Click on photos to enlarge.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Thomas Hart Benton's Home

Just the way he left it when he died in 1975
(except for the sign in the front yard).
The street address, 3616 Belleview Avenue, in Kansas City, Missouri, might easily be mistaken for any upper-middle-class home in the city. The house is approximately 7800 square feet on three floors, containing 24 rooms, four fireplaces and a fully finished basement. The Benton family purchased the one-third acre property in 1939 for six-thousand dollars. Today the historic site is owned and managed by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. Tours are provided that show the furnished house and studio as Benton left it when he died on January 19, 1975. (His wife, Rita, died eleven weeks later.)

Though slightly dated after some forty years, the Benton house kitchen
still appears modern and quite functional. (The photographic distortion is due to my having stitched together two somewhat incompatible images.)
As with Georgia O'Keeffe, Jackson Pollock, and several other 20th-century artists, we tend to think of them in terms of the distant past, born in the 19th-century and therefore living in a manner quite antique by today's standards. True, there's no fifty-inch TV hanging on their wall in their living room, and no attached garage with an electric door opener, no Jacuzzi in the master bath, nor an iphone next to the easel. But neither do we find an icebox in the kitchen, a coal stove in the living room, or a dozen candles burning in the dining room chandelier. Let's face it, any famous artist from the recent past, living and working in America during the 20th century, even by today's standards, would likely be considered wealthy, living a comfortable, if not lavish, lifestyle in accordance with the so-called "American dream." That would pretty accurately describe the American painting icon Thomas Hart Benton and his Kansas City home of forty years.

Self-portraits, 1970 and with his wife, 1922.
Finding the home of Thomas Hart Benton in Kansas City (Missouri, not Kansas) is far from easy. There are no billboards and the house is located in a residential area so restrictive zoning applies. Similarly, there are few maps featuring the historic site. Some city promotional materials don't even take note of its presence or location. I had to make up my own map (below).

The location indicated is, at best, approximate.
Finding the place is made all the more difficult in that, architecturally, the house is in no way exceptional. And, while not unattractive, with its stone and frame exterior, neither would it elicit even a passing glance as one drives by along Belleview Avenue. Built in 1903 for an electric utility executive, and sitting atop a small hill, the house has a somewhat fortress-like ambience little changed by the Benton family during their time in residence. Given the fact that the artist and his family first moved there during the war years of the 1940s, even today, in it's 1970s incarnation, there is still a restrained, conservative element in the décor. Although Benton, his wife, and children (a son and a daughter) endured difficult times during the depression when the American Regionalist painter was still struggling to make a name for himself, by the time they moved to Kansas City they could be said to have been reasonably well-off. Their home reflects this.
 
Inside, the word "comfortable" comes to mind.
(Ignore the tourist-gray floor protectors.)
As usual, when one sees an artists' abode, it's only when upon entering that artist's custom crafted, personal workspace that the ordinary becomes extraordinary. The studio of Thomas Hart Benton is no exception. First of all it's large. Benton worked large, his mural-like canvases often measuring in feet rather than inches. Add to that his penchant for history painting and live models, the result is barnlike, light and airy, but not inviting. Here we do find an antique coal stove. With their often high ceilings and huge, north-facing windows, artists' studios are notoriously hard to heat. And as unpleasant as such a drafty environment may have been for the artist, consider the plight of Benton's often nude models. Benton is said to have commented: "Development of my art skills stopped in the second grade when a teacher couldn’t recognize a watermelon in my drawing. However, I would have definitely applied more effort if I knew that a career in art allows for unlimited hours alone with nude women, who will not complain if their features will not look so flattering on the painting. It’s art, you know."


A reflection of the man and the artist, probably in a
much neater, more organized state than when he was alive.

Thomas Hart Benton in his studio, painting one of his most famous works, The Rape of Persephone, done about the time he moved into his new home. Dating from the late 1930s, Benton's allegorical nude was considered scandalous by the Kansas City Art Institute. However, it was borrowed by the showman, Billy Rose, who hung it in his New York City nightclub, the Diamond Horseshoe. It is now owned by the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. Karal Ann Marling, the museum's art historian, calls it, "...one of the great works of American pornography."













































 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Raphaël Collin

Morning, 1884, Louis Joseph Raphael Collin, one of
the few works in which his model was not nude.
Sometimes artists have the misfortune of being born at the wrong time. Most often this involves a period some twenty to forty years before a major war in which they find themselves either as combatants or victims, and in either case prone to dying young. However, there are wars and then there are "wars." Perhaps we use the word in a figurative sense too frequently and too lightly. Whatever the case, whether the conflict is military or philosophical, artists have and do get caught up in the resulting disturbances. The French painter, Louis-Joseph-Raphael Collin was one such artist. He was born in 1850, which would make him of military age during the Franco-Prussian war and the five-month siege of Paris in 1870-71. However, that was such a stupid, pretentious, little dustup as to be easily avoidable by any artist with half a mind to do so.
 
Collin struggled to adapt as Academicism fell into
disfavor during the later years of his career.
Portrait of Paul Victor
Grandhomme,
1880s, Raphaël Collin
No, the "war" Raphael Collin found himself in the midst of had to do with art, and particularly the conflict between French Academic art and the various avant-garde movements developing during the final decades of the 19th-century. Collin studied first at the school of Saint-Louis, then moved on to Verdun. From there he journeyed to Paris about 1867 where he studied in the atelier of Bouguereau and later that of Alexandre Cabanel. Collin painted still-lives, nudes, portraits, and genre pieces; thus he became thoroughly indoctrinated with Academic values, content, and painting styles. During his early years as a painter, Collin found himself on the "right" side of this art conflict--the winning side--as he developed a modest following and a comfortable lifestyle. However, he was also bright enough to realize that what and how he painted was gradually falling out of favor, seen as old-fashioned, trite, and tiresome.
 
Summer, 1884, Raphael Collin.
The postcard version is in black and white.
It began with Impressionism. Collin adopted some of the major color tenets into his work as his palette lightened and brightened. His style, and more importantly, his academic infatuation with the female nude however, did not change. His tastefully chaste paintings of lovely naked ladies, long the staple of the Paris salons, became the subject matter for the infamous "French postcards"--in no way obscene--but certainly salacious by 19th-century standards. They appeared especially erotic printed in monochromatic hues and passed around between "gentlemen" of all ages like baseball trading cards. In due time, Collin found himself illustrating erotic works, such as Maurice Ravel's "symphonie ballet," Daphnis and Chloe around 1890 (bottom), and later the lesbian poetry of Pierre Louÿs' Chansons de Bilitis (1906).
 
This painting has been known by two titles.
The postcard title, Florial, is probably the one preferred.
Collin figured prominently in artistic exchanges between Paris and Tokyo during the late 19th-century as Kuroda Seiki, Kume Keiichirō, Okada Saburōsuke, and others, studied in his studio and at the Académie Colarossi where Collin was associated. Kuroda and Kume, who subsequently assumed professorships at the Tokyo Fine Arts School, were especially instrumental in introducing to Japan Collin's academic teaching methods as well as the lighter palette, brushwork, and the plein air approach he espoused. This mentorship of the first generation of Japanese oil painters contributed to the special respect he continues to enjoy in Japan. Raphael Collins died in Paris in 1916 at the age of sixty-six.

The influence of Impressionism as well as the flowing
composition of Japanese painting can be seen above in
Collin's painting and preliminary drawing.


A Couple Embrace Tenderly Moments
after Making Love Together Forever,
an illustration from Daphnis and Chloe

Saturday, January 14, 2017

John Collier

Lady Godiva, 1898, John Collier
Many artists, now and in the past, go most of their lives utilizing a single style and very often a single area of content--some rigidly so, in fact. Personally, my style of painting has changed little over my career, though my content has always been quite broad. That's quite common among artists, in fact; either a single focus, or a broad interest in a variety of subjects. The British painter, John Maler Collier had two content specialties; and seldom has any artist ever had two that were more diverse than did Collier. Born in 1850, John Collier is most often classed as a Pre-Raphaelite. That pretty well covers how he painted--very typically quite slowly and with great precision. However Collier, unlike most of his brotherhood colleagues, had only two diametrically opposite content areas.
 
Thomas Henry Huxley, 1885. John Collier, his  father-in-law
Marian Collier,
1880, John Collier
First, he painted rather staid, stodgy portraits of virtually every wealthy, well-known, male personage of British society of his time. He began, around 1880, quite naturally, with his wife, Marian as a model (left, also a painter). This was followed by a portrait of his father-in-law, Thomas Henry Huxley, dating from 1885 (above).

Rudyard Kipling,
1891, John Collier
Collier's portrait of the writer, Rudyard Kipling (right) is typical of his "bread and butter" male portraits. In fact, such portraits were pretty much typical of what most London portrait painters were doing at the time. In that sense, Collier's portrait work, while quite adept, was in no way exceptional. At the same time, interspersed with his portraits, were a few history and mythology paintings such as The Last Voyage of Henry Hudson (below), dating 1881. Such works could, in general, be considered to be well above the norm. but fall quite neatly into the usual style and content areas of the Pre-Raphaelites.

The Last Voyage of Henry Hudson, 1881, John Collier
John Collier studied at The Academy of Fine Arts in Munich and at London's Slade School under Edward Poynter. Besides portraits, Collier also painted a number of imaginative paintings--scenes of mythology and legend. Presently John Collier is less well known as an artist than as a writer. His current fame rests largely on his two books, The Art of Portrait Painting and A Manual of Oil Painting. The importance of these books (especially the latter one) cannot be overstated. In this book, Collier lays out a method of painting followed by many of his contemporaries, such as the Pre-Raphaelite, John Everett Millais. He called this approach, "Sight-size." This painting method involves putting the canvas side by side with the subject, and walking backwards and forwards between each touch. This is particularly well adapted for students in that it allows direct comparison between the picture and the subject. Every touch that is given by this method has to be applied by memory, and not by direct observation, since the painter can only see his subject properly while away from the canvas. The artist then returns to the canvas, applies a stroke or two, then backs off again to see if it's right. This method is much less tedious than it seems; and is capable of giving good results...or at least providing the artist plenty of physical exercise.

After the death of his first wife, Marian, in 1887, Collier
married her younger sister, Ethel, in 1889.

Pharaohs Handmaidens,
John Collier
Far more than most of his Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood colleagues, we also see another side to this typical, Victorian-era, portrait artist, as exemplified in his gaudy version of the legendary Lady Godiva (top), painted around 1898. Though fairly demure by today's standards, by 19th-century standards, Collier's rebellious young lady is about as subtle as a bulldozer in a flowerbed. Though the subject matter was hardly new, Collier's lavishly colored handling of it no doubt raised more than a few eyebrows. Of course, the British art world was, at the time, completely dominated by male tastes. Thus the painting also likely elicited discreet smiles of approval as well. Moreover, as seen in a surprising number of Collier's other nude and semi-nude beauties, such as his Maenads (below), from 1886, and his Pharaohs Handmaidens (right), one has to wonder if maybe the portraits were merely a respectable sideline to his true interests in the painter's art.


Maenads, 1886, John Collier





























































 

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Pissarro Museum, St. Thomas, USVI.

Copyright, Jim Lane
My sister and I were left standing out on the sidewalk.
The museum shares its location with a hair salon and
an accounting service (which were also closed).
When my sister talked us into accompanying her and her husband on a Christmas cruise to the Eastern Caribbean this year (it was a very brief conversation), one of the stops was St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI). There I had hoped to visit the birthplace and childhood home of the French impressionist painter, Camille Pissarro (now turned into a museum). Yesterday (in the item just below) I told of our encounter with the ghost of Blackbeard, the pirate, and the bronze pirate sculptures of Richard Hallier. Today, let me continue with the rest of the story. Just down over a steep hill from the Hallier gallery is Pissarro's namesake museum. It's located on a thoroughfare they call "Main" Street (it's actually not the main street of the town). The town is called Charlotte Amalie, which is the main city on the main island of St. Thomas (people sometimes confuse the two).
 
The Pissarro Museum. It's not hard to find, merely
hard to get into.
The weather was warm and sunny. It was the day after Christmas. We weren't uncomfortable, but I would have hated to visit the place in mid-summer. After making a few local inquiries, we were directed to 14 Main Street (top) where the Pissarro family dry-goods store had been located in the mid 1800s. I was a little dismayed to find that, after our search, it was somewhat less than I'd expected. Moreover, I was really disappointed to find the place was closed. Their website notes that they're open seven days a week. Perhaps they were closed it being the day after Christmas. The photos which follow were "borrowed" from a visitor somewhat luckier than we. Perhaps we didn't miss much. The photos and the video (bottom) would suggest that the establishment is something of a souvenir shop with a museum attached.

The second floor location of the museum, where the
Pissarro family once literally lived "over the store."
Camille Pissarro, was born on the island of St. Thomas in 1830. At the time the islands were ruled by Denmark (don't ask, why Denmark? It's a long story). The building at 14 Main Street, once housed the family's dry-goods business. They lived in the flat upstairs. Several of Pissarro's Caribbean inspired works are on display at the gallery (no originals, however), along with works from about two dozen other (local) artists including Jenine Wesselman, Sylvia Kahn, Lee Coplea, and Jan Dunn. These contemporary works in oil, watercolor, gauche, rock, sculpture, and print, are available for sale (which says a great deal about the nature of the "museum." Pissarro lived in St. Thomas until age 12, when he went to a boarding school in Paris.
 
What we didn't see when we visited the Pissarro Museum.
Camille Pissarro, self-portrait,
1852, about as he appeared
when he depart for Paris.
Pissarro returned to St. Thomas around 1850. He joined the family business and painted in his free time. Pissarro was attracted to political anarchy, a trait which may have originated during his years on St. Thomas. In 1852, he traveled to Venezuela with the Danish artist, Fritz Melbye. Upon returning in 1855, Pissarro decided to forsake the dry-goods business in favor of be-coming an artist. Most of his St. Thomas paintings (below) are dated 1856. That was also the year he hop-ped a ship off the island and headed back to Paris. There he studied at various academic institutions including the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and the Academie Suisse under a succession of masters. These included such nota-bles as Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Gustave Courbet, and Charles-Fran-cois Daubigny. Corot is considered Pis-sarro's most important influence.

All works are by Pissarro and date from 1856, the year
he left St. Thomas to study art in Paris. (He never returned.)
Mountain Landscape at Saint Thomas, Antilles
(unfinished), 1856, Camille Pissarro, his final
St. Thomas painting.



















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Thursday, January 12, 2017

Richard Hallier

Blackbeard the Pirate by the North Carolina sculptor, Richard
Hallier, cast in bronze, reportedly about life-size (questionable).
His "castle" can be seen in the background.
On our recent cruise to the Eastern Caribbean, my wife and brother-in-law decided not to get off the ship at St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. So, my sister and I, both of us history buffs, decided to imbibe a little local folklore by pursuing the legend of a pirate named Edward Teach, better known as the infamous "Blackbeard." The operative word in this tale is "legend." It's not as if Edward Teach was not a real, historic figure and notorious pirate. He was indeed, and quite legendary as well. The problem is, he seems never to have never once set foot on the island of St. Thomas; meaning by implication, of course, that he never once spent a single night in their famous "Blackbeard's Castle." In fact, his so-called castle was built by the Danes (who ruled the island at the time) in 1679 as a mere stone watchtower overlooking the sea-level Fort Christian, which guarded the Charlotte Amalie harbor. Moreover, the cylindrical stone tower was erected a full year before Blackbeard was even born. Thus we fell into a tourist trap having as its only redeeming trait the dramatic performance of a delightful Blackbeard impersonator with a (more or less) historic tale to tell, embellished by highly amusing anecdotes. It turns out, Blackbeard had far more to do with Virginia and North Carolina than St. Thomas.

Copyright, Jim Lane
And out in back of the castle, a swimming pool, where
Blackbeard presumably passed the time when not
playing "Pirates of the Caribbean."
The bronze statue of Blackbeard (top) was created several hundred years after Blackbeard terrorized the English colonists of the American east coast by a sculptor (also from North Carolina) named Richard Hallier. I didn't measure it, but the dramatic bronze personage appeared to be around ten to twelve feet tall, though the human version of Blackbeard suggested it was life-sized. If so, he was woefully inadequate for his dramatic role. History suggests that Blackbeard was, indeed of exceptional stature; but though he may have been BIG, he wasn't that big. I didn't look inside Blackbeard's so-called "castle." Danish watchtowers have never been very high on my "must-see" list.

Copyright, Jim Lane
Three Queens, Richard Hallier, commemorating three powerful
women who led an 1878 slave revolt against the Danes.
Had this little sojourn ended there, I would have been somewhat incensed at the locals for perpetrating such a hoax and at myself for having fallen for it. However, just a few dozen stone steps down over the hill from this fake pirate abode was yet another such pirate abiding place, this one much more interesting, free of charge, and more in keeping with my art interest. There, in an airy, modest-size museum, was a collection of a dozen or so bronze pirate images by the earlier Blackbeard's sculptural creator, Richard Hallier (below). These were, indeed, life-size, dramatically posed, some made even more lifelike through the use of chemical patinas designed to add a touch of color to their otherwise polished bronze tones. Just about every pirate of the Caribbean short of Jack Sparrow and Peter Pan's Captain Hook was portrayed in action, doing what they did best, fighting, drinking, carousing, or...well, pirating.

The real "pirates of the Caribbean" safely cast
in bronze by North Carolina sculptor, Richard Hallier.
In retrospect, I feel somewhat remiss in not recognizing immediately the name, Richard Hallier, in that the scope and quality of this internationally known sculptor ranges far beyond giant pirates and life-size attempts to bring such colorful characters to life. Although painters have long been known to try capturing frozen action poses in their works, few sculptors have tried to do the same. Hallier not only tried but succeeded as his athletic figures seen below attest. Like his pirates, they seem to have a life of their own only barely contained by the bronze metal in which they are cast.

Volley Ball Dig, Richard Hallier
Born in 1944, and from Kansas City, Kansas, originally, Hallier began his art career as a U.S. Marine Corps Illustrator during the Vietnam War. After the war, he attended Kansas City, Junior College and the Ringling School of Art & Design in Sarasota, Florida. During the 1970s, Hallier founded his own business, the Carolina Sign Company with showrooms on Hilton Head Island, at Shipyard Plantation, Palmetto Dunes Resort, and Sea Pines, South Carolina. From 1984 through 1988 Hallier began sculpting. He produced his first life-size figurative bronze. In addition, he also fabricated hundreds of contemporary abstract stone sculptures and bronze abstract figurative pieces in limited editions. He exhibited regionally and nationally, his work included in many corporate collections and museums such as NCNB corporate collections, Wachovia Bank, R.J. Reynolds, Northern Telecom, the Hickory North Carolina Museum of Art, and many others.

Olympic Headquarters, Colorado Springs, Colorado, Richard Hallier

Richard Wayne Hallier, 2006
During the 1990s, Hallier Produced over 70 life-size fig-urative bronzes. He was one of the top three artists at New York Art Expo, as well as con-tributing to the North Carolina Arts Journal cover feature on Martin Luther King, Jr. Memor-ial Commission. He also pro-duced the World's largest figurative silver casting. Dur-ing the years 2000-2006 Hallier worked on commis-sions for private investors and monuments including the pir-ate figures my sister and I encountered on St. Thomas. Richard Wayne Hallier spent the last three years of his life sailing the Caribbean with his wife. He died from pulmonary fibrosis on April 17th, 2010, in Punta Gorda, Florida, at the age of 65.

Girl with Shell, Richard Hallier











































Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Joaquín Clausell

Ixtacalco, Joaquin Clausell
Americans have long had a national, no-nonsense, love affair with Realism or what most art people would call naturalism. It's a mile wide and dozens of feet deep dating back at least a couple hundred years. It has become so much a part of "who we are" as an art-appreciating nation we take it for granted, seldom giving it a second though. However, as I mentioned yesterday (the item below) we have also fallen in love with Impressionism, though our attachment for this French delicacy is neither as deep nor wide in our national psyche as Realism. Impressionism is, after all, something of a "foreign influence" which we have a natural tendency to approach cautiously. Like French fries or French pastries, we've given Impressionism our own cultural twist in a sort of Franco-American manner the French would find either mildly amusing or not-so-mildly derogatory.
 
Laguna Azteca, Joaquin Clausell
We Americans also tend to think that we were the sole beneficiary of this painting gift in much the same manner as the French bestowed upon us Bartholdi's Liberty Enlightening the World (the Statue of Liberty). As tempting as this analogy might seem at first glance, it's not valid. French Impression didn't simply sail across the Atlantic and take up residence, immigrating to the United States alone. Instead, it radiated from its birthplace into virtually every dark, geographic corner of 19th-century art, (if we must use the earlier analogy), "enlightening the world" with its stunning brilliance and beauty. As Paris-trained painters returned to their homelands during the final decades of the 19th-century, they took with them the Impressionist tonal pallete, if not always the more complex technical attributes of the style. However, in the case of Mexico, a young, largely self-taught, painter named Joaquin Clausell did both. He was the conduit through which his country first discovered and came to love Impressionism.
 
Had Clausell chosen the life of a painter over one predominantly involved in political activism, he might well be considered Mexico's greatest artist. In his own time however, he was little known for his art, but quite well-known by Mexican governmental authorities as a major "pain in the ass."
Today, Joaquin Clausell is best known for his painting, although he was also an orator, journalist, politician, and lawyer. I referred to him earlier as also a "conduit." In this case, that term is very much an apt analogy. Even though he spent some time in Paris where he was influenced by the impressionists, particularly Camille Pissarro, there's no indication at all of his having studied art there, painting there, or even having actually met his painting idol. In large part he escaped to Paris in order to remain a free man, having been jailed in his homeland on numerous occasions for his radical, anti-government views and activities. It was only in returning to Mexico around 1899 at the age of thirty-five, that Clausell first picked up a brush and began to paint. In the years that followed, the man had two painting careers, the first from around 1903 to about 1910, the second, a decade later, from around 1920 until his death in 1935. Between those two periods, the Mexican Revolution intervened.
 
Landscape with Hut, Joaquin Clausell
Despite Clausell's impact upon Mexican art in the form of his impressionist works, his surviving paintings themselves, some four-hundred of them, appear surprisingly unexceptional, even given the fact that around a hundred are quite large in size. Clausell painted mostly on canvas but when circumstances prevented him from doing so, he was not above rendering works on wood and even cardboard. With few exceptions he painted landscapes, and seascapes. Almost never were there human figures or even much indication of any human presences. Landscape with Hut (above) is a modest exception. The style and palette are impressionist. The content is purely Mexican.
 
Clausell Study, Pino Suarez, Mexico 
The single exception to his penchant for remote coastal landscapes can be found in what some have called his "Sistine Chapel" of Impressionism--the barren walls of his rooftop studio in Pino Suarez, Mexico (above), which exhibit more experimentation and a wider variety of themes. These images depict members of his family, other artists, religious icons, nudes, and animals. There are elements related to Symbolism, showing the influence of artists from Paul Gauguin to Paul Sérusier. Female figures were sometimes portrayed in a negative light. These works have received less attention from both the public and critics, mostly because of their relative inaccessibility and (until recently) their poor condition. Clausell did not sign his paintings and rarely dated them, making cataloging and a chronology very difficult. Moreover, he did not consider himself a professional painter and was something of a recluse, not selling or promoting his work. In fact, he was often known to give away his paintings.
 
Self-portrait (the painter), 1910, Joaquin Clausell
With few exceptions, Clausell did not associate with contemporary Mexican artists. Instead he served as an art teacher at the “escuelas de aire libre” (free and open art classes given in parks and other public spaces) though he became a director of the art school in Iztacalco in 1930. It has only been in recent years that Clausell has been recognized as Mexico's most prominent Impressionist. Even though he existed on the fringes of the Mexican art scene during his lifetime, his work was noticed and praised by a number of well-known contemporaries. In an exhibition in 1921, his paintings caught the attention of the Mexican muralist, Diego Rivera, who had just returned from Europe. Rivera later visited Clausell in his studio and proclaimed him to be the best of Mexico’s landscape artists as well as a “painter-poet” who expressed the natural beauty of the country. Clausell died in 1935 while on an outing with friends at the Lagos de Zempoala area south of Mexico City. He was walking on a hill near the lake when the ground gave way under his feet causing him to fall down an embankment. The resulting landslide covered and suffocated him.



































































 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Alson Clark

San Juan Capistrano, Mission cloisters, 1921, Alson Clark.
Today we tend to think in terms of an International Art World in which a few, longstanding, urban centers are dominated by a few longstanding art presences. New York City, Paris, London, Venice, and, arbitrarily, two or three more, tend to rule. They set trends, generate controversy, make headlines, foster careers, spark outrage, attract creative genius, and eye-popping lines of credit at a Sotheby's and Christie's. There's really not all that much new in all of this, only a shifting in focus. Before the 20th-century the so-called "international art world," being smaller, was much more sharply focused, primarily on Paris, London, and Amsterdam. Simply put, that's where the money was, and artists tend to congregate anywhere there's a vibrant art market. Of course, after WW II, all three of these urban centers (not to mention much of the rest of Europe) were in shambles. That left only New York City and later (to a lesser degree), Los Angeles.

Mission San Gabriel, Alson Clark, one of his favorite subjects.
In effect, the war turned the international art market upside-down. Whereas, around the turn of the century, the U.S. had long been seen by Europeans as something of a "stick-in-the-mud," backwater, art market; from the 1930s on, a flood of European artists and creative energy hit New York like a tsunami. Art that had been seen as an all-but-obscene outrage at New York's 1913 Armory Show, a generation later was suddenly winning cutting edge acceptance in chic SoHo galleries. There was no better example of this early 20th-century American reluctance to embrace Modern Art than in the case of French Impressionism. What Claude Monet and others painted in the 1860s took some thirty or forty years to gain wide economic acceptance in the U.S. where wealthy collectors were still enamored with Renaissance and Baroque art.

The Artist's Cottage, Alson Clark

Then Americans fell in love with Impressionism around 1900; about the time it was falling out of fashion in Paris. By that time, Monet was seen by American painters summering at Giverny as something of a demigod. Impressionism hit New York and the wealthy Northeast first, as seen in the work of Theodore Robinson, Childe Hassam, William Merritt Chase, Edmund Charles Tarbell and Frank Weston Benson. However, New York is a notoriously fickle art world constantly yearning for the "next big thing." Impressionism moved westward, under the guise of William Wendt, Granville Redmond, Arthur Cane, Joseph Kleitsch, Armin Hansen, Jean Mannheim, John Marshall Gamble, Franz Bischoff, William Ritschel, Hanson Puthuff, Marion Wachtel, Jack Wilkinson Smith, and Guy Rose (to name way too many). However, one might argue that the most outstanding of them all, was an artist friend of Guy Rose named Alson Clark.
 
Notice the strange vehicle (upper-right) turned into an easel.
Alson Skinner Clark was born in Chicago; his father a prosperous commodities trader who provided his family an affluent lifestyle. Young Alson displayed art talent at an early age. He started taking evening classes at the Art Institute of Chicago at the age of eleven. The Clark family went on a world-wide tour lasting two full years, which also exposed the boy to European art and paintings. Clark moved on to the Art Students League of New York, the Académie Julian in Paris and the atelier of William Merritt Chase. He spent much of his early career working in Paris, France. During WW I Clark served in the U.S. Army as an aerial photographer. In 1920 Clark and his wife relocated to Pasadena, California. There he taught fine art at Occidental College.

Canal construction--a nearly unprecedented close
look at the mightiest engineering feat of the 20th-century. 
In the spring of 1913 the building of the Panama Canal inspired the Clarks to go to the Canal Zone. There, construction was nearing completion. Alson Clark had "connections" and he knew how to use them. As a result, he gained near total access to the construction site, labor trains, and workers. He was able to create numerous paintings in the brutal heat as he tried to capture on canvas the final construction phase of the canal and its railroad (above). By June of that year he had many paintings completed. Clark contacted John Trask, who was the Director of the Fine Arts section of the forthcoming Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. The director was so impressed he provided Clark room for a solo exhibition of eighteen paintings. This put Clark in the ranks of only a very few other American artists: Frank Duveneck, James McNeill Whistler, William Merritt Chase, Childe Hassam, and John Singer Sargent.

Rooftops, Paris, Alson Clark, painted during one of the
artist's many trips to the continent.
In addition to landscape paintings, Alson Clark painted murals for the Carthay Circle Theatre in Los Angeles, and the fire curtain of the Pasadena Playhouse, depicting a Spanish galleon in full sail. A group of murals completed in 1929 can still be seen at the former 1st Trust & Savings Bank in Pasadena. The murals consist of four panels standing approximately ten feet in height, each depicting a major southern California industry: oil drilling, citrus farming, the movies, and shipping. Unfortunately, try as I did, I could not locate images for these or any of Clark's mural works, all of which have long since been moved or destroyed.

Medora with Mirror, Alson Clark