Alson Clark - Early California Impressionist
by Biko Knox
William A. Karges Fine Art
Alson S. Clark (March 25, 1876 to March 23, 1949) was among America’s most prominent Impressionist painters. Born to an affluent family, Clark was able to develop his artistic talent at a young age by taking night classes at the Art Institute of Chicago, and through exposure to European art and painting during a two-year trip to see the world with his family in his teenage years. After graduating from high school, he left Chicago to study under William Merritt Chase at the Art Students League in New York and the Chase Summer School of painting in Shinnecock. He then studied under James Abbott McNeill Whistler at the Academie Carmen in Paris, instruction that Clark acknowledged as a life long influence.
Oil on canvas, 18 x 22 inches
Returning to New York briefly in 1901, Clark met his wif Atta Medora McMullin when she modeled for his work. He spent much of his early career in Paris, taking residence in the city from 1902 until 1914. The Clarks were able to travel extensively throughout life, supported by sales through galleries such as William Macbeth in New York and William O’Brien in Chicago. The Clarks visited much of Europe and spent a year living in Giverny in 1910, where there was an active artist community surrounding Monet. Clark’s work in Europe often focused on architecture, depicting beautiful European Chateaus and historical buildings from the Middle Ages. He also served as an aerial photographer after the outbreak of World War I.
"The Golden Hour"
Oil on board, 25 1/2 x 31 1/4
Visiting the Canal Zone in 1913 to see the construction of the Panama Canal, Clark spent months painting its final construction phase. His work earned him a solo exhibition of 18 paintings at the Panama-PacificInternational Exposition in San Francisco, putting him in the ranks of such distinguished artists as Frank Duveneck, James Whistler, William Merritt Chase, Childe Hassam, and John Singer Sargent as the only participating Americans.
"Culebra Cut, Panama Canal, 1914"
Oil on canvas, 26 x 32
In 1919, the Clarks moved back to the states and settled in Pasadena, California. While Clark was primarily a landscape painter, he also worked on a number of mural projects in California, including the now-demolished Carthay Circle Theater in Los Angeles, the California Club, bank buildings, and private homes. His works—painted in plein air—often demonstrated a technically refined impressionism focusing on landscapes with figurative elements and historical architecture.
Oil on canvas, 18 1/2 x 22
In an exhibition at Detroit Museum of Art featuring architectural studies such as “The Pope’s Antechamber at Fountainbleau,” and “Façade of the Chateau of Blois,” one critic noted:
His colors are harmonious and one is charmed with the pictorial qualities of the scenes before him. The artist has not been so jealous of his art as to distract you with it, but has rather concealed it.
Clark and his wife spent the rest of their lives in California, although they continued to travel frequently throughout the Southwest and Mexico, where some of the artist’s favorite subjects included Mission San Gabriel and Mission San Juan Capistrano.
"San Juan Capistrano"
Oil on canvas, 26 x 32
He befriended artist Guy Rose, joining him as a teacher at the Stickney Memorial School of Art and taking over as Director when Rose died of a stroke. Maintaining connections to the art world in New York and Chicago, the artist continued to enjoy success until his death in 1949, becoming one of the most highly-regarded California Impressionists and receiving solo exhibitions at spaces such the Stendahl Gallery.