The son of noted tonalist painter Walter Clark, Eliot Clark recalled his early years in his father's studio in the Holbein building in New York City: "As a child, I grew unconsciously in the association of artists, of studio talk, and the smell of paint and turpentine." Instructed at his father's easel, Clark exhibited two pieces at the New York Water Color Club when he was only nine years old. He later pursued formal, albeit brief, training at the Art Students League under John Twachtman. Believing, like his father, that nature herself was the best teacher, Clark quickly abandoned the classroom for independent painting excursions. He spent the winters of 1923 and 1924 in Savannah. The area's natural beauty, waterfront, and architectural landmarks inspired him to create canvases praised for their "lyricism, romance, and wistfulness."
Clark painted landscapes in a realist style, executing broad areas of saturated color while keeping details to a minimum. He was very planar in his approach to the canvas--dividing it into obvious fore-, middle-, and background areas--and often used hills and banks of foilage to accomplish this organization. Though his early works were completed in a tonalist style, Clark increasingly painted in an impressionist vein, letting more light into his scenes and increasing the vibrancy and intensity of his colors.
In New York, Clark taught, wrote, and was active in art circles. He was elected president of the National Academy of Design in 1956. Beginning in 1932, Clark divided his time between the city and a summer home in the rolling hills of Ablemarle County, Virginia. He explored the Virginia countryside extensively, retiring there in 1959.
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