William Clusmann (1859 – 1927) was born in North LaPorte, Indiana on August 19, 1859. He received a public school education until he was fourteen at which time his parents, wanting him to learn a trade, placed him in the shop of a tinner. Clusmann had already shown some artistic talent and blacking stovepipes and dusting boxes was not an occupation destined to please a youth bent on an artistic career.
In his mature years Clusmann described his early trials in becoming an artist. Three things combined to make me a painter, the failure of a tinner, the sympathy of my mother and the visit to my home of a friend of the family who was in the decorating business. My father had placed me at the age of fourteen in a tinner’s establishment to learn the business. Daily I learned to hate it and I might have run away with a circus or gone to sea had not the sheriff intervened in my behalf by tacking up a sign upon the door which I beheld with delight on arriving for my day’s drudgery one morning. Not long after the decorator friend visited our home and fired me with enthusiasm for fresco painting which I learned under his tutelage, and which gave me the idea of taking up painting in earnest. My mother was a woman of great breadth of view and believed in allowing each child to develop along the lines of its personal predilections. She encouraged my ambitions and I started to study art.
After spending two years learning fresco painting, Clusmann enrolled at the old Academy of Design. Here he studied under Henry Spread and James Gookins. They encouraged him to go abroad and, taking his mother with him, he set out for Munich in the summer of 1879. He arrived and matriculated at the time of Frank Duveneck and a brilliant coterie of young Americans who later gained much fame. Clusmann studied at the Royal Academy of Munich under the Hungarian academic painter Gyula Benczúr who subsequently became the Royal Court Painter of Austria. After four years in Munich Clusmann went to Stuttgart where he studied for a time with Frederick Keller. His studies were interrupted, however, by the death of his brother which brought the artist and his mother back to Chicago in 1884. Clusmann journeyed to Germany again in 1914 and he was still there in 1917 when America declared war. He was allowed to leave, but he was compelled to leave behind over 200 paintings he had finished on orders over the three year span. He was never able to recover these paintings.
Clusmann died in his apartment at 3831 W. Adams in Chicago on September 27, 1927 at the age of 68. He had returned only a few weeks before from a European trip, during which it was discovered that he had cancer. His wife, Bertha, had passed away in 1924 and their only child had died in 1892 after living only two months.
Clusmann’s paintings, which are characterized by strong technical knowledge, evidence a deep love for nature. He achieved a marked success with his watercolors, in which medium he evidenced great versatility, a firm sure handling and deep poetic feeling. Next to his river views the park scenes of Clusmann are most to be commended. Here he has an opportunity to record color and sun in canvas whose central thought and feeling is quite the reverse of the pensive somberness of the river themes. Many of his Humboldt Park studies are gay with the brilliant colors of various flowers as seen in beds and borders and all are sunny and full of the modern feeling for freshness and vividness in the portrayal of outdoor scenes. He paints equally well in low or high key, but as high-keyed pictures are for the moment more in public favor, they always effect one’s consciousness as smarter and more clever than do the less obtrusive songs of lower key (drawn from an unsigned review which appeared in The Fine Arts Journal, Vol. XXXVI, Number Four, Chicago, April, 1918).
Clusmann exhibited a total of 156 paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago between 1889 and 1925. He placed a number of works in the Hoosier Salon as well. He received an Honorable Mention at Stuttgart, Germany, exhibited at Edinburgh, Scotland, and the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893. He was represented in the collections of the Arche Club, the North End Woman’s Club, the Nineteenth Century Club of Oak Park and the Woman’s Club of Evanston. He was a member of the Chicago Society of Artists, the Chicago Water Color Club, the Chicago Artists’ Guild and the Alumni of Chicago.
Clusmann penned these lines late in life concerning his life as an artist. I am glad I am an artist and have never regretted my choice of a profession. I am never happier than when at work and I would like to live two hundred years and really learn the business. thoroughly. The only trouble with painting is that the average life time isn’t half long enough to enable a man to get what he is after.
Work Available For Sale