The photo below shows a wall of “Village Vamp” oil paintings, all 15 x 15 inches, hung salon-style in Clivette’s studio and published in a newspaper in 192. Among the sitters is Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, his friend and neighbor, founder of the Whitney Museum, New York (3rd row from the top, third image from the left.)
Merton Clivette (1868-1931) was highly regarded in his lifetime, a man of many talents with a varied career as an acrobat, palmist, juggler, astrologer, reporter, and author before devoting himself to art from 1910-1930. He settled in Greenwich Village in the first decade of the 20th century at 1 Sheridan Square, a few blocks from Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s first studio/museum., and was well known as “The Man in Black,” a sobriquet from his vaudeville days. A critic at the New York Times wrote that “Clivette was the forerunner of Soutine.” He also presages the Abstract Expressionist movement of gestural painting that would not blaze in Manhattan until after WWII, and is eerily predictive of the paintings of the English master, Frank Auerbach.
Merton Clivette left home at twelve to join a traveling circus, performing as an acrobat and magician, eventually moving to San Francisco, and briefly Seattle where he worked for newspapers, including the San Francisco Call, as a quick sketch artist. In 1891 he changed his act for the vaudeville stage, and with his wife, Catherine Parker Chamberlin (Clivette), he toured the United States and Europe on the Orpheum Circuit and Buffalo Bill’s “Wild West Circus!”
He was an active participant in the New York art world: he was a member of the Society of Independent Artists; in n 1923 he showed at the Ainslee Art Gallery at 677 Fifth Ave.,; in 1925 he exhibited at the Spanish Society in Brooklyn; and in 1927 he had a solo show at the New Gallery, 600 Madison Ave. That same year there was a solo show of his work in Paris at the Bernheim-Jeune Gallery! This included a catalogue. In 1929 he exhibited at the Art Center of the Roerich Museum in a group show of work from the collection of George Hellman. And finally, in 1930, the year before his death at 63, he was included in a show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, “Painting and Sculpture by Living Americans” which included Stuart Davis, Arthur Dove, William Glackens, Marsden Hartley, Childe Hassam, George Luks and Mark Tobey, Gaston Lachaise and William Zorach! Clivette knew the work of these artists and was personal friends with many, including Louis Elshimius, the Leyendecker brothers and Carl Sprinchorn.
“The Great Clivette” a fictional autobiography by Michael MacBride, PhD, has just been published and is available for purchase.