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Sydney Laurence

 (1865 - 1940)
Sydney Mortimer Laurence was active/lived in New York, Alaska, California.  Sydney Laurence is known for Alaskan landscape painting-Indian figure.

Sydney Laurence

Biography from the Archives of askART

Known for his dramatic landscape paintings of Alaska, Sydney Laurence was one of the first professionally trained artists to live in the Alaska Territory. His trademark subject was Mt. McKinley.

Laurence was in the mainstream of a large group of young artists searching for a new way to paint landscape. Reacting against the theatrical, detailed and dramatic paintings of Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Hill, and others, Laurence and his colleagues were attracted to the more subdued tonalist style and plein-air naturalism of Camille Corot and his fellow Barbizon School painters. Laurence and many of his peers were also influenced by the more 'radical' work of the French Impressionists, a movement that flourished from 1880 to 1915.

Sydney Laurence's early work places him with American painters whose work embodied tonalism and/or impressionism such as Henry Ward Ranger, Dwight Tyron, John Francis Murphy and George Inness. However, responding to the diverse landscapes he encountered in his travels to England, Europe and Alaska, Laurence developed his own signature style of painting, a combination of realism, tonalism, impressionism, luminism and atmospherics.

Laurence was a native of Brooklyn, New York, and attended Peekskill Military Academy in New York sometime before 1885. He exhibited paintings at the National Academy between 1887 and 1889, and was involved in the founding of the American Fine Arts Society. During this time, he took courses at the Arts Students League and privately from Edward Moran who was living in Manhattan. (Laurence's entry in the Paris Salon of 1890 listed Moran as his former teacher, but there is no evidence that Laurence spent time studying in Paris)

In 1889, Sydney Laurence and his wife, Alexandrina Dupre, a New York artist who exhibited at the National Academy in 1889 and 1892 and whom he married on May 18, 1889, traveled to England where they spent most of the first year of their marriage at the artists' colony at Cornwell. From the mid-1890s, he took jobs as an artist-war correspondent and traveled to various parts of the globe including to Africa, and China. In Zulu, he lost his hearing, and he was injured in the Boer War.
He also did sketches of the Spanish-American War for the New York Herald.

For unknown reasons, Laurence left his wife and two young sons in England, where she remained for most of the remainder of her life. He traveled to Alaska around 1903, and from 1904 into 1908, was in Tyonek on the north shore of Cook Inlet, and in 1906, he filed claims near Talkeetna on Poor Man Creek. Although he had very little success as a miner, he continued to paint, including a canvas called Cordova that is in the Whatcom Museum in Bellingham, Washington. Laurence traveled to Cordova and painted there in 1908 and 1909, completing a 4-foot by 16-foot panorama. A Christmas postcard from his wife and children in 1904, addressed to him in Tyonek, Alaska, is the last known contact between the artist and his first family.

Financially supported by friends, Laurence set up camp in the vicinity of Mount McKinley, the subject of hundreds of his paintings, often shown in the clouds. The unique qualities of the Alaskan light and the sense of human beings overwhelmed by nature especially fascinated him. He painted many views of McKinley, dating from 1911. In 1913, the Knapp Company produced a 1913 calendar with a Mt. McKinley chromo-lithograph view.. The original painting was a 36 X 54 oil and likely was painted no later than 1912.

Laurence found abundant inspiration for his art in Alaska, and by 1920 he had
established a studio in Anchorage and had become the territory's most prominent painter. In 1923 he established a studio in Los Angeles, where he remarried in 1928. The rest of his life he spent most winters in Los Angeles or Seattle, returning to Alaska to paint nearly every summer. Although his landscapes of Southern California and the Pacific Northwest survive, the majority of the paintings he did both in his Los Angeles and Anchorage studios were of the Alaska landscape.

Although Mount McKinley was his trademark, he also depicted sailing ships and steamships in Alaska waters, totem poles in Southeast Alaska, cabins under the Northern Lights, and Alaska Natives, miners and trappers engaged in their solitary lives in the Alaska wilderness.

A large traveling retrospective exhibit of his work, "Sydney Laurence, Painter of the North", was held in 1990-1991. He was a member of the Royal Society of British Artists and the Salmagundi Club

Sydney Laurence died in Anchorage, Alaska, in 1940.

Len Braarud, Braarud Fine Art
Kesler Woodward, Sydney Laurence, Painter of the North (exhibition catalogue, 1990-1991)
Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art
Peter Hastings Falk, Editor, Who Was Who in American Art

Biography from the Archives of askART
Born in Brooklyn, NY on Oct. 14, 1865, Sydney Laurence went to sea in 1881. Returning to New York City after several years, he studied at the National Academy of Design under Edward Moran followed by study in Paris at Ecole des Beaux Arts.

He was a war correspondent during the Boer War and lived in Cornwall, England.  In 1903 he went to Alaska where he spent several years as a gold prospector before returning to painting in 1911.  While his early works were closer akin to Tonalism, his palette brightened later in his career.

During the last 18 years of his life, Laurence spent winters in Los Angeles where the light was better.  Alaska's most famous painter, he died in Anchorage on Sept. 14, 1940.

Royal Society of British Artists; Salmagundi Club; St Ives Art Club.

Royal Society of British Artists, 1890; Paris Salon, 1894; Panama Pacific Exposition, 1915; Ebell Club (LA), 1931; Stendahl Gallery (LA), 1931; Palm Springs Desert Museum, 1991 (retrospective).

Alaska Bank of Commerce (Anchorage); National Museum of American Art; Anchorage Museum.

Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
Artists of the American West (Doris Dawdy); American Art Annual 1898-1929; Los Angeles Times, 4-21-1929; Dictionnaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs, et Graveurs (Bénézit, E); Southern California Artists (Nancy Moure); Artists of the American West (Samuels); Art of California, Jan. 1991 & Jan. 1992; NY Times & Los Angeles Times, 9-14-1940 (obits).

Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

Biography from Braarud Fine Art
Alaska's most widely beloved historical painter, Sydney Laurence was the first professionally trained artist to make Alaska his home. He was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1865, and studied at the Art Students League in New York and exhibited regularly in that city by the late 1880's.

Settling in 1889 in the English artists' colony of St. Ives, Cornwall, over the next decade he exhibited at the Royal Society of British Artists and was included in the Paris Salon in 1890, 1894, and 1895, winning an award in 1894.

Laurence moved to Alaska in 1904 for reasons still unknown. Living the hard life of the pioneer prospector, he painted little in his first years in the territory, but between 1911 and 1914 he began to focus once again on his art. He moved from Valdez to the budding town of Anchorage in 1915 and by 1920 was Alaska's most prominent painter.

Laurence painted a variety of Alaskan scenes in his long and prolific career, among them sailing ships and steamships in Alaskan waters, totem poles in Southeast Alaska, dramatic headlands and the quiet coves and streams of Cook Inlet, cabins and caches under the northern lights, and Native Alaskans, miners, and trappers engaged in their often solitary lives in the northern wilderness.

But the image of Mt. McKinley from the hills above the rapids of the Tokositna River became his trademark. It is this image more than any other which personifies Laurence for his many admirers and collectors in Alaska and beyond.

Laurence forged a uniquely personal style by applying the tonalist techniques he had learned in New York and Europe to the wilderness of the North. He, more than any other artist, defined for Alaskans and others the image of Alaska as "The Last Frontier."

This addendum to the above biography was submitted by Braarud Fine Art in January 2001:

For an artist of Sydney Laurence's stature, the abundance of misinformation and altered history is astonishing. Following are a few examples of popular myths with corrections, more or less chronologically listed.

"As a teenage boy, Laurence ran off to sea, was shipwrecked and saved the captain's life". Even the Seattle Sunday Times of August 5, 1934 includes a piece about Laurence stowing away in 1881 at age 16 aboard the brigantine "Edmund Yates". The story continues that Laurence's father, upon learning of the escapade, instructed the vessel's captain to keep the boy aboard until the ship returned to New York.

a) Laurence was a student at Peekskill Military Academy at least until age 17 and appears in the February 1883 edition of the of the school newspaper.
b) Laurence's father, Edward, died on January 13, 1882.
c) After thorough research, no ship of the above name is found in Lloyds registry, U. S. Coast Guard lists, historical societies, libraries nor any of the common lists of ships' names and histories.

"Laurence studied at the NAD school with Edward Moran".

a) There is no record at the National Academy of Design of Sydney Laurence having been a student. During the 1882-1883 school year, Sydney's future wife, Alexandrina Fredericka Dupre was a paying student. She continued there through the 1885 school year.
b) Edward Moran was not an instructor at the NAD. Moran was an Associate National Academician and the instructors were all full academicians.
c) Between 1882 and 1889, Edward Moran was living in South Brooklyn and in New York City. Sydney lived with his mother on East 64th and later on West 56th. His studios were on East 23rd and West 57th and there is a reasonable possibility that Laurence took private instruction from Moran during this period since they were both in Manhattan.
d) Laurence did exhibit at the NAD in 1888, 1889 and 1898, as did his mother in 1892 and his wife in 1889 and 1892. Laurence was a registered student at the Art Students League in 1888-89.

"In 1889, Laurence traveled to Paris to attend the French Academy", or "This was followed by a move to Paris in 1889 and further studies at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts".

a) On May 18, 1889, Sydney Mortimer Laurence and Alexandrina Fredericka Dupre were married at Zion Church, Madison and East 38th in NYC. On May 22, the couple sailed for England "to pass the summer on the Coast of Cornwall, England". They stayed much longer. Alexandrina lived most of the rest of her life in England. Sydney lived there until he went to Alaska in 1904.
b) Neither Sydney nor Alexandrina were students at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, nor did they live in Paris. Their honeymoon trip may have included a trip to Paris to visit the Eiffel Tower, built for the Paris World's Fair in 1889. They spent the first year of their marriage, however, painting at St. Ives. Both exhibited at the May 1890 Paris Salon and Sydney at the Royal Society of British Artists.

"Evidently the lure of wealth influenced him to make a sudden career change, for in 1903 he arrived in Juneau, Alaska", and, "After returning to England in 1903, Laurence's thirst for adventure took him to Alaska, where he searched for gold in Valdez from 1904-1912".

1903 is a difficult year to positively locate Laurence but the preponderance of evidence suggests he went to Alaska. Laurence's wife and two young sons sent their Christmas 1904 greetings to him at Tyonek. Tyonek is on the NW shore of Cook Inlet, nearly 200 miles from Valdez and much further from Juneau. Most of Laurence's prospecting and recorded mining claims were in the Dutch Hills, between Tyonek and Mt. McKinley and near Cordova, but not in Valdez nor Juneau.

"It was not until 1912 that he resumed his painting career", and "Unsuccessful in his quest, he returned to painting in 1912".

There are dated paintings by Sydney Laurence for every year from 1905 through 1911 and beyond. Many of these were exhibited in the large traveling retrospective in 1990-1991 and illustrated in the accompanying exhibition catalog "Sydney Laurence, Painter of the North" by Kesler Woodward.

"In the interim, in 1908, he spent time in the Pacific Northwest, helping to establish the Western Academy of Beaux Arts in Seattle. This arts and crafts school later moved to the town of Bellevue and became a short-lived art colony".

a) H. W. Nagley, the storekeeper at Susitna Station, near Tyonek wrote on the back of a Laurence watercolor that Laurence was living at Tyonek in 1907, and that in 1908, he went to the Tokositna Glacier and the Poorman Hills. These two locations afford wonderful views of Mt. McKinley.
b) Later in 1908, Laurence was in Cordova, substantiated by several individuals and paintings. In 1909, he completed a commission for E. A. Hegg, a 4-foot by 16-foot panorama of the Cordova waterfront, Lake Eyak and the Copper River flats.
c) No evidence exists of Laurence traveling to Seattle in 1908. The community of Beaux Arts was founded by Frank Calvert and Alfred Renfro. They bought 50 acres on the eastern shore of Lake Washington, platted into half-acre home sites. Ten acres were set aside to be used for art studios. Beaux Arts was incorporated as a town in 1954, one year after Bellevue. It has its own mayor and town council. The ten acre set-aside had been long platted into home sites since the dream of an artists' colony never came to fruition. No evidence of Laurence's involvement is known and his involvement appears implausible.

"It was while in Valdez that Laurence heard about Mt. McKinley so he journeyed there by steamer and dogsled. By 1914 he had finished an eight-foot canvas titled "Top of the Continent", which was his first finished view of Mt. McKinley".

a) On June 12, 1906, Sydney Laurence established a claim on Poorman Creek. On August 27, he filed that claim in the Talkeetna recording district along with a claim on Ramsdyke Creek on behalf of his friend, Durrell Finch. Both Poorman Creek and Ramsdyke Creek are tributaries of the Tokositna River. Of the hundreds of Mt. McKinley paintings by Laurence, very few do not show the Tokositna River. While Mt. McKinley is in the clouds frequently, it is beyond belief that an artist working as a miner at the base of the tallest mountain in North America would not learn of its existence until eight years later.
b) The Knapp Company, a division of American Lithographic Co., produced a 1913 calendar with a chromolithograph from a Sydney Laurence Mt. McKinley painting. The original oil, 36 x 54, is in a private Anchorage collection. Although undated, it cannot have been painted later than 1912, and likely in 1911, in order to have been reproduced in New York for the 1913 calendar.
It is obvious that "Top of the Continent" was not Laurence's "first finished view of Mt. McKinley" and likely also that the large calendar image wasn't either. It is impossible to believe that an artist who was a member of the Royal Society of British Artists and the Salmagundi Club; who produced dated oils each year from 1905 on, would not paint a 20,000-foot plus mountain which he saw almost daily.
Sources available on request

Biography from Douglas Frazer Fine Art, Ltd.
Sydney M. Laurence (also Lawrence, Lawarence)

A painter and illustrator specializing in Indians and landscapes of Alaska, Sydney Laurence was born in Brooklyn in 1865 and died in Anchorage in 1940. In between he led a full and adventurous life in which his art was a constant.

Like some fictional character, as a teenage boy Laurence ran off to sea, was shipwrecked and saved the captain's life. He returned home to a more placid life in New York where he began studies at the National Academy of Design with Edward Moran. This was followed by a move to Paris in 1889 and further studies at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. He achieved success in Paris, receiving an honorable mention at the Salon Artistes Francais in 1894.

That same year he moved to the art colony at St. Ives in Cornwall, England, where he continued to paint on and off for the next thirteen years. During this time, however, Laurence also became a war correspondent for various U.S. And British journals, traveling to Africa where he lost his hearing covering the Zulu war; getting wounded during the Boer War; and traveling to China, apparently without incident!

After returning to England in 1903, Laurence's thirst for adventure took him to Alaska, where he searched for gold in Valdez from 1904-1912. Unsuccessful in his quest, he returned to painting in 1912. In the interim, in 1908, he spent time in the Pacific Northwest, helping to establish the Western Academy of Beaux Arts in Seattle. This arts and crafts school later moved to the town of Bellevue and became a short-lived art colony.

Art was to become Laurence's most successful endeavor for he is now considered perhaps Alaska's most famous painter, whose many works are on display in Anchorage. He is particularly known for his numerous depictions of Mt. McKinley. It was while in Valdez that Laurence heard about Mt. McKinley, so he journeyed there by steamer and dogsled. So impressed was he with the mountain that by the summer of 1913 he had produced 40 oil sketches. By 1914 he had finished an eight foot canvas entitled "Top of the Continent", which was his first finished view of Mt. McKinley, and has become one of his most famous.

Laurence continued to paint, but also opened a photography shop in Valdez to support himself. He later moved to the newly developing town of Anchorage and started a studio there; a fortuitous move as it increased his growing reputation. While he frequently returned to his cabin in Alaska to paint, he spent the last eighteen winters of his life in Los Angeles where the days were longer and the light was better.

Sources include: WWAA; Gerdts: Art Across America, vol 3. ; Hughes: Artists in California 1786-1940; Samuels & Samuels: Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West.

Written by Sarah Nelson

Biography from Altermann Galleries and Auctioneers, III
Sydney Mortimer Laurence was born in Brooklyn, New York. He moved to Anchorage, Alaska, and spent the remainder of his life there. He is known as a painter of Indians and Alaskan landscapes. Indeed, Laurence became the foremost painter of the Alaskan landscape, and his work is so well known to Alaskans as to make him a legend in the forty-ninth state.

At the same time, his paintings of a romantic, unspoiled northern frontier - Mt. McKinley, trapper's cabins and caches, quiet pools, rocky coasts, and totem poles - are little known beyond Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. Even in Alaska, where his work is known to virtually every resident, the artist's life and early career have long been shrouded in mystery, and his work is rarely placed in the larger context of the art of his time.

Laurence, or as he is sometimes referenced, Lawrence, came to Alaska as a gold seeker at the turn of the century, after a successful early painting career in New York, England, and Europe. He had exhibited at the National Academy of Design in New York, won an award at the Paris Salon of 1894, and was a member of the Royal Society of British Artists. He was also an active participant in the thriving colony of British and expatriate American artists in "St. and White" magazine, a publication covering the Spanish American War, South Africa, and China.

The artist spent his first years in Alaska looking for gold and painting little. However, by 1915 he was gaining a reputation as the first ambitious painter of the Alaskan landscape, and his six by eight foot canvas of Mt. McKinley had been acquired and exhibited by the Smithsonian Institution's National Collection of Fine Arts. Laurence continued to paint the Alaskan landscape as a full time resident until the mid-1920's, and continued working as a commuter between Anchorage, Alaska, Seattle, Washington, and Los Angeles, California until his death in 1940.

Laurence's work and life is described in a book by Kesler Woodward, entitled "Sydney Laurence, Painter of the North," published in 1990. This book is the first to present the full range of the artists' work, as well as discussing his artistic development and geographic importance.

Reference: "Samuels' Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West," by Peggy and Harold Samuels,

Biography from Thomas Nygard Gallery
Sydney Laurence was one of the first professionally trained artists to take up residence in the Alaska Territory.  He became an outstanding interpreter of the wilderness of the great Northwest, and was a true pioneer in his own right.  Laurence was a native of Brooklyn, New York, who had enrolled in the National Academy of Design, where he came in contact with the work of Thomas Moran.

In 1889 Laurence traveled to Paris to attend the French Academy. After returning to New York, Laurence covered the Spanish-American War for the New York Herald. Evidently the lure of wealth influenced him to make a sudden career change, for in 1903 her arrived in Juneau, Alaska, with the idea of settling there in order to prospect for gold.

He worked at a number of odd jobs in order to support himself, and it was not until 1912 that he resumed his painting career. Laurence took up a studio in Valdez and worked up into larger studio compositions.  By 1920 he had a studio in Anchorage, and enjoyed a modest reputation from California to New York as a skilled painter of the wilderness landscape of Alaska.  His sensitive portrayal of America's last frontier has given Sydney Laurence a rightful place in history of the art of the American West.

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About  Sydney Laurence

Born:  1865 - Brooklyn, New York
Died:   1940 - Anchorage, Alaska
Known for:  Alaskan landscape painting-Indian figure

Essays referring to
Sydney Laurence

Paris pre-1900