CLARK GREENWOOD VOORHEES (1871–1933) was a major American landscape painter in the Tonalist and Impressionist styles, and one of the founders of the Old Lyme Art Colony in Connecticut.
Voorhees was born in New York City to Charles Henry Voorhees and Marion Greenwood, both from prominent families of modest wealth. This advantage allowed him to pursue activities he might not have otherwise and probably influenced his decision to pursue a career in art. In addition to his passion for painting he had a lifelong interest in the natural sciences, which doubtlessly gave him a fuller appreciation of the landscapes of New England and island of Bermuda, locales to which he was inextricably tied. In addition, his perception of landscape was further informed by his enthusiasm for cycling. He cycled endlessly around the Northeast region, between Paris and its environs during his sojourns to France, and around Bermuda later in life on what he lovingly referred to as his ‘wheel’. This mode of transport provided both an immediate and intimate interaction with the land not found in other forms of long-distance travel, and presented him with infinite subtleties of landscape not available to other artists.
Voorhees earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Yale University in 1891 and a master’s degree, also in chemistry, from Columbia University in 1893. Shortly thereafter he undertook a bicycle trip from New York to Rhode Island, during which he visited Old Lyme for the first time. In January of the following year Voorhees began his formal training in art by enrolling part-time at the Art Students League in New York City. Over the next couple of years he was divided between pursuing a career in the scientific field for which he was trained or pursuing one in the arts, for which he was passionate. In the summer of 1895 he studied with the Long Island-based Impressionist Irving Ramsey Wiles (1861–1948), who brought Voorhees to the summer studio of William Merritt Chase (1849–1916) in Shinnecock, Long Island. Seeing the workspace of a leading American master inspired Voorhees and may have contributed to his later Impressionistic approach to coastal subjects. By 1896 Voorhees had abandoned a career in chemistry and began to work full-time as an artist. He trained with the Impressionist painter Leonard Ochtman in Connecticut and, the following year, at the Academie Julian in Paris. While in France he studied under Benjamin Constant and Jean-Paul Laurens. Frequent bicycle excursions into France and Holland enabled him to discover and study the natural world in a new, artistic capacity. He returned to the United States in the spring of 1898, staying for nearly a year before returning to Paris. There he completed his studies, returning again to America in 1900. In 1902, Voorhees purchased a home in the burgeoning artist colony of Old Lyme. He had visited this location throughout the 1890s, and was familiar with both the area and with Miss Florence Griswold, who opened her home as a boarding-house to many prominent American Impressionist painters such as Willard Metcalf (1858–1925), Henry Ward Ranger (1858–1916), and Childe Hassam (1859–1935). Their frequent visits and distinct styles proved to be especially influential to Voorhees. Indeed, the colony’s aesthetic shift from Tonalism to Impressionism is reflected in the development of Voorhees’ own career. By 1903, he began to incorporate a lighter palette and distinctly impressionistic brushstroke into his work to better capture the changing seasons of New England. The artist’s vibrant Impressionist paintings often depict the flourishing springtime gardens at his home in Old Lyme or the changing fall foliage of Connecticut.
Besides Connecticut, the rural countryside of Massachusetts, and Newport, Rhode Island, Voorhees had a particular affinity for the island of Bermuda, which he first visited in 1919 while on holiday with his family. He liked the island so much that he purchased a house there (“Tranquility” in Somerset) in 1920, and became a regular winter sojourner. He also built a studio near his house, where he finished the pictures begun during his bicycle-borne excursions around the island. As one of Bermuda’s leading artists, he was a founding member of the Calabash Club in Hamilton in 1923. His 1919 composition, Landscape by Moonlight, is one of his earliest Bermuda works, evoking the more rural Bermuda of yesteryear. He did a number of such atmospheric Tonalist scenes during his career, and liked to use the device of a row of trees leading diagonally backwards across a painting, which drew the viewer into an appealing and entirely believable world, something favored by those in officialdom who decided to use his paintings to promote Bermuda as a resort. Several of his paintings were purchased by the Trade Development Board for their use in magazine advertisements from 1922 onwards. One even graced the cover of the TDB’s Bermuda brochure of 1923 or 1924. The TDB also liked to have such paintings displayed at the international exhibitions that were so popular in those days. A total of twenty-seven of Voorhees’ Bermuda paintings decorated the Bermuda booth at the Canadian National Exhibition in 1922. Ten of his paintings were later hung in the Bermuda Pavilion at the British Empire Exhibition of 1924. Voorhees held a joint exhibition with Samuel Wakeman Andrews in Hamilton in 1925, and in 1927 he painted a series of Bermuda landscape panels for a mansion being built in the United States. His well-known work, Gulf Stream Beach, is almost certainly a Bermuda scene, and his Noonday Sun (ca. 1923) hangs in the Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art; the Bermuda National Gallery has another.
During his lifetime Voorhees’ work was shown in national exhibitions at the National Academy of Design, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Society of American Artists, the American Watercolor Society, and the St. Louis World’s Fair of 1904 (where he won a bronze medal). In 1905 he received one of the National Academy’s three Hallgarten Prizes, honoring the best three oil paintings executed in the United States by artists under the age of thirty-five.
Examples of his work hang in the collections of the Yale University Art Gallery, the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art (Hartford, Connecticut), the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Florence Griswold Museum, and the Lyme Historical Society.
In recent decades there have been numerous exhibitions of his work, including the Lyme Historical Society and Florence Griswold Museum’s Clark G. Voorhees, 1871–1933 (June 13–August 30, 1981) and Hawthorne Fine Art’s The Light Lies Softly: The Impressionist Art of Clark Greenwood Voorhees 1871–1933 (December 15, 2009–February 27, 2010).
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