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Alson Skinner Clark
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An Impressionist artist best known for his landscapes, Alson Skinner Clark was a painter, muralist and printmaker. Born in Chicago in 1876, Clark’s father was a prosperous commodities trader. Clark began taking art lessons at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago at the age of eleven. His education included a two-year trip around the world with his family. After high school graduation, Clark returned to the School of the Art Institute as a full-time student in October 1895. Dissatisfied, he left the School in June 1896 and went to New York City to study at the Art Students League under William Merritt Chase (1849-1916). When Chase left the League and started the Chase School of Art, Clark followed, and also attended Chase’s summer school at Shinnecock Hills, Long Island. In the fall of 1989 Clark and two classmates traveled to Paris, where they enrolled in the Académie Carmen, run by James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), who had a profound influence on Clark’s art. Although Clark’s early submissions to the Paris Salon were rejected, his painting The Violinist (ca. 1901, San Marino: Huntington Library) was accepted in 1901. Clark returned to the U.S. later that year and set up a studio in the northern New York village of Watertown, near his parents’ summer home (named “Comfort Island”) on the St. Lawrence River. He fell in love with Atta Medora McMullin, a local girl who modeled for him. After they were married in September 1902 the couple set off for Paris, where they lived intermittently until the start of World War I. The Clarks traveled to Brittany in 1903, Italy in 1904 and the Low Countries in 1905, with Clark painting outdoors “en plein air” at all locations. By the time they returned to Chicago in 1905, Clark had established relationships with galleries in New York and Chicago. An exhibition of forty-five of Clark’s portraits and European landscapes at the Art Institute of Chicago in January 1906 was well received by critics. After a summer at Comfort Island, the Clarks spent the winter in Quebec City, with Clark tramping around on snowshoes and painting out-of-doors despite the winter weather. The Clarks returned to Paris in 1907, using the city as a base to travel around France. They returned to America the following year to organize an exhibition in Chicago of his paintings made in France, which traveled to museums in Buffalo, Detroit, Indianapolis and Worcester. During a 1909 trip to Spain Clark produced thirty-eight colorful paintings in the Impressionist style that were shown the following year in a successful exhibition in Chicago at the O’Brien Art Galleries. A visit to Normandy led to works in more muted colors, which did not sell well, but more colorful landscapes made on a trip to Dalmatia (now Croatia) in 1912 sold briskly when exhibited in 1913. That year the Clarks visited the Panama Canal, where the commander of the construction project, Col. George Washington Goethals (1858-1928), granted Clark access to the construction sites. In June 1913 Clark sent photographs of some of his canal paintings to John E. D. Trask (1871-1926), Director of the Fine Arts section of San Francisco’s Panama-Pacific International Exposition (“PPIE”), planned for 1915. Trask responded positively and promised Clark a gallery for his Panama paintings in the PPIE. Thirty-one paintings of the canal construction and other Panamanian scenes were shown at the O’Brien gallery in Chicago later that year to critical acclaim. Clark returned to his studio in Paris to execute additional paintings of canal scenes, despite the impending threat of war, but in 1914 returned to America, carrying several rolled-up paintings of Panama. Eighteen of his works were exhibited in at the PPIE. He received a bronze medal for his work but some art critics were not impressed. The same paintings exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1916 received rave reviews. Deaf in one ear due to service as an aerial photographer in World War I, Clark was advised to live in a warmer climate and chose Pasadena. He soon became an important part of the California art scene while maintaining his connections in Chicago and New York City and exhibiting in Eastern museums. His first one-man show in Southern California was at the Stendahl Gallery in 1921. His friend Guy Rose (1867-1925) recruited Clark to teach at Pasadena’s Stickney School of Fine Arts that year; Clark took over as director after Rose suffered a stroke. He traveled around Southern California and Mexico, painting landscapes and city views. Clark enjoyed such success that he became known as a California Impressionist. In addition to his easel paintings, Clark received notable commissions for murals for a Los Angeles theater, the California Club, a bank building and a number of private homes. Following heart problems and pneumonia, Clark suffered a stroke and died in 1949. (TNB 12/2014) Selected bibliography: Solon, Deborah Epstein. An American Impressionist: The Art and Life of Alson Skinner Clark. Exhibition catalog. Introduction by William H. Gerdts. Manchester, Vt.: Hudson Hills Press, 2005. Stern, Jean. Alson S. Clark: Based on the Biography of Alson Skinner Clark by Medora Clark. Los Angeles: Petersen Pub. Co., 1983.