Monday, November 27, 2017


Walter Appleton Clark was one of the most promising young talents in the illustration field in 1900.  He painted this beautiful and subtle watercolor at the age of 23.   

Note how he mastered the values in what might have been a muddy scene.  The light source creates a sharp contrast against that profile, and the structure of the whole picture flows from there.

Clark is judicious with his use of those orange highlights.
Clark reduces the contrast for the husband playing the fiddle in the shadows-- the husband is literally designed to be a second fiddle in this picture.  Yet he is painted with just as much structural integrity as if he were in the spotlight.

And I love Clark's soft, feathery treatment of his subject.

This painting won the Silver Medal at the World's Fair in Paris in 1900.

Clark never shrank from a challenge.  He would do it the hard way if it meant a more effective picture...

At the same time, he would take the simplest subjects (such as an old doorway or two people sitting across the table from each other) and find challenging angles or treatments that would make them complex and interesting:

A beautifully designed drawing of a door

Clark was prolific and hard working.  His career gained momentum just as the illustration market gained momentum:  printing quality was improving, full color was becoming reliable, and the market for quality illustration was exploding.  Conditions were ripe for Clark to make the most of his potential.

Then, as quickly as his career began, it was over.   Shortly after he turned 30, Clark caught typhoid fever and died.  He had spent his short time well, and left behind a small but beautiful legacy of work.

But who knows what he might have accomplished with another forty years to paint?

None of us has a guarantee that we will live long enough to realize our artistic ambitions. We should remember the lesson of Walter Appleton Clark  as we evaluate each day's work. 


chris bennett said...

Thank you David for a great post introducing this wonderful artist. I did not know of him and there is beautiful work here.
A few thoughts occurring to me from the philosophy of your post:
A question I often give to younger artists seeking guidance is 'assuming you were on a paradise island and your food and shelter were sorted, would you be painting the pictures you are currently painting?' In other words; the making must be its own reward, your work must be spiritually self-sustaining. And then it has the chance of sustaining somebody else.
Work that is made in order to solicit attention can never be more than personal vanity. And even a lifetime spent to this end will not deepen the display.
But just one work heartfelt and successfully carried to its spiritual potential is, as often as not, deep as a lifetime.

chris bennett said...

I do of course understand that these works were commissioned. But I think the principle we're talking about still holds; whether the commission is from oneself or from another, once undertaken we give to it the very best that is in us.

zoe said...

Memento mori.

Paul Sullivan said...

David—Thank you for focusing on an excellent artist. I was not familiar with his work.

Also, thank you for your sobering reminder:
"None of us has a guarantee that we will live long enough to realize our artistic ambitions. We should remember the lesson of Walter Appleton Clark as we evaluate each day's work.”

This has to be meaningful to all of us—from old guys like myself to the youngest among us.

Tom said...

Beautiful tonal work. Thanks for the post David.

The paint handling and the limited palette remains me of the work of Eugène Carrière.

Li-An said...

Beautiful work.

Jesse Hamm said...

Stunning. Great stuff.

Aleš said...

Lovely paintings. Thanks.

David Apatoff said...

Chris Bennett-- Thanks, a potent reminder of the dilemma facing all artists. I agree with you completely about "Work that is made in order to solicit attention." Similarly, work that is done purely for pay quickly turns lifeless. Yet, on the other hand, art that is done solely for the artist also goes astray, often becoming self-indulgent. There's a lot of "heartfelt" art that is simply awful because the artist lacks what Hemingway called a "built in bullshit detector" and needed a good editor.

Robert Frost said you have to have both, you have to unite your vocation with your avocation "as two eyes make one in sight." There doesn't seem to be any guarantee at either end of the spectrum. As you noted, artists just have to give it their best, without the help of any formula.

Zoe-- Indeed.

Tom-- I was not familiar with Eugène Carrière. Thanks for a fair exchange, that's what this is all about.

David Apatoff said...

Li-Ann, Jesse Hamm, Aleš -- Thanks for writing, I'm glad you respond to Clark's work the same way that I do.

chris bennett said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
chris bennett said...


Yes indeed, absolutely. If sincerity and heartfelt passion were all it took then every love letter ever written would be a work of art. Nearly all of them, my own included, are unreadable without the alizarin-tinted spectacles of personal passion.
While I would agree that formulas are a no-no regarding the production of meaningful work, I believe that having the "built in bullshit detector" in one hand and a strain-tested manual of universal principles in the other is the most reliable way to guide our aesthetic instincts to their physical realisation.