me with so much information for this blog.

Ralph Blakelock. Part 1.

The American Impressionist.

Ralph Blakelock

A blog I wrote some eleven years ago featured an artist who spent the last twenty years of his life in an asylum. He was Richard Dadd, the English Victorian painter.  Today I am looking at the life and works of an American painter, Ralph Albert Blakelock, a contemporary of Dadd, who was also incarcerated in an asylum during the last eighteen years of his life.

Woodland Cabin by Ralph Blakelock (1864)

The art of Ralph Albert Blakelock is termed as being of the Romanticism movement.  The Romantic movement, which emphasized emotion and imagination, emerged in response to the artistic disenchantment with the Enlightenment ideas of order and reason.  Blakelock was a painter known mainly for his landscape paintings related to the Tonalism movement.   Tonalism is, at times, used to describe American landscapes derived from the French Barbizon style, which accentuated mood and shadow.

Landscape by Ralph Blakelock (c.1865)

Ralph Blakelock was born on Christopher Street in New York City on October 15th, 1847.  He was the son of Ralph Albert and Caroline Blakelock. His father was an English immigrant carpenter, who would later serve as a police officer before becoming a homeopathic doctor. It was not Ralph’s father but his uncle James A. Johnson, a choirmaster who was to be Ralph’s cultural mentor. Ralph had connections with art through his uncle’s friendship with the great American landscape painters of the time, Frederic Church with and James Renwick Brevoort. Ralph had four brothers and four sisters. His father had hoped that Ralph would follow in his footsteps and study medicine and so it transpired that in 1864, seventeen-year-old Ralph began to study medicine at the Free Academy of New York.  However he gave up his studies at the academy after he had completed the third semester.

Hudson River Landscape by Ralph Blakelock (1867)

Blakelock ended his further education in 1866 and began to study art and paint landscapes full-time. To look for different landscapes to paint he made several sketching trips in upstate New York and New Hampshire. One of his first exhibition pieces was exhibited at the National Academy of Design in 1868, when he exhibited a view of the White Mountains.

 Morning – near Devil’s Den, White Mountains by Ralph Blakelock (1868)

The voyage of discovery for Blakelock proved to be central to his artistic vision and was to be an influence on his work for the rest of his life. Such cross-country trips had become popular with artists such as Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran but their journeys were part of expeditions funded by the US government, unlike the one Blakelock undertook on his one-man adventure. He wanted to “go West” and explore more of his country and whilst doing so, sketch and paint what he saw. 

House by the Stream by Ralph Blakelock (1869)

In 1869, thanks to his father’s financial backing, Blakelock began the first of two lengthy journeys to the western territories of the United States. His extensive travelling was done using the train, stagecoach, and horseback, and his trip took him to the states of Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada, finally arriving on the west coast and California. After spending time in that state, he travelled south into Mexico. It is thought that he arrived back home by sea in 1871. The voyage of discovery for Blakelock proved to be central to his artistic vision and was to be an influence on his work for the rest of his life.

Cheyenne Encampment by Ralph Blakelock (1873)

A year later, in 1872, Blakelock embarked on a second western trip. Blakelock spent all his time sketching and painting and it was during this voyage of discovery that he became interested in one of his most lasting subjects for his work – the Native Americans. He painted tableaux of American Indian dancers, tented encampments and native Indian horseback riders Like artists who had journeyed west, there is no doubt that Blakelock was impressed by the vastness of the landscape. He spent time with various American Indian tribes and would often travel alone into the wilderness on horseback and spent time with tribes of the Great Sioux Nation.   It was a time when the Native Americans were still retaining many of their traditional practices despite the constant incursion on their lands by the white Americans from the East who were expanding  rapidly taking hold of the land belonging to the Native Indians.  Blakelock liked to depict Indian encampments in his paintings.  His paintings were not just about pretty scenes, they were a pictorial history of the time.  Mark Mitchell, the American writer and the Holcombe T. Green Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture at the Yale University Art Gallery,  wrote in his 2008 article Radical Color: Blakelock in Context about Blakelock’s work during his travels West:  He wrote:

“…they were documents of his experience and observations, but with time they became documents of his memory, as well as the memory of the nation at large…”

Sunshine in the Woods by Ralph Blakelock (1876)

Once Blakelock returned to New York after his wanderings in the West he rented his own studio and exhibited his work at the National Academy as well as the Society of American Artists and the Brooklyn Art Association. Initially his paintings followed the Hudson River School style

Shanties in Harlem by Ralph Blakestock (1874)

Now back on the East Coast, Blakelock began to concentrate on depictions of the northern edges of the outer city (what is now 55th Street and Central Park), which had yet to be developed.  Here he focused on the shanties which were starting to appear.  One such painting was his 1874 work entitled Shanties in Harlem.

Portrait of Cora Bailey (Mrs. Ralph Blakelock) by Ralf Albert Blakelock

In 1877, Blakelock married Cora Rebecca Bailey and, soon after, the first of their nine children, Carl, was born.  It was probably at this time in Blakelock’s life that things started to go wrong.  Unfortunately for Blakelock the art critics did not look upon his work favourably and the public were reluctant to buy his paintings at the advertised price.  Coming into play was the dreaded balance of matching income with expenditure.  His income was decreasing as he was having to sell his work cheaply.  However, the increasing size of his family had to be housed and fed. He had to increase his rate of production of his paintings to boost his income.  In his book, The Unknown Night: The Madness and Genius of R. A. Blakelock, An American Painter, Glyn Vincent tells that Blakelock’s wife, Cora, in a letter to the art dealer, Robert Vose, who ran the Vose Gallery in Boston, wrote that her husband did just that.  She wrote:

“…His best work took a long time to complete and in the meantime he had to live. Pictures were painted to keep things going. He could paint a really good picture in less time than anyone else I ever saw…”

In 1880, his second child, Marian is born and in 1883, Blakelock moved into the prestigious Tenth Street Studio Building, in New York and had famous neighbours such as William Merritt Chase and Frederic Church. He took part in the 1884 Society of American Artists exhibition and this boosted his reputation with his work being hailed by the press as being among the best works on show.  Clarence Cook of the Tribune wrote:

“…it was the best work of his which we have seen, marked not only by rich coloring, but by the possession of a distinctive character…”

The year 1884 was the year of the birth of his third and fourth chiId, twins, Claire and Ralph and so it became a dire financial struggle and to support his new and rapidly growing family. Blakelock would sometimes take jobs as an art teacher and later would produce small paintings of birds, flowers, and landscapes on plaques at E. C. Meekers Art Novelty Shop in New Jersey while he and his family lived nearby in East Orange. 

A Waterfall, Moonlight by Ralph Blakelock (1886)

Despite the good press reviews of his work, Blakelock was still struggling financially.  One reason could be that to avoid paying dealers a commission for selling his work he sold his own paintings and although he saved money, he lost the power of marketing and advertising a dealer would have afforded him. In 1886, the popular journal, Harper’s Weekly, reviewing an exhibition at the National Academy of Design praised Blakelock’s painting entitled A Waterfall, Moonlight hailing it as the best landscape in the exhibition, and the art critic admitted that he was surprised to see the name of the artist having completed such a powerful landscape. The painting featured elements that are typical of Blakelock’s style, such as generalized and silhouetted forms, glowing moonlight, and thick paint.  The foliage that frames the edge of the canvas echoes the irregular contours of the tree so much that it gives the impression that the forms are almost able to interlock.

Brook by Moonlight by Ralph Blakelock (1891)

The year 1886 was also the year of the birth of Ralph’s fifth child, Mary, and, tragically, the year of the death of one of his twins, his two-year-old daughter Claire. In 1887 his sixth child, Louis was born. The financial stress on Blakelock continued to mount and cause him mental stress until March 1890, when it culminated in his first mental breakdown and he was taken by his brother to the Flatbush Insane Asylum.

Photograph of the Sherwood Building, Manhattan (c.1902)

Blakelock stayed in the asylum for a short time and on his release, a wealthy patron of his, the English-born textile firm owner, Catholina Lambert allowed Blakelock, his wife Cora, and their four children to come to his estate in Hawley, Pennsylvania, to convalesce. Having recuperated, he returned to New York, where Blakelock began working out of fellow artists’ studios and later president of the National Academy of Design, Harry Watrous’s studio in the Sherwood Building.  This building was at 58 West 57th Street, at the southeast corner with Sixth Avenue (Avenue of the Americas) in Midtown Manhattan, New York City. The building was constructed in 1879 as artists’ apartments. It was here that Blakelock painted his masterpiece Brook by Moonlight which is now part of the Toledo Museum of Art collection. Depicting moonlight, sunsets, and twilight were favourite depictions of Blakelock  It is said that they held a special attraction for Ralph Albert Blakelock for their poetic qualities and in this work he expressed his personal response to nature in this mysterious and haunting moonlit forest.

Sadly the life of Ralph Blakelock was going to take a turn for the worse…..

…….to be continued.

Susan Catherine Moore Waters

Today I am delving into the life of the nineteenth century American painter Susan Waters.  It is difficult to compartmentalise her artwork, some, however, have labelled her a folk portraitist.  It is a mixture of portraiture which could be best described as quirky and animal paintings.  Her art, especially her early portraiture, is certainly easily recognisable as you will see.  I like its simplicity and although she will never be regarded as one of the American great artists, her depictions ooze a naiveté which is so endearing.

Susan Catherine Moore was born on May 18th 1823 in Binghamton, a small town in the Southern Tier of New York state on the border with Pennsylvania.  She was one of two children, both daughters, of a cooper, Lark Moore, and his wife, Sally, who were Hicksite Quakers.  As a young child Susan showed a talent for art.

Two Children in an Interior Setting, One Child Holding a Grey Cat, the Other Holding a Piece of Melon by Susan Waters

Susan and her sister, Amelia, attended the fee-paying Boarding School for Females run by Quakers at the small Pennsylvania border town of Friendsville.  The town had been founded in 1819 and the majority of early settlers were Quakers.  At the age of fifteen, in order to afford to pay the fees for the school for her and her sister, Susan would paint copies for the Natural History course run by the school.  Although the school had basic art education lessons, Susan is considered to be a self-taught painter.

The Downs Children of Cannonsville, New York. by Susan Waters (1843)

On 27 June 1841, aged just eighteen, she married William C. Waters, a Friendsville Quaker and amateur artist, and he would encourage his young wife to develop her talent as a painter. She took up portraiture about 1843, when her husband became ill and was unable to support the family. She would travel around the outlying areas painting and selling portraits of the people and their children.  One of Susan’s earliest recorded signed paintings is her 1843 work entitled The Downs Children of Cannonsville, New York. It depicts two children with a dog and a toy wagon in a landscape setting which includes a white house in the background. The boy on the left holds a riding crop.

Helen M Kingman by Susan Waters (1845)

In 1845, Susan completed a set of three paintings featuring the Kingman family.  This signed and dated portrait of fifteen-year-old Helen M Kingman is one of the three works.  The young girl is depicted seated in a stencilled chair, wearing a salmon pink dress, against a grey-walled backdrop.  Note the potted plant on the windowsill, an accoutrement often seen in portraits of children.

Lyman Kingman by Sarah Waters (1845)

Another in the series is a portrait of Lyman Kingman dressed in a black suit, holding sheets of paper. Behind him are shelves of books at right and drapery at upper left.

The Lincoln Children by Susan Waters (1845)

In the 1840s Susan specialized in portraits of children, and this 1845 painting, The Lincoln Children, is a depiction of three of the twelve children of Otis Lincoln, an innkeeper who was plying his trade in the small rural town of Binghamton in New York State. The three small girls are Laura Eugenie, aged nine, Sara, aged three, and Augusta, aged seven and they have been positioned in a pyramid. They are all wearing decorative dresses, adorned with eyelet and lace. One of the girls holds a peach, another a small branch in one hand and a pencil in the other while the third has a book open upon her knee.  These trappings were added to the portrait to publicise the girls’ sweetness and their attentiveness whilst attending school. The fine-looking furnishings including an expensive floral-patterned carpet, the pretty plants on a stand in the right background, and the addition of the appealing puppy with its well-arranged stance coalesce and create a lovely image of domestic stability and cosiness and yet their intense expressions as they look out at us gives the painting a disconcerting openness.

Herding Sheep before the Storm by Susan Waters

The Waters’ life was complicated, flitting from one temporary home to another. They continued to reside in Friendsville for several years, but by May of 1852 they had moved to Bordentown, New Jersey. They built themselves a cottage in the Quaker community of Bordentown and although they did not settle there permanently at that time, they would return to their house in 1866.

Chicken and Raspberries by Susan Waters

The couple sold their Bordentown cottage and journeyed to Mount Pleasant, Iowa, in 1855, returned to Friendsville four years later, and in 1866 finally resettled in Bordentown buying back their former home on Mary Street and it was here that they spent the rest of their lives. This was a base from which she taught art and produced over fifty of her later works, many of which were painting of animals in their natural settings, especially her favourite animals, sheep, and pastoral scenes. She was also an early photographer and produced many ambrotypes and daguerreotypes, which were early forms of photography. This made a lot of practical sense, as commissioned portraits were giving way to the more exciting medium of photography. 

Barnyard Animals by Susan Waters.

Many of the animals depicted were kept in Susan’s own yard.

Rooster with two Chickens in the Yard by Susan Waters.

Whilst residing in Bordentown Susan Waters painted animal and still life pictures in a style which was more mature and academic than her earlier efforts at portraiture.  There was a greater sophistication with her depictions.

A Cache of Raspberries by Susan Waters

Susan also produced a number of excellent still-life paintings

Still life with Grapes by Susan Waters

and sometimes a combined still-life and animal depiction as in her work entitled The Marauders.

The Marauder by Susan Waters

The artwork she produced and sold whilst living in Bordentown earned her recognition in her own lifetime.  It was not just from within her local community but from outside and in 1876, Waters was honoured with an invitation to exhibit some of her paintings at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. It was the first official World’s Fair to be held in the United States. She submitted two of her animal paintings.

Lighthouse on the Coast by Susan Waters

Susan Waters also became active in State politics when she became a member of the New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association, which was founded in 1867.  It was in this year that Lucy Stone delivered a speech on “Women Suffrage in New Jersey” before the state legislature.  This would have been a thrilling time to be involved with the movement, and Susan was elected recording secretary for the Association in 1871. She was also an Animal Rights activist.

Pasture scene with cows and distant mountains by Susan Waters

After exhibiting successfully at the Centennial International Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876, Susan discovered that her work was much sought after and it remained so for the rest of her life.  Her husband died in 1893 and from then on Susan dedicated herself to her art.  In 1899 she had to sell her home and go to a nursing home in Trenton New Jersey.  On July 10th 1900 Susan Catherine Moore Waters passed away at the age of seventy-seven.  Three days later she was buried alongside her beloved husband, William in the beautiful Bordentown cemetery.  Of her character, her obituary noted:

“…as beautiful as her paintings … her talent she could not bequeath…”

The folks of Bordentown will remember Susan Waters as a lady of refinement, modest and unassuming.  She was a lady of extraordinary ability, not just as a painter but as a writer and a speaker in the Society of Friends.

Alson Skinner Clark. Part 2.

Although based in Paris, Alson and his wife, Medora travelled extensively.  They visited Normandy and further afield to regions of Italy and Spain, the Netherlands, the Dalmatian coast, and Canada.  They would often return to their folks on Comfort Island and Watertown.  Alson also visited New York to see art dealer William Macbeth, who owned the first gallery at that time to deal solely in American art, to see if he could interest the art dealer in some of his work.

The Rising Sun, Malaga by Alson Skinner Clark (1909)

Having spent some time painting in Spain, Alson organised an exhibition of his Spanish paintings at the O’Brien Art Galleries in Chicago in March 1910.  It was Chicago’s first art gallery and one of the oldest family owned and operated gallery in the United States. It opened in 1855 as a frame shop, offering a variety of services to both artists and collectors.  The exhibition of Alson’s work was a great success and seventeen of Alson’s thirty-eight canvases were sold immediately and his New York dealer, William Macbeth, agreed to exhibit the unsold canvases in his gallery.

Rooftops Seville by Alson Skinner Clark (1909)

 

On the Beach, Normandy by Alson Skinner Clark (1910)

Alson and Medora Clark returned to Paris in June 1910 and visited the Giverny Art Colony.   The colony had started in the 1880’s and by the time Alson arrived in 1910 American artists were major players in the colony.   The colony by 1910 was very popular and with the influx of more and more artists as well as tourists the cost of living there had risen sharply.  Although Alson enjoyed the camaraderie of the Americans at Giverny, Medora was less impressed with the cliquish nature of the group.  She once described it:

“…The more I reflect on the possibilities of Giverny as a place to go, the less I care for it. The petty jealousies…the fights, the spying on you by your neighbours all works up to the least attractive place…to spend a season. Then the similarity in all of the work. I have kept out of it…”

Luxembourg Gardens Pond, Paris by Alson Skinner Clark (1910)

Alson Clark’s exhibited his work at many venues such as The Art Institute of Chicago, The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Paris Salon, and the National Academy of Design. He was always searching for new subjects to paint and the sale of his work through his New York and Chicago art dealers was making him financially secure.

Medora by Alson Skinner Clark (1917)

Having passed through the Panama Canal on a number of occasions I was fascinated by Alson Clark’s depictions of the building of the giant project. In the spring of 1913, Alson Clark, out of the blue, decided to visit the Panama Canal Zone where the construction on the vast and costly canal was nearing completion. Clark had made his mind up to somehow get himself involved in this exciting venture. He and his wife, Medora, boarded a steam ship and made the journey to Colon where they subsequently continued onto Ancon, on the Pacific side of the canal. Neither had letters of introduction nor any booked accommodation.  Fortunately for the couple both were procured.  Better still, the supreme commander of the project, Colonel George W. Goethals, gave Clark unprecedented access to the labour trains and construction sites.  Alson worked energetically despite the extreme heat in order to portray the excavations, the construction of the locks, and the railroad.

Alson Clark wrote to his mother about this time:

“…This is such a busy place for me I never get time to write more than a postal. We get off on the 6:40 train in the morning, getting up at five[1]thirty or so and get back at noon, leave for lunch and go off again at one-thirty, getting in at seven and after dinner go to bed…. In the afternoon at present, I go to the Culebra Cut where all the blasting has been going on and the slides, and I paint there. It is wonderful all over….”

Work Trains – Miraflores (Panama) by Alson Skinner Clark (1913)

For his painting Work Trains -Miraflores,  Alson Clark positioned himself on the western side of the Panama Canal where the construction of the Miraflores Locks was taking place.  It was here that when fully operational, ships could be lowered sixteen metres to sea level into the Bay of Panama, and the last step for ships crossing into the Pacific Ocean.  The depiction gives us a view looking down at the giant cavity which has been dug out to make the lock.  Down below we can just make out tiny figures working near trains which billow steam and smoke, which is testament to the monumental size and effort of this construction.

In the Lock, Miraflores by Alson Skinner Clark (1913)

The viewpoint for Clark’s painting, In the Lock, Miraflores, is from inside the centre of the lock. The depiction highlights the massive construction project which dwarf the many working figures which appear as tiny dots in the enormous industrial landscape. Alson Clark employed his impressionistic technique using a rich palette and bravura brush strokes to reveal bright light saturating the workplace. The lines of the train tracks, canal walls and cranes create a strong compositional design, which together emphasize the dramatic effect of the scene.

Pedro Miguel Locks, Panama by Alson Skinner Clark (1913)

The Pedro Miguel Locks contain a single set of parallel locks each containing a single chamber. All the present locks on the Panama Canal are operated by gravity. In the case of the Pedro Miguel Locks, fresh water from Gatun Lake and the Chagres River flows into the Culebra Cut. For southbound traffic, this water flows into the Pedro Locks. When the water flows out of the lock into Miraflores Lake, towards the Pacific Ocean, ships are lowered 31 feet. For northbound ships, they are raised 31 feet when water flows into the lock from the Culebra Cut until the level is equal with the Culebra Cut. Ships can then exit the lock. Thus, the entire system relies upon rainfall for its operation.

In the Cut, Contractors Hill by Alson Skinner Clark (1914)

Culebra Cut was the “special wonder” of the canal.  Here, men and machines labored to conquer the 8.75-mile stretch. Holes were drilled, filled with explosives and detonated to loosen the rock and rock-hard clay.  Steam shovels then excavated the spoil, placing it on railroad cars to be hauled to dump sites.

1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, San Diego, California

The Panama-Pacific International Exposition was a world’s fair held in San Francisco from February 20th to December 4th, 1915. Its stated purpose was to celebrate the completion of the Panama Canal, but it was widely seen in the city as an opportunity to showcase its recovery from the 1906 earthquake.  Alson Clark was invited to hold a solo exhibition at the event, an honour bestowed on very few American artists at that time.  He was awarded a bronze medal. 

Frozen River, Jackson, New Hampshire by Alson Skinner Clark (1915)

The Clarks left Panama and decided to spend the summer of 1914 in France.  The holiday ended abruptly with the outbreak of the First World War and they rushed to get a sea passage back to America.  Once back in their homeland they accepted an invitation from Charles and Edith Bittinger to stay with them that winter in their New England home.  Charles was an American artist who explored the use of scientific techniques for artistic purposes. During World War I, he also played a prominent role in the development of naval camouflage. Alson was not put off by the extreme cold of New England and would go painting en plein air in snowshoes.

Charleston Houses (also known as St. Michael’s Alley) by Alson Skinner Clark (1917)

In January 1917, Alson and Medora agreed to join another couple on a short trip to Charleston. Clark had spent very little time in the southern states of America and was overcome by Charleston’s charm and history. He enjoyed the genteel Southern hospitality and undoubtedly would have stayed if not for a dramatic turn of events – The United States entered World War I.

Mission San Juan Capistrano by Alson Skinner Clark (1918)

Alson and Medora returned to Chicago in April 1917, and forty-one-year-old Clark enlisted in the US Navy.  He believed that his knowledge of the French language and his familiarity with the French countryside would make him an ideal candidate.  He was originally used as a translator and then in May 1918 he became a military photographer.  His task was to take aerial surveillance photographs which required him to hang over the side of an open plane !  Sadly this experience left him deaf in one ear and doctors advised him that once he returned to America, he should relocate a place which offered a warm climate and help his recuperation. This partial deafness took a toll on his mental health and he told his wife that he would not paint again

Mission San Gabriel by Alson Skinner Clark (1919)

However, once in California, his hearing steadily improved; he regained his spirits and resumed painting.   The couple settled in Southern California and the landscapes of this region offered Clark new and exciting possibilities for his art.  The region was dotted with romantic Spanish Colonial missions, and the proximity to Mexico offered a kind of pictorial exoticism.  Two of the couples’ favourite haunts were the Mission San Gabriel and Mission San Juan Capistrano.  Alson was charmed by the decaying architecture of the two structures.

Alson Clark’s mobile studio

In 1919, the couple decided to remain in California until it was safe to return to France.  They bought a small plot of land in Pasadena and put on it what they termed “a shack”.   Over time and with an increasing love of the Californian life they had a new home and studio built.  Alson, wanted to travel around the area to paint en plein air and so bought himself a truck which he converted into a mobile studio with built in easel and large umbrella to ward off the strong sunlight.

Montezuma’s Garden by Alson Skinner Clark (1922)

When Alson and Medora moved to Pasadena, Alson was reunited with fellow American Impressionist, Guy Rose, whom he had known when they were both at Giverny.  Rose had moved to California to teach at the newly opened Stickney School of the Fine Arts in Pasadena.  He had been director there since 1918 and asked Alson to join the faculty.  Unfortunately, in 1921 Rose suffered a debilitating stroke and Alson assumed directorship of the school.

Reverie (Medora on the Terrace) by Alson Skinner Clark (1920)

The year 1921 was also the year that Alson and Medora had their first child, Alson Junior.  Alson Senior had always lived and been allowed to paint in a quiet and serene atmosphere but with the arrival of Alson Junior all that changed and once again Alson was overwhelmed by the situation and would bemoan to Medora that his painting days were over !

Road to Cuernavaca by Alson Skinner Clark (1923)

Through the auspices of Earl Stendahl, a pioneering American art dealer known for promoting California Impressionism, Alson Clark was afforded his first solo exhibition at Stendahl’s California gallery.  It was an East Coast/West Coast collaboration with Clark’s paintings being shown concurrently at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington DC as well as at the Art Institute in Chicago.  In 1922, after long consideration, Alson and Medora decided to make Pasadena their permanent home and so, sold their Paris studio and had all their possessions shipped to California.

After the Shower, Cuernavaca by Alson Skinner Clark (1923)

During the next several years, Alson travelled widely throughout southern California, the South-West and Mexico, the latter being one of Alson’s favourite places to visit.  His favourite Mexican destination was the southern Mexican town of Cuernavaca where he said he was influenced by both architecture and the indigenous people.

Pasadena Theatre curtain by Alson Skinner Clark (1925)

In 1925 Alson Clark was approached with a commission to design and paint the enormous theatre curtain (measuring twenty by thirty-two feet) for the newly built Pasadena Playhouse. 

Small scale painting of theare curtain

This added another string to Alson’s bow – that of a muralist.  The commission for the theatre was well received and more commissions for murals rolled in including  a series of murals on the history of California for the Carthay Circle Theatre in Los Angeles, murals at the Pasadena First Trust and Savings Bank and eight mural-size paintings for a men’s club in Los Angeles. Between these lucrative projects, Alson continued to paint en plein air in the late 1920s, and his work appeared in numerous successful exhibitions with private dealers and museums throughout the country.

Rooftops, Paris by Alson Skinner Clark (1936)

During the 1930’s Alson received numerous commissions to decorate dining rooms and libraries of private homes and designing wallpaper and although that may seem he was “selling his soul” for money, one has to remember that the country was in the depths of the Great Depression.

In 1935 he decided to drive across the country with his family, a journey that lasted twelve months.  Throughout that period Alson would sketch and paint.  In 1936 Alson and Medora made their last visit to Paris.  He was fascinated and charmed by what he saw, just as he had been when living there as a student.  One of his paintings he completed during this final visit to the French capital was entitled Rooftops, Paris, which was a view from the window of their apartment. It is now part of the McNay Art Museum collection in San Antonio. It was a gift from Medora Clark.

In 1945, Alson Clark’s health began to deteriorate due to a heart condition which also meant he was not allowed to drive, which ended his plein air painting.    In 1948 he was laid low with pneumonia which caused him to give up painting until the following March.  However, On March 23rd, 1949, two days before his seventy-third birthday, and within days of his resumption of working in his Pasadena studio, he suffered a debilitating stroke and died.  He is buried at Mountain View Cemetery, Altadena, California. Medora died on November 30th 1962, aged 81 and is buried in the same cemetery.

Much of the information I used for this blog came from an article in CALIFORNIA ART CLUB NEWSLETTER entitled An American Impressionist by Deborah Epstein Solon Ph D.

Alson Skinner Clark. Part 1.

Alson Skinner Clark

Alson Skinner Clark was an American Impressionist painter known for his landscape paintings and his murals, including at the Carthay Circle Theatre in Los Angeles and the First Trust and Savings Bank in Pasadena.  He was also an ardent photographer.  He was born on March 25th 1876 in Chicago, Illinois, to Alson Ellis Clark and Sarah Clark.  He had two brothers, Mancel and Edwin and a sister, Mary Emily, who died when young.  His father was not always a wealthy man as he came from an impoverished background.  He had served in the Civil War, and then moved to Chicago where he established a highly successful commodities business at the Chicago Board of Trade.  From then, his wealth increased and he was able to provide a comfortable lifestyle for his wife and family.

The Black Race by Alson Skinner Clark (1902)

Alson showed an early interest in art and was proving to be a gifted young painter.  In an 1956 interview for The Archives of American Art, a collection of primary resources documenting the history of the visual arts in the United States, his wife recalled her late husband’s early “artistic talent” saying:

“… I think the desire to draw was always extant with Alson Skinner Clark. When he was nine or ten years old, it made itself manifest—and obnoxious as well—to the his church-going parents, for during the long Sunday sermons he surreptitiously recorded the bonnets and bald pates in front of him in the only place available at the time—the frontispiece and blank rear pages of the family hymnals…”

His family supported and encouraged him to continue with his art by enrolling him in Saturday classes at the Art Institute of Chicago when he was just eleven years old. 

Breton Village, Rochefort-en-terre by Alson Skinner Clark (1903)

One of the perks of being part of a wealthy family was the ability to travel and in 1889 the Alson Clark and his family set off on a two-year trip around the world. For Alson it was his first taste of European art and no doubt instilled in the young man a love of both travel and painting. Back in America, Alson graduated from high school, and for a short period at the end of 1895 enrolled as a full-time student at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.  The teaching of art at the Institute was based on the teachings at the French Academies and focused on drawing from casts and still-lifes before students were allowed to progress to drawing live models.  Alson was unhappy with the Institute’s system and after a quarrel with one of his teachers regarding the slow and arduous process of drawing from casts, Clark quit the Institute.

Despite his short but unhappy period at the Chicago Institute Alson was determined to carry on with his art and in 1896 moved to New York and studied under the tutelage of William Merritt Chase at the Art Students’ League of New York.  Despite being twenty-years-old, Alson’s mother would not let him live on his own in New York and so went with him bringing along his childhood friend Amelia Baker.  The three shared an apartment on Seventy-Seven Street and Columbus Avenue.  Alson’s mother Sarah justified this arrangement by saying:

“…For two years Mela [Amelia] and I have talked of spending a winter in New York, in Bohemian fashion, and have searched for a good reason for doing so, in vain till this time. Alson, however, came to the rescue in his desire to study art with a New York master, and made it seem a necessary thing to do…”

Early Nude by Alson Clark (1898)

When Chase opened his own school of art, Alson Clark, along with many other students, followed him.  Chase was a great influence on Alson, an influence which would remain with him for the years to come.   A painting completed by Alson, entitled Early Nude, which he completed in 1898 bears an inscription that Merritt Chase had also worked on the painting.

Mansion of Leroy de Chaumont near Watertown, New York by Alson Skinner Clark (1902)

For two summers Clark spent working en plein air at Merritt Chase’s school in Shinnecock, Long Island and it was the beginning of his love affair with plein air painting and his predisposition with the Impressionist style of painting.  In November 1898 Alson decided, like many other young aspiring artists, to leave America and travel to France to study at the famous French art academies.  The most popular art academy for visiting American artists was the Académie Julian.  However, the “rough and ready” Académie Julian was not for Alson, who commented that he found the working conditions “disgusting”.  Alson preferred to enrol at the newly opened Academia Carmen, which had been founded by James Abbott McNeill Whistler, where the business side of the school was handled by Whistler’s former model Carmen Rossi for whom, along with her musician husband, the school was named. Alson Clark was in awe of Whistler’s artistic talents and kept going to Whistler’s atelier on and off until it closed in 1901.  Alson would never to forget the teachings of Whistler.

Taking Paintings to the Salon, Paris, (c. 1905)

In March of 1899, Clark entered his first work in the Paris Salon. In a letter written the following month to his friend Amelia Baker, he described his experience:

“…Wednesday, Wilson and I went to the Salon to see the stuff carried in and all the awful things that went in—I never saw such a lot of bad painting. The wagons come up to the entrance and take their wads of pictures in and there are crowds of people watching the stuff enter. I have little hope that [my picture] will pass the jury but one can never tell as there is a great deal of “pull” in the Salon, and as I have not studied under any Frenchman I may be thrown out. I don’t care what happens although of course I would rather be in than out. Exhibitions are, after all, a farce…”

When his painting was rejected by the Salon jury, Clark feigned indifference stating:

“It doesn’t’ matter to me at all as I haven’t a reputation to make and there isn’t much honour in being in unless you get in squarely as only very few do.…”

The Violinist by Alson Clark (1901)

Despite his work being rejected by the jurists he never gave up trying to have one of his paintings was eventually accepted into a Salon exhibition for in 1901 his perseverance paid off with his painting, The Violinist being selected for that year’s Paris Salon exhibition.

Comfort Island Alexandria Bay, New York was built in 1883 by industrialist Alson E. Clark.

Whilst he had been living in America Alson Clark’s health was often very poor and was a frequent visitor to his doctor with stomach problems.  In 1901 whilst living in France he once again became ill and was advised he had to have his appendix removed.  In those days this was a serious operation and so he decided to return to America for the operation and set sail for New York on June 1st with surgery booked at a Chicago hospital that summer.  After the operation he recuperated at the family home on Comfort Island, one of the Thousand Islands in Alexandria Bay, New York.  Comfort Island, Alexandria Bay, New York was built in 1883 by his father Alson E. Clark and it is located on the St. Lawrence River in the Thousand Islands Region in what is known as Millionaire’s row.

Ile de la Cite, Paris by Alson Skinner Clark (c.1900)

In the Autumn of 1901 Alson rented a barn from the parents of his friend Amelia in Watertown a small, provincial city near Lake Ontario and the Canadian border and the closest city to Comfort Island.  This was the start of his career as a professional artist and the only one in Watertown. Now set up as a professional artist, he needed a model and he discovered that one of the local girls, Atta Medora McMullin, was willing to pose for him and her mother would act as her chaperone.  Soon love between artist and model blossomed but Alson had his doubts about being good husband material.  He wrote:

“…In the evening I would have liked to have seen Medora, but stayed home and wrote. I have no more business in marrying than the man in the moon for I am fickle and can’t help myself. It is a misfortune and not a fault.” Yet, just a few days later, he wrote, “In the afternoon she posed. I could not work as I wanted to tell her that I loved her but could not. We sat by the fire knowing each other’s minds…”

Landscape near Le Pouldu, France by Alson Skinner Clark (c.1900)

At the end of January 1902, Alson Clark professed his love to Medora and proposed marriage. She accepted.  Medora was to prove a very compassionate and supportive wife.  His first exhibition of his work was at Watertown and featured many paintings of Paris.  It was a success and he sold many works.  From there the exhibition moved to Chicago for Clark’s first major exhibition, at the Anderson Galleries.  Once again the exhibition was hailed as a great success and the Chicago Times declared:

“… Popular opinion has decided that it is a very promising display for a young artist…. Mr. Clark has a style of his own. It is suggestive of Japanese reminiscences, is refined and pleasantly frank…. The sentimental does not interfere with the boldness of using masses…”

From our Window, Paris by Alson Skinner Clark (1903)

Alson Skinner Clark and Atta Medora MacMullin wed on September 20th, 1902, and for their honeymoon they took a sea voyage to Europe on the S.S. Minnetonka.  On November 7th the couple moved into a Parisian apartment at 6, rue Victor Considérant.   Shortly after settling in, Alson’s friend, and fellow American artist, Frederick Carl Frieseke, moved in with them whilst waiting for the apartment above the Alsons to become available to rent.  Alson and Frieseke were good friends and Frieseke used to paint from the Clarks’ apartment balcony and would also occasionally use Medora as a model.  That winter Alson and Frederick painted continually so that they could build up a collection to put before the jurists at the Spring Salon.  They even split the cost of renting wagons to transport their work to the Salon.

Les Colliers (The Necklaces) by Alson Clark (1905)

Alson Clark continually acknowledged the debt he owed Whistler and wrote to him many times confirming such indebtedness.  In 1905 Alson completed a work entitled Les Colliers (the Necklaces) and the style of the work mirrored many of Whistler’s works.  It was simply Alson’s way of paying homage to Whistler’s portraiture.  In the painting we see the lady, modelled by Medora, dressed in a flowing gown with her back to us, standing beside an elegant mantlepiece.  In her hands she holds a pair of necklaces

The Coffee House by Alson Skinner Clark (1906)

One of Alson’s early industrial paintings is his atmospheric work entitled The Coffee House which he completed in 1906.  It is a depiction of Chicago on a cold winter day.  We see ice floating down the river which is overlooked by monstrous dark skyscrapers which are looming through the smoggy atmosphere.  As we look at the painting our eyes are drawn into the picture by the curved ironwork of the State Street Bridge, 

Arrival of the Normandy Train, Gare Saint-Lazare, by Claude Monet (1877)

This is a typical depiction of urban realism and it is suggested that Alson may remember seeing such scenes depicted in Monet’s paintings such as his 1877 work, Arrival of the Normandy Train, Gare Saint-Lazare, which highlight both the ephemeral nature of fog and smoke and the atmosphere’s effect upon the forms of the city.

………….to be continued.

Much of the information I used for this blog came from an article in CALIFORNIA ART CLUB NEWSLETTER entitled An American Impressionist by Deborah Epstein Solon Ph D.

Lois Mailou Jones

Lois Jones, artist and teacher - NARA - 559227.jpg
Lois Mailou Jones

Lois Mailou Jones was born in Boston, Massachusetts on November 3rd 1905.  Her mother Carolyn ran a beauty parlour and made and designed hats.  Her father, Thomas Vreeland Jones was a superintendent of a large office building, who attended night school to become a lawyer.  At the age of forty he graduated from Suffolk Law School, the first African-American to earn such a degree from that school. He went on to become a lawyer.  Whilst still a child her parents moved to a house on Martha’s Vineyard and it was here that Lois first came into contact with people who were to influence her future life.

As a child, Lois enjoyed drawing and painting and her parents encouraged her.   She was given her first set of watercolours at the age of seven. She enjoyed her time at school and recalled:

“…The schools were not segregated and I had the good fortune to have my teachers interested in my talent and I received much encouragement,” she said. “My happiness was to go to Martha’s Vineyard as soon as school was out. It was a great joy to live with nature. Environment is so important to any artist…”

1937 or '38. (Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)
Lois Mailou Jones (c.1938)

She attended the local primary school and in 1919 she was enrolled at the High School of Practical Arts in Boston. During her four years of studies there, she also attended evening classes at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts thanks to an annual scholarship she was awarded. She developed an interest in fashion and costume design and became an apprentice with Grace Ripley,  an academic and costume designer. Lois Jones worked with Ripley after school and on Saturdays, where she would become familiar with exotic costumes and African masks which would later feature in her artwork.  Her interest in African masks also led her to creating costume designs for the Denishawn School of Dancing and Related Arts, the first dance academy in the United States to produce a professional dance company.

Loïs Mailou Jones "Negro Student," 1934, charcoal on paper (Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)
Negro Student by Loïs Mailou Jones (1934)

Lois was only seventeen years old when she held her first solo exhibition in Martha’s Vineyard. Jones began experimenting with African mask influences during her time at the Ripley Studio. In 1923, at the age of eighteen, Lois attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston where she studied, not art, but design.  She was an outstanding student and she won the Susan Minot Lane Scholarship in Design. Whilst studying for her degree she also took evening classes at the Boston Normal Art School, a public college of visual and applied art in Boston.

Beneath a soft blue sky, a picturesque village nestles in a valley between a river in the extreme foreground and verdant mountains. Combining loose and discrete brushstrokes with a palette of greens and golds, the painting recalls Paul Cézanne’s late 19th-century landscapes.
Arreau, Hautes-Pyrénées by Lois Mailou Jones (1949)

Lois Jones began to search for something which would bring her recognition as an artist.  Whilst searching she discovered the Harmon Foundation of New York, which had been established in 1921 by wealthy real-estate developer and philanthropist William E. Harmon.  It was the first major foundation supporting African American creativity and ingenuity and held national competitions for black artists.  Lois exhibited several of her works at these exhibitions and received several awards.  It was through this foundation that she became interested in black America’s 20th century movement known as the Harlem Renaissance. During the summers of the 1920’s and 1930’s, Lois Jones spent much of her time in Harlem and this had the most reflective influence on her early development as an artist. During these visits, Jones was engrossed in the art and theories of the Harlem Renaissance.   The Harlem Renaissance was an intellectual and cultural revival of African American music, dance, art, fashion, literature, theatre, politics.  At the time, it was known as the “New Negro Movement”.

Loïs Mailou Jones "My Mother's Hats," 1943, oil on canvas. (Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)
My Mother’s Hats by Loïs Mailou Jones (1943)

Throughout the early part of her life she continued to take the opportunity to study.  In 1934, she attended classes at Columbia University where she studied different cultural masks and in 1945, she received a BA in art education from Howard University, a private, research university, graduating magna cum laude. Not long after Lois left college, she decided to take up the role as an educator.  She applied for a teaching post at the Boston Museum School but the director rebuffed her application saying that she should apply for a job in the South where “her people” lived.  This racially prejudiced opinion from a person of such stature must have shocked her.  Not to be put off by such bigotry she continued to look for work and finally was accepted for a teaching post at Palmer Memorial Institute, a historically black prep school, in Sedalia, North Carolina.  The Institute was founded by nineteen-year-old Charlotte Hawkins Brown, an African American educator in 1902 with the aim of teaching elementary and high school students in rural North Carolina.  It was named after Brown’s benefactor and friend, Alice Freedman Palmer, and originally the Institute began in an old blacksmith shed.  Whilst working as a prep schoolteacher, she taught the children folk dancing, piano playing and even coached a basketball team. 

Loïs Mailou Jones "Jeanne, Martiniquaise," 1938, oil on canvas (Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts)
Jeanne, Martiniquaise, by Loïs Mailou Jones (1938)

In 1930, Lois was offered and accepted a position at Howard University in Washington, D.C. by James Herring, who had  founded the Art Department at Howard University and served as mentor to many artists and art historians. Lois Jones remained there, as professor of design and watercolour painting, until her retirement in 1977. Lois’ main ambition whilst at Howard University was to ensure her students were made ready for a competitive career in the arts and to aid this ambition she would arrange for established artists and designers to visit her classes and give talks, demonstrations and workshops.  In doing this she became an ardent advocate for African-American art and artists.

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The Ascent of Ethiopia.by Lois Mailou Jones (1932)

In 1932 Lois Mailou Jones created a painting entitled The Ascent of Ethiopia. The painting is the pictorial story of the grim and challenging journey of African Americans who, through years of sacrifice and intolerable difficulties, have managed to create a legacy built on their trials and tribulations. It has been a constant fight for African Americans from the time they lived in Africa, the sea voyage to America and once there, how they have had to fight to attain their artistic and intellectual pinnacle.  Lois Jones painting depicts this story by her use of certain elements of design and colour, and space. The works she created throughout her life tell the story of many different cultures. In this painting she chooses to represent her own culture. This work of art was Jones’ way of expressing intense and reflective respect for her race. When we study the painting the first thing our eyes focus on is the figure wearing a blue and black headdress in the right foreground.  It takes up a quarter of the canvas.  The figure looks to the left as it observes the other figures, who are carrying pots on their heads, and pointing skywards at a bright star.  They are all ascending towards a city, comprised of two large buildings, at the top right of the painting.

  In front of the buildings are two entertainers, one of whom is playing the piano whilst the other I think is preparing to sing as we see musical notes all around him. Behind these two big buildings there’s a big round yellow circular object protruding from the side, surrounded by two blue/turquoise concentric circles. It has a face, and someone on a bended knee appearing to be acting on top of it. The turquoise-coloured circle is bigger than the previous one and has a face coming out towards the inside. Further up there’s someone painting on top of the blue circle with the words art above enclosed within the blue circle. A symbolic palette and brush are painted within that same blue circle, the star in the top left corner has rays of squiggly blue, green, and black streaks that radiate diagonally. The star is inside of a yellow circle shining down on the people gesturing towards it, this picture reflects what Jones was trying to convey to her audience.  The painting is a tale of transition, a long and tortuous voyage from the poverty of Ethiopia to America where African Americans, through hard work and dogged determination, became talented actors, artists and entertainers.  It is also about cultural identity.

Loïs Mailou Jones "Seventh Street Promenade," 1943, watercolor with graphite underdrawing on paper (Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)
Seventh Street Promenade, by Loïs Mailou Jones (1943)

In 1937, Jones was awarded a fellowship to travel and study in Paris at the Académie Julian. That year, whilst in France, she produced more than forty works of art, including thirty watercolours, may of which were plein air renditions.   Two of her paintings were accepted at the annual Salon de Printemps exhibition at the Société des Artists Français for her Parisian debut.  What also pleased Lois during her twelve months stay was that unlike in America, she was fully accepted in society and that the colour of her skin mattered little.  She managed to obtain an extension to her fellowship which allowed her to travel to Italy.

Les Fétiches, by Lois Mailou Jones (1938)

In 1938, she completed one of her best-known pieces, entitled Les Fétiches.  It was and African inspired painting that now hangs in the Smithsonian American Art Museum.  Painted in a Modernist style it features five overlapping masks from different African tribes and conveys a mysterious spiritual dimension summoned by ritual dance.  To the right of the main mask, we see what is known as a red religious’ fetish.   The term “fetish” (fétiche in French) refers to an object believed to have supernatural powers, or in particular, a human-made object that has power over others.  The masks and fetish appear to float in the mass of a black painted canvas.  When in France, Lois would probably have seen many different African objects and masks at the Musée de l’Homme, an anthropology museum in Paris.  In Les Fétiches, the Songye people’s masks and African Dan masks are visible.

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Indian Shops, Gay Head, Massachusetts, by Lois Mailou Jones (1940)

In 1941, Lois Jones entered her painting Indian Shops Gay Head, Massachusetts, into the Corcoran Gallery’s annual competition which she had completed the previous year.  For her the main problem with exhibiting her work at this prestigious exhibition was that the Corcoran Gallery prohibited African-American artists from entering their artworks themselves and only work from “white” artists was deemed acceptable.  Jones asked Céline Marie Tabary, her friend and arts professor at Howard University who championed African-American art in 1940s Washington, D.C. to enter her painting so as to side-step the racist rule. This painting by Lois won the Robert Woods Bliss Award but she could not collect the award herself and she had to arrange for Tabary to mail the award to her.   In 1994, the Corcoran Gallery of Art gave a public apology to Jones at the opening of the exhibition The World of Lois Mailou Jones, 50 years after Jones hid her identity.

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Mob Victim (Meditation) by Lois Mailou Jones (1944)

In 1944 Lois Jones painted one of her most controversial and thought-provoking works.  A philosophy professor at Howard University and founder of the Harlem Renaissance, Alain Locke, encouraged her to depict her heritage in her paintings and this led to her painting, Mob Victim (Meditation).  She remembered how the painting came into being, saying that she had been walking along U Street Northwest in Washington, DC. when she saw a man walking along and she stopped him and asked if he would pose in her studio for her painting which would depict a lynching scene.  The man told Lois that he had actually witnessed a lynching and mimicked the pose that the man held before being lynched and visually illustrated a contemplation of imminent death which was well understood by blacks during the 1940s.  The image we see of the man whips up deep and powerful feelings as we observe the innocence of the black man who is calling into question the intolerable actions of society.  Look at the questioning expression in the man’s eyes.  It is a very emotional work which poses the simple question, why?

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Wedding of Louis Vergniaud Pierre-Noel and Lois Mailou Jones

In 1953, at the age of forty seven, Lois finally married Haitian graphic artist Louis Vergniaud Pierre-Noel.. They had been close friends for twenty years and he had influenced Lois by introducing her to the bright colours and bold patterns of Haitian art and she would immerse herself in the Haitian culture during their annual trips to her husband’s homeland. Jones’s style shifted again after she married   She once said that the art of Africa is lived in the daily life of the people of Haiti.

Colorful painting by Lois Mailou Jones featuring a young African girl in face paint, with depictions of masks and decoration in the background
Ubi Girl from Tai region by Lois Mailou Jones (1972)

In 1970 she visited Africa for the first time.  She journeyed to eleven different countries on the African continent. The trip had been made possible with a grant from Howard University to keep a record of the various artists she met.   She returned to the African continent in 1972, 1976 and 1977. In the painting a young woman looks out at us from under her partially closed eyelids. The girl’s face is surrounded by two types of masks: in profile, is a large Dan mask from Liberia or Côte d’Ivoire, and drawn within orange outlines are two Pende masks from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Masks were thought to be powerful ways of communicating with spirits; the Dan mask represents a specifically female spirit, and the blue and red twisting lines in the lower left corner are a pattern of the Edo, from Benin Kingdom, called “rope of the world” representing a person’s lifetime.,   The woman’s forehead and cheeks are painted white for her initiation celebration into womanhood and vivid diagonal red lines overlap at the bridge of her nose, which leaves her mouth and chin uncovered. Loïs Mailou Jones was captivated by this woman and created the portrait in 1972, entitled Ubi Girl from Tai region.  The Tai region was part of Côte d’Ivoire, which Lois visited during her extended trip to Africa. The artist had a long-held dream of traveling to Africa since her twenties, and at the age of 65, she fulfilled her career-long ambition.

Lois Mailou Jones (1905-1998)

Jones continued to produce beautiful works of art.  On her 84th birthday in November 1989, Jones had a major heart attack which necessitated a triple bypass operation.  On June 9th 1998, Jones died at the age of 92 at her home in Washington, DC and is buried on Martha’s Vineyard in the Oak Bluffs Cemetery.

Sanford Robinson Gifford

Sanford Robinson Gifford by Eastman Johnson (1880)

Today I am looking at an American painter, Sanford Robinson Gifford, who was a leading member of the second generation of Hudson River School artists.  The artwork of the Hudson River School captured the rugged beauty of the American landscape and celebrated and venerated the heady era of manifest destiny.  In 1845, newspaper editor John O’Sullivan coined the term Manifest Destiny, which was the belief that white Americans were divinely ordained to settle the entire continent of North America.  The second generation of Hudson River School painters set out from the New York area to explore more far-flung regions of America. Their painting documented the westward expansion and the “land grab” which underpinned the concept of Manifest Destiny. During the Civil War, their majestic images shown in their paintings of an unspoiled West provided hope for post-war reconciliation and the promise of expanses of wild country, full of promise and lands which were unscarred by battle.

Head of a Man, with Various Studies by Staford Robinson Gifford (c.1850)

Sanford Robinson Gifford was born in Greenfield, New York 0n July 10th 1823.  He was the fourth of the eleven children of Quaker ironmaker Elihu Gifford and his wife Eliza Robinson Starbuck. Most of his childhood was spent in Hudson, New York, a town on the banks of the upper reaches of the Hudson River, across from the Catskill Mountains.  Following normal schooling, Gifford entered Brown University in 1842. He left college after completing two years, and moved to New York City in 1845 to study art. He studied drawing, perspective and anatomy under the British watercolourist and drawing-master, John Rubens Smith, who in 1806 had emigrated from London to the USA and set up successful drawing schools in Boston, New York and Philadelphia.  He also attended drawing classes at the National Academy of Design and studied the human figure in anatomy classes at the Crosby Street Medical College.

In 1846 Gifford visited the Berkshire Hills and the Catskill Mountains, sketching en plein air. He thoroughly enjoyed his sketching trips, once writing to a friend:

…”These studies together with the great admiration I felt for the works of [Thomas] Cole developed a strong interest in landscape art, and opened my eyes to a keener perception and more intelligent enjoyment of nature. Having once enjoyed the absolute freedom of the landscape painters’ life I was unable to return to portrait painting…”

The Artist Sketching at Mount Desert, Maine by Sanford Robinson Gifford

The American Art Union bought and exhibited some of Gifford’s first landscape paintings in 1847. In 1851 he was elected an associate, and in 1854 an academician, of the National Academy of Design.  He must have taken great pleasure in his landscape depictions as from that time on he concentrated on the landscape genre, becoming one of the finest artists of the Hudson River School. Gifford loved the freedom of the outdoors and travelled extensively to sketch landscapes which he would use later for future paintings.  On his trips he would often write to his father recording his experiences.  These letters home would, he said, serve the double purpose of letter and journal, and be an economy of time. He also asked his father to number the letters sequentially and keep them all together.

Study Of Windsor Castle by Sanford Robinson Gifford

In the summer of 1855 Gifford crossed the Atlantic and visited England, Scotland and Paris.  He then spent the winter of 1855 completing paintings from the numerous sketches he had made.

Lake Nemi by Sanford Robinson Gifford (1856)

In the Autumn of 1856, he travelled to Italy and rented a studio in Rome and, during that winter he painted pictures of the surrounding area including Lake Nemi which he visited in October 1856.  In a letter he described the scene:

“…We were high up above the lake. On one side in the foreground were some picturesque houses and ruined walls—a tall dark cypress, rising out of a rich mass of foliage, cut strongly against the lake, distance, and sky…”

A Home in the Wilderness by Sanford Robinson Gifford (1866)

By capturing scenes at sunset, Gifford was able to record the subtle effects of atmosphere and light that would become his trademark. Gifford was a true Luminist, a member of the Luminism art movement associated with many American landscape painters of the 1850’s to 1870’s  Their artwork was characterized by effects of light in landscapes, through using aerial perspective, and concealing visible brushstrokes. The landscape art of the Luminist emphasized serenity and calmness.  It focused on reflective water and soft, hazy skies but as part of often melodramatic, magnificent, oversized landscapes as the artist intended to capture the immenseness as they viewed their subject on location. An example of this Lumanism is his 1866 painting entitled A Home in the Wilderness. Gifford’s view of Mount Hayes in New Hampshire records human intrusion into a remote landscape. On the left riverbank a log cabin stands amid a recently cleared patch of land with several tree stumps, while figures in its doorway greet a man who has arrived with a canoe of supplies.

Lake Maggiore by Sanford Robinson Gifford (1859)

During the spring of 1857 whilst still in Rome, Gifford spent time with fellow American artists Worthington Whittredge, William H. Beard and Albert Bierstadt.  Gifford and Bierstadt left Rome in May 1857 and set off on a walking tour of southern Italy.  Gifford completed his European tour with visits to Innsbruck, Munich, Vienna, Prague, Dresden, Berlin and Paris, before returning to the United States at the end of the summer. 

Photograph of the 10th Street Studio Building, New York (1870)

On his return Gifford rented studio Number 19 in the Tenth Street Studio Building in New York City.  The Tenth Street Studio Building was constructed in New York City in 1857.  It was  situated at 51 West 10th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues in Manhattan and was the first modern facility designed solely to serve the needs of artists. It became the centre of the New York art world for the remainder of the 19th century.  Gifford retained his studio until his death.

Twilight in the Catskills by Sanford Robinson Gifford (1861)

 Over the next few years Gifford also made frequent summer trips to various north-eastern locales including the Catskills, the Adirondacks, the Green Mountains in Vermont, the White Mountains in New Hampshire, Maine and Nova Scotia.

Sanford Gifford in uniform (1861)

The American Civil War broke out in April 1861 and Gifford enlisted in New York’s Seventh Regiment and marched to the defence of Washington.  Several paintings resulted from this experience, including his 1864 work entitled Sunday Morning in the Camp of the Seventh Regiment, near Frederick, Maryland, in July 1863 ,

Sunday Morning in the Camp of the Seventh Regiment, near Frederick, Maryland, in July 1863
Night Bivouac of the Seventh Regiment New York at Arlington Heights, Virginia by Sanford Gifford (1861)

Another was his night scene entitled Night Bivouac of the Seventh Regiment New York at Arlington Heights, Virginia which he completed in 1861.

Near Palermo by Sanford Robinson Gifford (1874)

In 1868 Gifford once again travelled to Europe, and again visited the English and French capitals.  Whilst in Paris he met with a fellow American Hudson River painter, Jervis McEntee and his wife.  McEntee was a to some extent a lesser-known figure of the 19th-century American art world but apart from his paintings, McEntee’s journals are an enduring legacy, documenting the life of a New York painter during and after the Gilded Age.  From Paris Gifford spent the summer visiting the Alps and Sicily before wintering in Rome.

Galleries of the Stelvio, Lake Como by Sanford Robinson Gifford (1878)

Gifford was always stimulated by the awe-inspiring Italian landscape and his painting Galleries of the Stelvio, Lake Como exudes a moment of pure artistic beauty.   Gifford’s used shades of pastel blues and pinks to capture the hazy quality of a warm Italian summer afternoon. Look how the juxtaposition of light and shadow draws attention to the natural curve of the rock cliff exploited by and altered by man’s hand.  The curve in the wall gives one the feeling of motion through the road tunnel and to the side of the road we see a couple looking over at the boats below and the still waters of the beautiful lake.  Almost if we are in the tunnel\ we begin to feel the coolness of the tunnel in comparison to the area around the lake which is exposed to the sun.

Siout, Egypt by Sanford Robinson Gifford (1874)

In 1869 Gifford set off on his travels once more.  This time he journeyed to Egypt where he and some friends. He hired a boat and took a two-month  voyage from Cairo down the Nile River to the first cataract .  Although many American artists left their home shores, few ventured much further than the European Continent.  Sanford Gifford was one of the very few who ventured further afield.

On March 4 he reached the village of Siout (Asyut), on the western bank of the Nile, and this was the starting point of a great caravan route running through the Libyan Desert to the Sudan. The town was well known for being picturesque and for its history, having been the capital of the thirteenth province of Upper Egypt during antiquity and the birthplace of Plotinus, the great Neoplatonic philosopher. Gifford was taken with the town and noted in his journal the reasons for depicting it in his painting.  He wrote:

“…Looking westward, the town with its domes and minarets lay between us and the sun, bathed in a rich and beautiful atmosphere. Behind, on the right, were the yellow cliffs of the Libyan mts., running back into the tender grades of distance. Between us and the town were fields of grain, golden green with the transparent light. On the right was a tent with sheep and beautiful horses, the sunlight sparkling on a splendid white stallion. On the left the road ran in, with a fountain and figures of men and women and camels. The whole glowing and gleaming under the low sun…”

The painting, simply entitled Siout, Egypt, is one of Gifford’s finest works in which he depicted Egypt.

Constantinople from the Golden Horn by Sanford Robinson Gifford (1880)

From Egypt, Gifford travelled to the Middle East with fellow artist, Alfred Craven, via the Suez Canal, where his itinerary included Syria, Jerusalem, Samaria, Damascus, Greece and Turkey. Gifford travelled to Constantinople in 1869 and he wrote about the time in his journal:

“…boats and costumes on the water on either side were all aglow with color, while through the purple haze of the distance flashed a thousand little golden lights from the windows of the Seraglio and the mosque of St. Sophia…”

Gifford final port of call was Venice which he reached in June 1869 and it was from here that he took a sea passage back to the United States at the beginning of September.

Portrait of Mary Cecilia Gifford by Stanford Robinson Gifford (1878)

Sanford Gifford married Mary Cecilia Canfield in 1877, at age fifty-four.

Autumn, a Wood Path by Sanford Robinson Gifford (1876)

I end this blog with my favourite painting by Gifford. It is his 1876 work entitled Autumn, a Wood Path. Gifford created several paintings depicting forest interiors, including this one set amid full autumnal blaze. The dense forest path is enclosed in a network of overarching trees which casts shadows on the rugged ground below, restricting sunlight to haphazard patches. A solitary hiker is visible in the distance.

Three years after his marriage, Gifford became ill while on a trip to Lake Superior and was brought back to New York where he was diagnosed as having contracted pneumonia following a bout of malarial fever.  On August 29th, 1880, Gifford died in New York city, aged 57, and was buried at Hudson City Cemetery, Hudson, Columbia County, New York. His death was seen as a tragedy for American art. He was memorialized in 1880 by the publication of a series of addresses given at the Century Association and by a large retrospective exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1881.  A compilation of a catalogue raisonné was published in 1881 and recorded that he had completed more than seven hundred paintings during his career.

The Rev. Dr. Bellows, who several times has officiated at the funerals of well-known American painters, delivered a touching and beautiful address in the Gifford mansion at Hudson. He spoke of Gifford’s love of his country, saying:

“…Patriotism, in the speaker’s opinion, was at one time a greater force in Gifford’s life than even love of Art; and his resolve to fight as a private soldier in the late war for the Union was greater in its influence upon the man, and in its possession of him, than even his devotion to his profession…”

Charles Frederick Ulrich

Charles Frederic Ulrich (c. 1895)

My featured artist today is Charles Frederick Ulrich, the late nineteenth-century realist painter of portraits and genre scenes who spent much of his life as an expatriate in Europe.  He was born on October 18th, 1858 in New York, the son of a German émigré photographer and painter, Friedrich Ulrich and his wife, Caroline Ulrich (née Hartje) .  Following his ordinary schooling, he studied at the National Academy of Design in New York and it is thought that he spent some time studying at the Cooper Union School of Art.  From there, in October 1875, at the age of seventeen he crossed the Atlantic and travelled to Munich where he enrolled at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Munich.  Here he learnt all about how to capture the subtle effects of daylight and became influenced by seventeenth century Dutch genre paintings as well as the genre paintings by contemporary German artists.  In 1879 one of his paintings was awarded a bronze medal.  His primary instructors were the German landscape and genre painter, Ludwig von Löfftz and the German history painter, Wilhelm von Lindenschmit. He also became friends with the American painter, John Henry Twachtman, who was a fellow student in Löfftz’s class and joined the circle of American-born artists who associated with Frank Duveneck in Munich and the Bavarian town of Polling.  The two artists travelled together to Polling, Germany, where an American artists’ colony had formed and they signed the guestbook sequentially in the spring of 1876. 

Around 1882 Ulrich returned to New York and began exhibiting his work at the National Academy of Design. The next five years were highly productive, resulting in most of the artist’s best-known works.

The Wood Engraver by Charles Frederick Ulrich (1882)

His first painting to be exhibited at New York’s National Academy of Design was his 1882 work entitled The Wood Engraver. It was hailed a resounding success by the critics who considered the painting to be “his best.” A New York Times review of the National Academy exhibition described the painting as:

“…a picture of a woman at work before a window engraving a wood block. It is excellently painted both in figure and interior by Charles Frederick Ulrich…”

The Glass Engraver by Charles Frederick Ulrich (1883)

His painting, The Wood Engraver signified a peak period of his career, and later he would produce a series of works depicting workers. It was a subject for which he is best known for.

 In the Land of Promise, Castle Garden by Charles Frederic Ulrich (1884)

In 1883 he was elected an associate member of the National Academy. In 1884 Ulrich completed one of his most famous paintings entitled, In the Land of Promise—Castle Garden.  Castle Clinton or Fort Clinton, previously known as Castle Garden, is a circular sandstone fort located in Battery Park, in Manhattan, New York City. Built from 1808 to 1811, it was the first American immigration station, where more than 8 million people arrived in the United States from 1855 to 1890. The painting depicts a scene in Castle Garden, and Ulrich has us concentrate on a young immigrant mother at the reception station. She is sitting on her trunk which probably contains all of her worldly possessions. She breastfeeds her baby as her daughter looks off to the left.  Look behind the mother and daughter and you will see a bowler-hatted man tending to his ailing wife. Disease was rife in Castle Garden with cholera and smallpox being rampant in the crowded conditions, although it has to be said that in New York City itself, the conditions were no better. The centre was closed by the government due to cholera and smallpox epidemics and Castle Garden was replaced by another immigration resort that has become much more emblematic in collective memories, the small island of Ellis Island, where immigration services were active from 1892 to 1954

Portrait of Thomas B. Clarke, by Charles Frederic Ulrich (1884)

The painting, In the Land of Promise—Castle Garden, attracted the attention of Thomas B. Clarke, a lace and linen manufacturer who had become the country’s foremost collector of contemporary American art. Clarke was influential in numerous aspects of the New York art world, for he was treasurer of the National Society of Arts, chair of the Union League Club’s art committee, president of the New York School of Applied Design for Women, and a founding member of both the National Sculpture Society and the National Arts Club. Ulrich won the National Academy’s first Thomas B. Clarke Prize for Best American Figure Composition and as an expression of his gratitude, Ulrich painted the portrait of the collector.

An old fire-place / Granny by Charles Frederic Ulrich (1882)

In the mid 1880’s, Charles Frederic Ulrich built up a standing that was largely based on his small-scale genre scenes.  One of example of this was his 1882 painting entitled An Old Fireplace which was often referred to as A Granny.  The setting for this painting is believed to be the Ephrata Cloister, a historic German Anabaptist hermitage located west of Philadelphia which was founded in 1732. Ulrich’s austere depiction of the interior reflects the long history of Ephrata and is reinforced by the sitter’s old age and plain and simple dress.  It depicts life there as it was during his own time with its original hearth converted into a simple kitchen.

The Village Printing Shop, Haarlem, Holland by Charles Frederic Ulrich (1884)

In the summer of 1884, Ulrich returned to Europe and journeyed through Belgium and Holland.  He had made this trip with fellow American artists, William Merritt Chase and Robert Blum.  Ulrich and Blum became great friends over the next three years.  Whilst in the town of Haarlem in the Netherlands, Ulrich completed one of his best known works, The Village Printing Shop, Haarlem. The setting for the painting is a spartan workroom illuminated by the light coming through an open window. Ulrich depicts a boy who has paused during his work to allow himself to take a drink of water.  He stares at the blank wall in front of him and we wonder what is he thinking.  In the background we see two men operating a platen printing press.  Look how Ulrich has enriched the work with his attention to detail such as the ornament on the cast-iron stove.  Look at the clutter on the tabletop in front of the boy, where a bottle of water and a chipped second cup are casually placed amidst stacked blocks of type and other printing-related paraphernalia.

Glassblowers of Murano by Charles Frederic Ulrich (1886)

Ulrich left Europe and returned to New York in late 1884.  He so enjoyed his time in Europe that he immediately started to plan another voyage to there the following year and this time he planned to remain for a longer period.  It was not just his love of Europe that made him want to leave the shores of America but the lack of sales of his paintings.  According to a critic of the era, his abrupt departure was due to his “proclaimed disgust at the sordidness of an unappreciative public, which refused to bankrupt itself in the purchase of over-priced pictures.”

Ulrich went back to Holland and then moved to Venice, where he established a home in 1886.  It was here that he completed his painting, Glass Blowers of Murano which now hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York.   Ulrich depicts workers blowing glass, a craft which was revived in Venice during the late nineteenth century. The setting for the work is the city’s glassmaking centre on the island of Murano.   Murano’s reputation as a centre for glassmaking was born when the Venetian Republic, fearing fire and the destruction of the city’s mostly wooden buildings, ordered glassmakers to move their furnaces to Murano in 1291. Murano glass is still associated with Venetian glass.  Ulrich’s was fascinated with artisan subjects which came at the time of the international Arts and Crafts movement, which valued old-fashioned handicraft rather than industrial production. Ulrich was awarded a substantial cash award in 1886 at the National Academy of Design’s second Prize Fund Exhibition.  This indicated the degree to which an international taste had emerged in American art.

Charles Frederick Hugo Otto Ulrich

Although he maintained contact with Blum and Chase, organized exhibitions of American art in Munich in 1888 and 1892, and visited New York briefly in 1891, Ulrich remained in Europe.  He exhibited at the London Royal Academy in 1889 and 1890, in Munich at the Glaspalast, and after 1893 at the Secession exhibitions. He contributed three works to the art display at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, but he focused mainly on showing his paintings widely in Europe. As a result, his work is now relatively little known in the United States. In 1897, in Munich, thirty-nine-year-old Ulrich married twenty-year-old Margarethe Oppenheim, the daughter of the banker, Hugo Oppenheim.  The couple had one son, Charles Frederick Hugo Otto Ulrich, who was born on July 29th 1901.

Waifs in an Orphanage by Charles Frederic Ulrich (1884)

In 1906, Ulrich’s name appears on the membership list of the Deutscher Künstlerbund, making him one of its earliest members.  The aim of the Deutscher Künstlerbund (Association of German Artists) was to ensure the freedom of art, to offer a public forum for different artistic trends and to support young artists.  These intentions were taken into account at annual exhibitions which took place in various German cities and sometimes in foreign countries.

Charles Frederic Ulrich died of pneumonia on May 15th 1908, aged 49.

Thomas LeClear

Thomas LeClear

The artist I am featuring today is an American, born in New York State and was considered to be one of the major artists of Buffalo’s first golden age in the mid 1800s. He is Thomas LeClear who is recognized for his beautifully crafted depiction of children.

Boys Fishing by Thomas LeClear (1846)

Thomas LeClear was born in the village of Candor, near Owego, in upstate New York on March 11th 1818.  Even at a young age LeClear showed and interest and aptitude in painting.  In Henry T. Tuckerman’s Book of the Artists, which was first published in 1867, he regaled how LeClear, at the tender age of twelve, completed a painting of Saint Matthew, which was so admired by his neighbours that they were willing to pay him two and a half dollars for copies.  In 1832, at the age of thirteen, his family moved to Ontario, Canada, and a few years later LeClear became an itinerant portrait artist and decorative painter in upstate New York and travelling as far west as Green Bay, Wisconsin.  In 1834 he went to Goodrich, a town on the shores of Lake Huron, where he took up a commission to decorate panels on a steamboat under the guidance of its owner.  The finished paintings pleased the owner but were not what LeClear had wanted to paint as he had hoped to depict scenes from American history.  LeClear left Goodrich and moved to Norfolk in the state of New York situated close to the St Lawrence Seaway.  He remained there for two years carrying out portrait commissions and when the money from the sale of them dried up he would do any manual job that was on offer but slowly but surely his money was fast running out.  He moved on to Green Bay but there was no work for him in that city so he decided to head south to New York

Young America by Thomas LeClear (c.1863)

In 1839 LeClear moved to New York City.  According to Tuckerman’s biography of LeClear. The young artist arrived in the city in a poor financial state but still had enough to open a studio at 1271 Broadway which he would later share with Albert Bierstadt. LeClear had said that the seven years of wandering, looking for work, were the darkest period of his life.  He reportedly studied for several years with Henry Inman, an American portrait, genre, and landscape painter, who was at that time, reckoned to be one of the city’s leading artists. By 1847 , still a year short of his thirtieth birthday,  LeClear had gained a reputation as a talented painter and had gained substantial recognition for his work. He began exhibiting at the National Academy of Design in 1845, and in the next few years several of his genre paintings were acquired by the American Art Union.

Hi-Jack Game by Thomas LeClear (c.1861)

The year was 1847 and LeClear had arrived in Buffalo, New York.  He reckoned, with Buffalo now a very busy commercial port, there would be many possibilities for a successful career. His calculations proved correct. In short order he became an important member of Buffalo’s art community and acquired many wealthy local patrons. He was a founding member of the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy which later became the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. LeClear served on its board for many years. In addition to portraits, he also produced a substantial number of genre paintings. Many of the latter were street life scenes, in which children were featured in whimsical situations. In the early 1860s LeClear moved back to New York City. where he was elected to full membership in the National Academy of Design in 1863. Within a decade of his return to the city, he was believed to be one of the most prominent portrait painters on the East Coast.

Ulysses S Grant by Thomas LeClear (c.1880)

In the spring of 1861, Ulysses S Grant looked unlikely to be remembered for his greatness. He had resigned his army captain’s commission in 1854, and was struggling to survive financially as a humble clerk. This was all to change with the outbreak of the Civil War. He reenlisted in the army, and soon worked his way up through the ranks becoming a general. By war’s end, he was commander of all Union land forces and, as the chief architect of the South’s defeat, had become one of the country’s heroes. His popularity led him to be elected as US President in 1868. Grant posed for this portrait shortly after he returned from a triumphant world tour following his presidency. Thomas LeClear painted two versions. This one was originally owned by Grant himself, while the second one became part of the White House collection.

Ulysses S Grant by Thomas LeClear (1880)

President U.S. Grant was painted in a number of portraits by Thomas Le Clear, for whom the former president sat in New York in 1879, two years after the end of his presidency. The sitting led to three portraits, two of which are in the White House whilst the other hangs in the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution.  This small bust portrait was not purchased by the government until the 20th century, and was produced by the painter in 1880.

Buffalo Newsboy by Thomas LeClear (1853)

Buffalo Newsboy was painted by LeClear in 1853 whilst living in Buffalo and twenty years after history’s first paperboy.  The story goes that the publisher of The New York Sun had placed an advert for newspaper hawkers stipulating that only “steady men” should apply. A ten-year-old boy, Barney Flaherty, asked to be considered and he was hired on September 4th, 1833 which is why that date is national newsboy day.  LeClear, who was a founding member and first superintendent of the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, which would later become the Albright-Knox, and the institution has the work in its collection.

Interior with Portraits by Thomas LeClear (1865)

The most fascinating of Thomas LeClear’s works is his 1865 painting entitled Interior with Portraits.  The painting was commissioned by Franklin Sidway, an American businessman and banker from Buffalo, New York and is currently held by the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.

The setting for the painting is a studio in the famous New York artist building known as the  10th Street Studio Building.  It was constructed in New York City in 1857 and was the first modern facility designed solely to serve the needs of artists. It became the centre of the New York art world for the remainder of the 19th century.  The painting depicts much of the trappings of the professional artist such as a sculpted bust, animal sculptures, prints and copies after the old masters. This was the home of an artist not a photographer.  This was the home of an artist who revered the artists of the past and their works such as the Borghese Gladiator and the Venus de Milo, copies of which we see in the studio.

Parnell and James Sidway

In the painting we see two young children standing side by side.  These are Sidway’s siblings, James and Parnell, who are posing for a photograph in an artist’s studio. But all is not as it seems as both were dead when this painting was made.  The young boy on the right, James Sidway, was a volunteer firefighter, and had died in 1865, aged twenty-five whilst attending a hotel blaze.  The painting was commissioned by his brother shortly after James’ death.  The girl in the painting, Parnell Sidway, was an adolescent when she died of illness in 1850.  LeClear, having no live models for the portrait, has utilised family daguerreotypes to aid him.  Daguerreotypes were photographs taken by an early photographic process employing an iodine-sensitized silvered plate and mercury vapour and were invented by Louis Daguerre, a French artist and photographer.  Painting using photographs was very contentious at the time and many artists were suspicious of the practice and maybe there are references to those hostilities in the painting.  It marked the arrival of a new technological form of virtual reality into the painter’s traditional territory.  Artists everywhere felt threatened by this new photography. Many vowed never to use photographs as painting aids and would rather acclaim the very special qualities that they believed made painting superior to photography

The two children stand before a landscape painting which has become part of the photographic trickery. This fact alone must have incensed the like of the Hudson River painters and the Western landscapes painters whose works were so dominant in the public exhibition rooms at the time.

An Old Master

Look above the landscape painting and you will see an old patriarch looking disapprovingly over the scene. Is it a mere coincidence that his portrait is partly obscured by the backdrop?  Is this hinting at the Masters are being relegated to the past by the advent of photography?

There is much to see in the work regarding the tension between painting versus photography.  The children are surrounded by painted portraits, and the demonised photographer has his back to us obscuring his face.  Does this symbolise his reluctance to be part of the photography/painting argument?  Of course, early photography had its own problems especially when it involved long exposure time and it being necessary for the subjects remaining absolutely still during the long exposure. Children were a special challenge for photographers. They sometimes used braces and ties and other torturous to keep people from moving.   Note in this painting how the girl holds onto her brother to stop him moving as a comment on the “keep still” factor.

Dog at the door

In the doorway we see a dog is depicted just about to rush into the studio, again highlighting the problem with photography as opposed to painting.  But what happens when the dog chooses just that moment to come in? Well, if you’re an artist, you would capture the moment of him in the doorway. However, if you’re a photographer, you would probably have to start over again.

Three empty chairs

Looking closely at the work of art we have another conundrum to solve.  There are three chairs dotted around but none have a sitter. One, which is positioned in front of the easel, which holds a painting of a bearded man. This had presumably once been occupied by the artist. On another chair we see a lady’s hat, shawl, and purse and the third unoccupied chair with its walking stick and discarded newspaper must have once been occupied by a gentleman.  But where are the three now? The answer is probably quite simple – they are all out here with us, the viewers. We are all standing side by side just outside the picture frame, watching the scene before us. So LeClear is now telling us that instead of there only being three people involved in the painting, there were actually six ! 

Las Meninas by Velazquez

It is thought that by using this illusion he was paying homage to Velazquez’z painting Las Meninas, which if we look at the figures in the mirror, used the same stratagem.

Two years after completing his portraits of the former president Ulysses S Grant, Thomas LeClear died of pleurisy in Rutherford Park, New Jersey on November 26th 1882 at the age of sixty-four. His wife Caroline had died thirteen years earlier when only forty-six-years of age.

Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn.

The two lie together in Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, Kings County, New York.