Little Child (1888)
The son of a decorative artist of Danish descent, George Clausen was born in London on 18 April 1852. On leaving school, he worked for a firm of Chelsea decorators and took evening classes at the South Kensington Schools (1867-73), winning two of its Gold Medals for Design (1868, 1870).
As a result of a commission to decorate the house of the history painter Edwin Long, Clausen became employed as his researcher, and was given assistance in his own development as an artist. Taking Long's advice, Clausen visited Belgium and Holland (1875-76) and, influenced by the Hague School and French contemporaries, began to take an interest in plein-air painting. Failing to enter Gerome's atelier in Paris, he returned to London to set up a studio, and established himself as a painter in both watercolour and oils. In 1876, he was elected an Associate of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water-Colours (RI 1879) and began to exhibit at the Royal Academy.
In 1881, Clausen married and settled in Berkshire, painting extensively in the county. However, two years later he went to Paris to study under Bouguereau and Robert-Fleury at the Academie Julian. On his return, he became engaged in theoretical issues, and in 1888 alone, he published his article 'Bastien-Lepage and Modern Realism' and helped to found the New English Art Club.
Attracted to a range of modern painting, he tempered his monumental depictions of the field labourer, influenced by Millet, with his atmospheric use of pastel, inspired by Degas. However, he retained his association with more established institutions, and was elected an Associate of the Royal Society of Painters in Water-Colours (ARWS 1889; RWS 1898) and of the Royal Academy (ARA 1895; RA 1908). His first solo show was held in 1902 at the Goupil Gallery.
His appointment, in 1904, as Professor of Painting (and later Director) at the Royal Academy Schools gave Clausen the opportunity to urge the traditional study of the Old Masters in lectures which were published as Six Lectures on Painting (1904) and Aims and Ideals in Art (1906). His own work, exhibited in solo shows at the Leicester Galleries (1909 and 1912), demonstrated how tradition and innovation could complement each other, and it seemed no contradiction for an exponent of Impressionism to undertake public commissions. He was an original member of the Faculty of Painting for the British School in Rome (1912), an Official War Artist during the First World War, and later a mural decorator of, especially, St Stephen's Hall, Palace of Westminster (1927). The last of those projects led to his being knighted (1927) in a period in which he continued to be elected to exhibiting societies. He became an honorary member of the Royal Society of British Artists (1923) and the Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Water-Colours (1926). Retrospectives of his work were held in 1928 and 1933 at Barbizon House. In later years, he lived and worked in Essex but died in Cold Ash, near Newbury, in Berkshire on 23 November 1994.
Article By: Dave Roberts.
First Published: 2007.
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