Summers of '96 - Shinnecock Revisited: The Inspiration of Kate Freeman Clark by William Merritt Chase

by Kathleen McClain Jenkins



Like Chase's works, Kate Freeman Clark's paintings reveal a manner derived more from the works of artists who were primarily figure painters -- such as Edouard Manet, John Singer Sargent, Edgar Degas, and Mary Cassatt -- than from French Impressionist landscapists such as Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro or Alfred Sisley. Clark's works maintained a solidity of form and fidelity to local color that often set American Impressionist painters apart from their French counterparts painting "en plein air." Unlike her French predecessors for whom the title "Impressionist" was created, she never painted out of allegiance to some technical manifesto of colors blending on the canvas rather than the palette, and she never forsook her subject matter to focus on shimmering qualities of light that dissolved form into mere abstractions of color.

The subject matter preserved in Clark's Shinnecock paintings from 1896 to 1902 is primarily that of the student's daily outdoor sketch. In accordance with the master's exacting standards for discipline and workmanship, she followed the Shinnecock routine of Monday morning critiques by Chase in the studio building, followed by demonstration painting on Tuesdays in the rolling dunes of Shinnecock. For the remainder of the week, students worked to create a painting a day, sometimes composed on a large canvas and sometimes quickly sketched on a cigar box lid. Although Clark created at least one landscape which included Chase's gambrel-roofed shingle house on Shinnecock, as both an unmarried woman without a home of her own and a student without her own studio, she could not produce anything like his extended series of family groupings set amid the gentle seaside views of Long Island or inside his large, rambling house and studio. Perpetually a pupil in the shadow of Chase, Clark never seemed to find a strong artistic vision of her own.

In some of her gentle, pastoral landscapes such as "Summer Afternoon" or "March Meadows," Clark came near her mentor's skill at subtle coloration and bold brushstrokes. Only in the faces of her large outdoor figure paintings like "Golden Locks," awash with brilliant, impressionistic sunlight, can the viewer discern a characteristically student reluctance to give up a careful delineation of features. This sometimes adds a note of strain to the light harmony of otherwise lyrically beautiful pictures. Kate Freeman Clark also followed Chase's example in using her family members as models for her intimately set figure pieces such as ''Afternoon Tea," and his Munich style shows through clearly in her calm studio portraits of fellow classmates and family members.

In a somewhat unexpected development for Southern women of her social standing, shortly after the turn of the century Kate Freeman Clark began submitting her paintings to professional exhibitions with her gender masked under the name of "Freeman" Clark. For nearly two decades she accumulated a fairly impressive exhibition record, with works accepted into some of the nation's most prestigious shows. They included exhibitions with the Boston Art Club, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Corcoran Gallery, the Carnegie Institute, the New York School of Art, the National Academy of Design, and the Society of American Artists. She also sent paintings to private galleries in Spokane, Washington, and New York City. Elite social mores may have forbidden Clark to sell her works, as proper ladies were not allowed to engage in trade, but she contacted at least one gallery in New York to make arrangements for the exhibition and potential sale of her paintings. In 1910 the Buffalo Fine Arts Museum invited Clark to include her canvas, "Entrance to the Orchard," in their annual show. She sent "Sunlight and Salvia" by invitation to the Texas State Fair, but graciously refused the ensuing four hundred dollar purchase prize. She likewise refused Booker T. Washington's request for her to donate a painting to his Tuskeegee Institute. However, she donated her "Summer Afternoon" to the newly founded Brooks Memorial Art Gallery in Memphis.


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