Merton Clivette (1868-1931)

Merton Clivette (1868-1931) was highly regarded in his lifetime as a man of many talents with varied careers. He was an acrobat, juggler, astrologer, reporter, magician, and author until about 1910 when he devoted himself to painting. Settling in Greenwich Village in the first decade of the 20th century a few blocks from Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s first studio/museum, he was known as “The Man in Black,” a sobriquet from his vaudeville days. He left home at twelve to join a traveling circus, performing as an acrobat and magician. Eventually moving to San Francisco, and briefly Seattle, he worked as a quick sketch artist for newspapers including the San Francisco Call. In 1891 he changed his act for the vaudeville stage, and with his wife, Catherine Parker Chamberlin (Clivette), toured the United States and Europe on the Orpheum Circuit and with Buffalo Bill’s “Wild West Circus!”

An active participant in the New York art world, he was a member of the Society of Independent Artists and exhibited regularly. In 1923 he showed at the Ainslee Art Gallery at 677 Fifth Ave.; in 1925 he exhibited at the Spanish Society in Brooklyn; in 1927 he had a solo show at the New Gallery, 600 Madison Ave. and another one-man show in Paris at the Bernheim-Jeune Gallery, the gallery of Cezanne and Van Gogh (!) including 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. Finally, in 1930, the year before his death at age 63, he was included in the New York Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition “Painting and Sculpture by Living Americans.” Among the others at MOMA were Stuart Davis, Arthur Dove, William Glackens, Marsden Hartley, Childe Hassam, George Luks, 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. A critic at the New York Times wrote that “Clivette was the forerunner of Soutine.” A critic at the New York Times wrote that “Clivette was the forerunner of Soutine.” His paintings also presage the Abstract Expressionist movement of gestural painting that would blaze in Manhattan after WWII, and is particularly predictive of the paintings of the English master, Frank Auerbach.

Our exhibition from the Clivette estate is the first major show of this extraordinary artist’s work in nearly 100 years!

“The Great Clivette” a fictional autobiography by Michael MacBride, PhD, has just been published and is available for purchase: $40 hardcover, $20 paperback.

By Appointment
gallery@denenbergfinearts.com

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