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Alson Skinner Clark

 (1876 - 1949)
Alson Skinner Clark was active/lived in California, Illinois.  Alson Clark is known for landscape and figure painting, illustration, mural.

Alson Skinner Clark

Biography from the Archives of askART

A landscape painter strongly influenced by the French Impressionists, Alson Skinner Clark spent much of his career traveling and living in foreign countries and then settled in Southern California where he became a plein-aire painter, art educator and muralist.  From there, he also traveled extensively in Mexico and the Southwest.

Alson Clark was born in Chicago to a prosperous family comfortably supported by the father's commodities business.  He showed early art talent, which his family encouraged by enrolling him in evening classes at the Art Institute.  They also took him on a two-year trip around the world where he gained much exposure to European art.

Graduating from high school, he again enrolled at the Art Institute but unhappy with his teacher, he left after six months, and in 1896, went to New York to study with William Merritt Chase at the Art Students League.  He also followed Chase to his own school, which opened shortly after, and enrolled in the Chase summer school of plein-aire painting at Shinnecock.

In 1898, Alson Clark went to Paris where he was a student for several months at the Academie Carmen, whose director was James McNeill Whistler.  Although Whistler was a difficult, demanding personality, Clark respected his teaching, stayed at the school until it closed, and ever acknowledged Whistler's influence on his Impressionist style.

In 1901, Clark returned to America and married Atta Medora McMullin, whom he met when she modeled for him at Comfort Island, near Watertown, New York, his family's vacation spot.  From 1902 to 1914, they lived in Paris until the war broke out, and during that time, he took up plein-air painting.  The couple also spent time at Giverny in 1910, and Clark painted with his friends Lawton Parker, Guy Rose, and Frederick Frieseke.

Traveling extensively throughout Europe, the Clarks were supported by successful sales from galleries representing his work in New York and Chicago.  Exhibition venues included the National Academy of Design, Pennsylvania Academy, Paris Salon and Art Institute of Chicago.  His work included many landscapes, cityscapes, interiors, and figure studies especially of his wife, who continued to serve as his model.

Although his work ever showed the influence of Whistler, on a summer trip to France in 1907 and two years later to Spain, Clark adopted a much stronger Impressionist style with lighter palette.

In the spring of 1913 the building of the Panama Canal inspired the Clarks to go to the Canal Zone, where construction was nearly complete.  Clark decided he wanted to be a part of the history-making venture, and made connections so that he had nearly open access to the construction site, labor trains and workers.  He painted furiously in horrendous heat to capture on canvas the final construction phase of the Canal and its railroad.  By June, he had many works completed and contacted John Trask, Director of the Fine Arts section of the forthcoming Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco.  Trask was impressed enough that he gave Clark a room for solo exhibition of eighteen paintings, which put him in the rank of only a few other American artists afforded such status: Frank Duveneck, James Whistler, William Merritt Chase, Childe Hassam and John Singer Sargent. The display of his Panama Canal paintings earned Alson Clark a Bronze Medal at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915.  Some of the paintings, which were huge, he and his wife had hand-carried out of Europe because of being stranded at the outbreak of World War I.

The Clarks lived with friends in New England and visited Charleston, South Carolina in the winter of 1917, just before the declaration of war by America, and, much impressed by the charm, culture and history of that area did atmospheric paintings including Saint Michael's Cathedral.  Shortly after, at age forty one, Alson Clark enlisted in the Navy and, with language ability, was sent to France as a military photographer.  Doing aerial photography, he dangled from airplanes, an experience that caused him deafness in one ear.

Told that condition could be solved by living in a warm climate, he and his wife, in 1919, went to California for the first time. Settling in Pasadena and renewing his friendship with Guy Rose, who had returned there in 1914, Alson Clark regained his hearing and was re-invigorated for painting.  Favorite subjects were the Mission San Gabriel and Mission San Juan Capistrano, and he traveled the desert and mountain landscapes in California, the Southwest and Mexico in a rebuilt Dodge truck.  In Mexico, he was especially taken with Cuernavaca and Taxco, doing scenes of the big Taxco Cathedral.

Clark joined Rose as a teacher at Rose's newly formed Stickney Memorial School of Art, and in 1921, when Rose had a stroke, Clark became Director of the School. That same year, in addition to having a son, Alson Jr., Alson Sr. had his first California solo exhibition, which was hosted by Earl Stendahl, then regarded as the most influential dealer in southern California.

In 1925, Alson Clark took up mural painting, which began with a commission from the Pasadena Playhouse to paint the stage curtain, 20 feet by 32 feet.  This job was followed by a series of murals on the history of California for the Carthay Circle Theater 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.  In addition, he accepted decorative commissions for private homes, designing wall paper and painting screens and wall murals.  He also pursued his own painting interests, much of it plein air that combined tight drawing with impressionist strokes.  He was untouched by the debate between modernism and impressionism and stayed with his own approach.

The Clarks continued with their travels, taking a one-year trip across America in 1933 and a final trip to Europe in 1935.  In 1940, the Los Angeles County Museum hosted a self-curated retrospective of his twenty of his paintings.  During World War II, he organized craftsmen to produce military instruments.  Following the War, his health deteriorated, and in March 1949, he had a paralyzing stroke and died a week later.

Deborah Epstein Solon, 'The Art & Life of Alson Skinner Clark', American Art Review, March 2005
Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art
Edan Hughes, Artists in California, 1786-1940
Martha Severens, The Charleston Renaissance

Biography from the Archives of askART
Born in Chicago, Illinois on March 25, 1876, Alson Clark, at age 11 enrolled at the Art Institute of Chicago, continued in New York City at the Art Students League, and with William Merritt Chase and Frank Duveneck.

Late in 1898 he went to Paris for further study at Académie Carmen under James Whistler.  Returning to the U.S. in 1901, he established a studio in Watertown, New York, and then returned to Chicago where in 1903 sales in a successful exhibition allowed for travel in Canada and Europe.

After serving as an aerial photographer in WWI, he settled in southern California where in 1922 he and Guy Rose formed the teaching faculty of Pasadena's Stickney Art School.  During this period he also had a studio in Palm Springs.  He taught landscape classes at Occidental College in Eagle Rock in the late 1930s.

Clark died of a heart attack in Pasadena on March 22, 1949.  One of southern California's most renowned painters, his early portraits and figure studies evince the somber tonalities of Whistler. After painting in Giverny with Guy Rose and other impressionists, by 1910 his palette had begun to brighten considerably.

American AA of Paris; Chicago Society of Artists; LA AA; Salmagundi Club; SWA; Calif PM. Exh: Paris Salon, 1901; Louisiana Purchase Expo (St Louis), 1904 (bronze medal); AIC, 1906 (solo); PPIE, 1915 (bronze medal); Calif. Art Club, 1920-30; LACMA, 1922, 1924 (prizes), 1929; Southwest Museum (LA), 1923 (grand prize); Stendahl Gallery (LA), 1923; San Diego FA Gallery, 1923, 1937 (solo); Painters of the West (LA), 1924; Pasadena Art Inst., 1925, 1931 (2nd prize), 1933 (1st prize); Pasadena Society of Artists, 1927; Pasadena Public Library, 1928; LA AA, 1937; GGIE, 1939; Calif. WC Society, 1940.

Victoria & Albert Museum (London); AIC; LACMA; Muskegon (MI) Art Gallery; San Diego Museum; Watertown (NY) Public Library; Gardena High School; CSL; Pasadena Community Theatre; First Nat'l Bank of Pasadena (mural); Univ. Club (Pasadena); Irvine (CA) Museum; Women's Athletic Club (LA); Fleischer Museum (Scottsdale); Orange Co. (CA) Museum; Cathay Circle Theatre, LA (murals).

Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
Who's Who in America 1918; Who's Who in California 1928; California Impressionism (Wm. Gerdts & Will South); American Art Annual 1933; Who's Who in American Art 1936-47; Artists of the American West (Samuels); Dictionnaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs, et Graveurs (Bénézit, E); Dictionary of American Painters, Sculptors & Engravers (Fielding, Mantle); Southern California Artists (Nancy Moure); Plein Air Painters (Ruth Westphal); NY Times, 3-24-1949 (obituary).

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 Spanierman Gallery (retired)
California Impressionist Painter

Alson Skinner Clark, a noted painter of vivid California landscapes, was born in Chicago. At the exceptionally young age of fourteen, he moved to New York where he enrolled at the Art Students League. Stifled by the highly disciplined course of study, he abandoned the League with a group of fellow students under the leadership of William Merritt Chase, who subsequently founded the Chase School of Art. As a student at the school, Clark was greatly influenced by Chase's masterful sense of composition, brushwork and color, and he incorporated it into his own distinctive style. At Chase's suggestion, Clark traveled to Paris in 1899, where he studied at the Académie Julian, and briefly under James A. McNeill Whistler, the well-known American expatriate painter. In the spring of 1901, Clark's conservative, dark picture The Violinist was accepted at the Paris Salon, bringing him his first official commendation.

With this recognition in hand, Alson Skinner Clark returned to the United States in 1902, establishing his studio in Watertown, New York. Here he began to paint winter scenes of the surrounding countryside, a theme which he would come back to later in his career. His return to the United States was marked, in 1902, by a highly successful exhibition at the Anderson Gallery in Chicago, where nearly all of his forty-six European works on display were sold within a two-week period. Another important Chicago show followed in 1905, this time composed mostly of Chicago cityscapes. Clark's The Coffee House won the Cahn Prize at the Art Institute and entered its permanent collection the same year. Among the many visitors to the show was Chase, who paid his former pupil the ultimate compliment of purchasing The Bridgebuilders for his own collection.

Pursuing his interest in winter scenes, Clark traveled to Quebec in the fall of 1906. Equipped with snowshoes and a charcoal burner built into a palette to keep his paintings from freezing, he ventured outdoors to capture the magical effects of northern light. Other trips in search of exotic painting sites followed. In 1909 Clark journeyed to Spain; in 1912, Prague; and in 1913, Dalmatia and Panama, where he executed The Digging of the Panama Canal, which was exhibited at the 1914 Paris Salon.

After World War I, in which Clark served as one of the first aerial photographers, he went to California to recover from a hearing disability incurred during the war. At first reluctant to resume his painting career, he found the desert, coast and mountains of the varied southern California landscape too fascinating to resist. Forsaking his earlier style of small, intimate and at times somber compositions, he began working on large plein-air landscapes in a looser, brighter mode, which eventually expanded into murals. These full-scale wall decorations were so successful that the artist received commissions for them until the end of his life.

Alson Skinner Clark's first California exhibition, held in 1921 at the Stendahl Galleries in Los Angeles, established his reputation as a first-rate Southern California Impressionist and brought him a following large enough to insure his financial success. In 1922, Clark joined with Guy Rose, a colleague from his days in Paris, to found the Stickney Art School in Pasadena. Except for three trips to Mexico and a trip to Europe in 1936, the artist remained in Southern California until his death in 1949.

Alson Clark's work is represented in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, the San Diego Museum of Art, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, as well as various other public and private collections.


© The essay herein is the property of Spanierman Gallery, LLC and is copyrighted by Spanierman Gallery, LLC, and may not be reproduced in whole or in part without written permission from Spanierman Gallery, LLC, nor shown or communicated to anyone without due credit being given to Spanierman Gallery, LLC.

Biography from Heritage Auctions
One of California's most well-known painters, Alson Skinner Clark specialized in Tonalist portraits and figure studies as well as in brighter Impressionist landscapes. He trained assiduously and broadly, studying at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Art Students League in New York with William Merritt Chase and Frank Duveneck, and the Académie Carmen in Paris with James McNeill Whistler. In 1901, Clark opened a studio in Watertown, New York, and he mounted a successful exhibition in Chicago in 1903, which funded his travels throughout Canada and Europe over the next decade.

Clark's early Impressionist landscapes evince his interest in architecture, especially industrial structures like railroads, bridges, and factories. It was no surprise, therefore, that the building of the Panama Canal in 1913 would prompt veteran traveler Clark to venture to South America to capture this historic moment. Gaining access to the construction site, he painted dozens of landscapes, eighteen of which were subsequently exhibited in a solo room at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, where Clark won a bronze medal.

The Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; San Diego Museum of Art; and Fleischer Museum, Scottsdale, are among the notable institutions showcasing Clark's paintings.

Biography from William A. Karges Fine Art - Carmel
Born in Chicago, Alson Clark enrolled at the Art Students League at an early age, following with further study at the Art Students League in New York, and in Paris. With his success in Chicago, Clark was afforded many years of European travel and study.

Returning to the U.S. in 1919, Clark settled in Pasadena where he, along with Guy Rose, taught at the Stickney School in Pasadena. Clark died in 1949, and is remembered as one of southern California's finest early Impressionists.

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About  Alson Skinner Clark

Born:  1876 - Chicago, Illinois
Died:   1949 - Pasadena, California
Known for:  landscape and figure painting, illustration, mural