American Impressionist artist Alson Skinner Clark (1876-1949) was born in Chicago, Illinois. His father had a prosperous commodities business that provided the Clark family an affluent style of living. Alson Clark showed art talent at a young age and took evening classes at the Art Institute of Chicago. The Clark family went on a world wide trip lasting two years that also exposed Alson Clark to European art and paintings.
When Alson Clark graduated from high school, he again enrolled at the Art Institute but left after only six months. He then went to New York in 1896 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-Air painting at Shinnecock.
In 1898, Alson Skinner Clark went to Paris where he was a student for several months at the Academie Carmen, whose director was James Abbott McNeill Whistler. Although James Whistler was a difficult and demanding teacher, Alson Clark respected him and stayed at the school until it closed. Alson Clark continually acknowledged Whistler’s influence on his Impressionist style.
Alson Clark returned to America in 1901 and married Atta Medora McMullin, whom he met when she modeled for him in New York. From 1902 to 1914, the Alson Clark family lived in Paris until the war broke out. It was during this time that he took up Plein-Air painting. The couple also spent time at Giverny in 1910, and Alson Skinner 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. Alson Clark exhibited paintings at the National Academy of Design, Pennsylvania Academy, Paris Salon and the Art Institute of Chicago. The paintings Alson Skinner Clark exhibited included many landscapes, cityscapes, interiors, and figure studies especially of his wife, who continued to serve as his model.
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. Alson Clark made connections that allowed him nearly open access to the construction site, labor trains and workers. He created numerous paintings in the brutal heat to capture on canvas the final construction phase of the Canal and its railroad. By June of that year he had many paintings completed and 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 Alson Clark a room for solo exhibition of eighteen paintings. This put Clark in the rank of only a few other American artists: Frank Duveneck, James Whistler, William Merritt Chase, Childe Hassam and John Singer Sargent. The display of his Panama Canal paintings earned Alson Skinner Clark a Bronze Medal at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915. Some of the paintings were very large and had been hand-carried out of Europe because of being stranded at the outbreak of World War I.
In 1919, the Clarks went to California for the first time and settled in Pasadena. During this time Alson Clark renewed his friendship with Guy Rose. He was very active with his painting and his favorite subjects were the Mission San Gabriel and Mission San Juan Capistrano, and he traveled the desert and mountain landscapes in California and the Southwest. In Mexico, he was especially taken with Cuernavaca and Taxco, doing scenes of the big Taxco Cathedral.
Alson Skinner Clark joined Guy Rose as a teacher at Rose’s newly formed Stickney Memorial School of Art, and in 1921, when Guy Rose had a stroke, Clark became Director of the School. That same year Alson Clark had his first California solo exhibition, which was hosted by Earl Stendahl who was regarded as the most prominent painting dealer in southern California.
In March of 1949, Alson Skinner Clark suffered a paralyzing stroke and died one week later.