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 Ralph Elmer Clarkson  (1861 - 1942)

About: Ralph Elmer Clarkson
 

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Lived/Active: Illinois/New York/Florida/Massachusetts      Known for: portrait, town-landscape, figure easel and mural painting

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Ralph Elmer Clarkson
from Auction House Records.
A Moment to Relax
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Portraitist Ralph Clarkson was born in Amesbury, Massachusetts.  He is noted for his portraits as well as his involvement with the Illinois Eagle's Nest Art Colony*, His death in 1942 marked the end of the Colony's existence.

From his earliest years, Clarkson wanted to become an artist, and his first work was as a designer and draughtsman.  He studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in the early 1880s under Frederic Crowninshield before moving to Paris to study at the Julian Academy* in Paris under Jules Lefebvre and Gustave Boulanger, from 1884 to 1887.  He described his first painting entry in the Paris Salon* as "a little thing seven by eleven feet", which depicted two old men in a sunlit square.  He traveled around Europe, at one time with the artist William Merritt Chase to the Prado in Madrid, where Chase encouraged him to study the works by Velasquez.

After a period of portrait painting in New York and a sojourn in Italy, he established a studio in Chicago in 1896, where he became a noted society portraitist.  He was president of the Municipal Art Commission and an instructor and governing member of the Art Institute of Chicago*.  For many years he served as President of the Chicago Society of Artists*, and in 1910, he was elected an associate member of the National Academy of Design*. He served on the art juries of the Paris Exposition* (1900), the St. Louis Exposition* (1904), and the San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exposition* (1915), and was a founder of Friends of American Art.

Clarkson was skilled in painting the effects of sunlight, as well as in the use of watercolors, but as he once modestly stated, "Portraiture has always been my principal ambition."  His portrait of Lorado Taft in the National Academy, New York, is well known.  Other portrait subjects are Edward B. Butler; Irving Pond, architect; Nouart Seron as A Daughter of Armenia, in the Art Institute of Chicago; Professor Albert A. Michelson, Nobel prize recipient; E. G. Keith, in the Union League Club; ex-governors John P. Altgelt, in the Chicago Historical Society; Charles S. Deneen, and Frank O. Lowden in the State House, Springfield, Illinois; President James R. Angell of Yale University; and then Secretary of War Jacob M. Dickinson, in the War Department, Washington.

"I have looked upon the likeness," Clarkson once said, "as a combination of the outward appearance plus the feeling behind it as a fusion of the visual appearances with that indescribable something that makes personality".

Clarkson was the leading painter at the summer artistic community, Eagle's Nest Art Colony, which was established in Oregon, Illinois at the end of the 19th century following the Colombian Exposition of 1893.  The Colony, a group of artists and writers, decided to remain in Chicago and continue to encourage each other's art, and the Colony was established on an Oregon, Illinois farm leased from a Chicago lawyer and arts patron.  The agreement was that the lease was in force until the last original member died, and Clarkson, dying in 1942, was the last remaining member.


Sources include:
www.niu.edu/taft/eagles.htm
Betty Madden, The Eagle's Nest Art Colony Collection
Peter Hastings Falk, Editor, Who Was Who in American Art

* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see AskART.com Glossary http://www.askart.com/AskART/lists/Art_Definition.aspx

This biography from the Archives of AskART:

RALPH ELMER CLARKSON
   
Ralph Clarkson (1861-1942), besides being the author of Chicago Painters, Past and Present (1921), was a regular contributor to the annuals of the Art Institute of Chicago (1894 to 1917).  His specialty was portraiture.  Clarkson studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, then at the Académie Julian in 1884 and 1885, exhibited News Arrives to the Village in the Paris Salon of 1887, then seems to have settled in Chicago in the late 1890s.  The Art Institute of Chicago has Portrait of Newton Henry Carpenter by Clarkson (ca. 1900).  Clarkson was active in many Chicago cultural institutions, including the Municipal Art League, the Chicago Society of Artists and the Cliff Dwellers, where he was elected first secretary in 1908.  Later, he was the group's president (1922-23).   The Union League Club in Chicago purchased Clarkson's Portrait of Abraham Lincoln in 1909 (they own four of his portraits in all).  In addition, Clarkson exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (1888, 1909-14) and at the Corcoran Gallery (1908-23).

Clarkson executed murals in the Fine Arts Building, where the Cliff Dwellers met.  He is responsible for several portraits of the Cliff Dwellers, including one of Hamlin Garland.  The group who met at Clarkson's studio for tea on Fridays following the afternoon concert in the Auditorium Theater, called themselves "The Little Room."  At the St. Louis Universal Exposition Clarkson exhibited Twilight Harmony.  His portrait Nouvart Dzeron, A Daughter of Armenia (Art Institute of Chicago) of 1912, is a woman standing in profile against a neutral background, in traditional Armenian dress.  Barter and Springer (1977, p. 135) relate it to Manet's Velázquez-inspired portraits, while James Pattison (1905) wrote how Clarkson's portraits conveyed something of the eternal stillness of Japanese prints.  His Portrait of Elbridge G. Keith (1908; Union League Club, Chicago) appeared at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915.  It may seem surprising that the conservative Clarkson was one of the forces behind the Armory Show's Chicago run.

Sources:
Ralph Clarkson, "Chicago Artists: Past and Present." Art and Archaeology 12 (September-October 1921): 129-144; Pattison, James W. "Ralph Clarkson, Painter." The Sketch Book 5 (December 1905): 151-158; Smith, 1953, pp. 156-157, 207-209; Sparks, Esther. "A Biographical Dictionary of Chicago Artists 1808-1945." Diss., Northwestern University, 1971, pp. 333-334;  Barter, Judith A. and Lynn E. Springer. Currents of Expansion: Painting in the Midwest, 1820-1940. Exh. cat. St. Louis Art Museum, 1977, pp. 135, 165, 182.

Submitted by Michael Preston Worley, Ph.D.


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Ralph Clarkson is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exhibition 1915

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