DescriptionThe Hon. Paul H. Buchanan, Jr. Collection
GEORGE HENRY CLEMENTS (American, 1854-1935)
The Water Girl, 1885
Oil on canvas
12-3/4 x 11 inches (32.4 x 27.9 cm)
Signed and dated upper left: Geo. H. Clements - / - 1885 -
with Gerald Peters Gallery, New York (label verso).
George Henry Clements was a talented California-born portrait painter and watercolorist who grew up in Louisiana. Consequently both California and Louisiana claim the artist, who was known as "Henry," as their own.
Clements' life had a mystique based on family tragedy. Born in Sacramento, he was only three or four when his doctor father was killed on a grizzly-bear hunt. Henry's mother Louisa Toledano Clements moved back to her native New Orleans with her four young sons to live with the French-Creole Toledano family.
Henry's talent manifested itself early. He made a name for himself as a portrait painter in the early 1870s in Opelousas, New Orleans, and Oberlin, Louisiana before moving to New York around 1880. He studied art there and in Paris, and traveled extensively throughout Europe. The Water Girl of 1885 dates from this itinerant phase of Clements' career. The fresh, high-keyed but nonetheless delicate palette has strong affinities with Clements' better-known work in watercolor, and also shows his awareness of the new Impressionist style while maintaining a more traditional technique of paint application. The expressive face and posture of the young woman transforms what would have otherwise been an Italian genre scene into something very close to portraiture. Clements captured just enough specificity to nearly merge the two genres into one. It was this particular quality which attracted the eye of Paul Buchanan.
After marrying the wealthy and glamorous Bostonian, Carrie Dixwell, in 1888, Clements divided his time between New York and Paris, where owing to his fluency in French he felt completely at home. For a period he and his wife also lived in Boston, where he taught painting at the Boston Museum School. Clements was member of the New York and Boston Water Color Clubs, the Boston Society of Water Color Painters, and during the 1920s was active in the Santa Barbara Art Association. He exhibited at the National Academy of Design, Art Institute of Chicago, the Salmagundi Club, and Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. In 1925, he exhibited a portrait of the Cincinnati painter and teacher, Frank Duveneck at the Cincinnati Art Museum.
A great nephew of the artist, Bruce Edwards, recently reminisced that his Uncle Henry had been a rather forbidding figure when he knew him in the early 1930s (see Ruth Laney, "All in the Family," Country Roads Magazine, August 2007, online). "He was an old man with a big white beard, slightly authoritarian" and "a little on the stern side." When he'd visit Louisiana, Clements always insisted on driving, even though he was a menace behind the wheel, and terrified pedestrians who weren't used to seeing many cars. "He talked the whole time and wouldn't look where he was going." Edwards recalls, however, that his Uncle Henry also had a more playful side. "He was never without a piece of wood and his knife, whittling things," such as tiny boats, spoons, brooms, and rakes. He also made beautiful kites of cedar strips and tissue paper and performed wonderful tricks with a yo-yo, something his nephew had never seen before.
Original canvas and original stretcher with keys. Paint surface intact. In the young woman's hair there is evidence of old varnish underneath the fresh coat of varnish. Visible under UV examination are scattered, pinpoint inpaints largely confined to the upper-right corner in the sky and along the top of the picture where the painting was slightly abraded through contact with the frame.
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