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Walter Marshall Clute (1870-1915)


oxbow,walter marshall clute,frederick fursman
oxbow,walter marshall clute,frederick fursman
oxbow,walter marshall clute,frederick fursman

Walter Marshall Clute by Joel S. Dryer © Illinois Historical Art Project

When Walter Marshall Clute passed away at the age of forty-six, colleagues in Chicago organized a memorial exhibition. In four days, over 1,400 people visited the display. This tribute was confirmation of Clute’s standing as a beloved teacher, critic and artist in an appreciative city.1 Artist George Senseney was quoted in the Christian Science Monitor:

“Clute was an eminently sane man, refined, intelligent, and witty, not swayed by impulse or emotion; his was a quiet purpose not lightly to be turned aside. These qualities are reflected in his art, in the precision of his brush work, the clarity and purity of his color. One feels that each subject that he painted was carefully considered before the brush was laid on the canvas.”2


Clute was born in Schenectady, New York on January 9, 1870. His ancestors were among the first Dutch settlers of Schenectady and for many generations the Clute family attended the Dutch Reformed Church.3 His grandfather Walter, Sr., had been a shoemaker in the city and his father, Walter S. Clute, Jr., was a tinsmith and a contractor4. Walter S. Clute, Jr., married dressmaker Elizabeth Marshall, a descendant of Chief Justice John Marshall, at the Dutch Reformed Church on June 14, 1868.5 They had a daughter, Mary, born in 1869. Walter Marshall was born the following year.6 Walter Marshall Clute grew up at 22 North Ferry Street and he showed a talent for drawing at an early age. He attended the Union Classical Institute, a prep school, and was a member of the fraternity Pi Phi.7 While in school he started to exhibit his art in the window of Hulbert’s Book Store with a drawing of a street scene. The local paper said “it is a modest little affair, but what it lacks in size it more than makes up in workmanship.”8 After graduation he attended the Art Students League in New York City where he studied with H. Siddons Mowbray (1858-1928) and Kenyon Cox (1856-1919).9 Cox was well-known for his appreciation of classical form in the history of art. Many years later, Clute said he had learned from Cox “the full meaning of the gospel of art according to the classic point of view,” long before the new teacher’s volume with that title appeared.10] He knew it would take years to learn how to draw and paint. A comment from noted critic George Breed Zug, of the University of Chicago, aptly describes the later result of Clute’s serious training:


“For years I have admired the tender landscapes, and the still more delicate interiors with figures painted by Walter Marshall Clute… Like the Dutchmen of the seventeenth century, he has no need of invention, of fanciful imaginings; he records what has been unintentionally rehearsed for him time and time again… The success as painter and teacher which has come to Mr. Clute is not a matter of good luck; it is the result of hard training and hard work… He is not content to leave his canvas covered with raw masses of color, he aims not only at tonal harmony but at that surface quality which has been the feat of some of the greatest artists.”11

Clute left the Art Students League understanding the best art was an effort for even the most talented individual. He worked his way through school as a freelance illustrator and in the middle of 1896, went to Buffalo to work for the Courier.12 His first major illustration was for the election of William McKinley and gained favorable attention from the public. His home town Schenectady newspaper proudly reported:

“Young Mr. Clute’s many friends and acquaintance in the city of his nativity and boyhood will rejoice, as The Union does, at what we learn from Buffalo through private journalistic advices, that his drawings on the Enquirer are attracting most favorable attention in that city. The Union foresees a day when Schenectady people will be proud of a designer and artist who went forth from their city to attain eminence in his chosen vocation.”13

One of his most successful achievements appeared in the Enquirer the day after the election. It consisted of full bust portraits of McKinley and vice president Hobart, as lifelike as possible, and occupying – with the surrounding ornamentations – the full width and upper half of the first page, heading the election returns. The columns and upper bars, entwined with laurel leaves, forming frames for the portraits, are finely detailed, and the national shield and ensign at the head of the middle column are finely displayed in a new and graceful treatment.

Clute was a member of the newly established Buffalo Charcoal Club (also known as the Bohemian Sketch Club) and regularly met with several artists groups in the city.14 Clute’s signed illustrations for the Buffalo paper included portraits, drawings of the Orphanage of the Church Home, local political dinners, animated views of the Thanksgiving Day football games, boxers, and a stunning composite of the characters in a play called The Geisha.15 Some of these illustrations were carried by other papers and in 1898, Clute soon found himself in Chicago on the staff of the Chicago Daily News. With his sound training in both the classical and commercial arts, he was soon offered a position to teach a composition class at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where he would work for the next seventeen years.16 He also taught classes in drawing from casts and still life at Hull Settlement House on Chicago’s South Side.17 The recently formed Palette and Chisel Club was a place for artists to continue studying life drawing during the weekends and his membership shows he was concerned with advancing his own abilities. Membership in the Chicago Society of Artists and the prestigious Society of Western Artists followed.18

In 1898, he was sent to Cuba as an illustrator and special correspondent for the Daily News to cover the Spanish-American War. His sketches of the preparations and attack would later appear in several Chicago newspapers. Against his father’s wishes,19 he left for the war on April 22, beginning his experiences with the mobilization of troops at Mobile and Tampa to Cuba.20 Clute sketched constantly, took photographs, wrote notes and appeared to be fascinated with the war as well as the architecture and people of Cuba.21 When Eben Brewer, the first American postmaster in Cuba died of malaria, the papers ran his obituary with a sketch by Clute.22 The Chicago Daily News devoted two pages of the August 13, 1898, issue to Clute’s drawings of Santiago.23 His illustrations also appeared the New York Herald, before his duties ended with the fall and occupation of Santiago.24

When Clute returned to Chicago his reputation was solid however he didn’t have much time to revel in the glory as he had contracted a fever in Cuba, and he convalesced at Frederick Richardson’s studio.25 As his strength returned he reactivated his local art interests and was elected president of the Palette and Chisel Club in October 1898, which at that time met in the Athenaeum building.26 Clute’s popular war drawings were put on display along with other Chicago illustrators at the Central Art Association rooms in the Fine Arts Building the next month.27 The art world of Chicago was enthused by the exhibit which was augmented with an informal discussion on modern illustration led by the exhibit’s organizer, Frank Holme, as well as Clute and others.

The exhibition of Clute’s works moved to the Art Institute of Chicago in January 1899, where they were joined by works of Chicago newspaper illustrators John T. McCutcheon (1870-1949) and William Schmedtgen (1862-1936), over two hundred illustrations in all.28 Included in this exhibit were war trophies gathered from the battlefields. Much pomp and circumstance was given to the exhibit as it was also somewhat of a victory show for the successful American troops. The First Illinois Regiment, in full regalia, marched their colors to the exhibition and installed them in a case for viewing with the exhibit.29

All of the local papers praised the historic value and quality of the works that were created under the pressures of battle. One reviewer said the originals were far better than anything reproduced in the papers and that Clute’s drawings, “nearly sixty in number, are notable for artistic choice of subjects and delicacy in execution.”30 Most of the papers agreed that Clute’s expertise was in line landscape drawings though some of his figure drawings were singled out. “A Cuban Madonna” was described as:

“a fine specimen of Cuban womanhood, with several small urchins hanging onto her skirts and peering curiously at the spectator, while in her arms she carried a little baby clad only in a thick coating of cocoa-nut oil. The baby really looks greasy and Mr. Clute says it was for he [Clute] carried it in his arms.”31

Clute showed his early expertise in landscape and rendering architecture with two large sketches of Santiago’s quaint streets and its cathedral along with a view of the Governor’s Palace.32 Isabel McDougall of the Chicago Evening Post commented:

“Where Mr. Clute scores his best successes is in drawings of architecture and scenery. ‘General Linares Headquarters’ and ‘San Carlos Club’ are drawn with a delicacy and snap… Some well-handled portraits are to be credited to him, among them one of General Shafter… scenes which allow time for thought give him a chance for nice arrangement, gradation of light and shade and artistic pen treatment, in which he excels.”33

The exhibit was widely popular. One paper commented that the attendance was very high and that it appeared almost every school boy in the city had see the exhibit.34 One Saturday, the crowd numbered almost 6,000 compared to the average attendance of 2,000 on the museum’s free days.35 The exhibit was such a success that after its run at the Institute, it was moved to the Y.M.C.A. building in Chicago and then to other cities.36 As one newspaper said:

“Volumes have already been printed about the war, but no other single depiction of its scenes and characters equaled this collection of newspaper sketches in point of vividness and absolute veracity.”37

This exhibit was followed by national attention for Clute’s illustrations in an article by Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, “On to Cuba,” which appeared in the February 1899, issue of Scribner’s Magazine.38

During the exhibit at the Art Institute, drawings by forty students from the Art Students’ League of Chicago were shown in adjoining galleries. The Chicago Evening Post reviewed this annual event and mentioned “Beulah Mitchell’s pretty frame of designs…that brought her several orders for bookplates.”39 Beulah Mitchell was born in Rushville, Illinois, and had met Clute when both attended the Art Students League in New York. By 1896, she had moved to Chicago.40 Since childhood, Walter had nursed a weak heart and family sources say he was advised not to marry because the doctors were not sure how long a life he would have, but Walter and Beulah were engaged in 1899.41

Before they married Clute wanted to spend time studying art in Europe. Several instructors at the Art Institute had done the same and his friend James William Pattison (1844-1915) had spent time in Paris and the Dutch town of Laren. For almost two years, Clute left his fiancée to study in Paris at the Academié Julian with Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant and Jean Paul Laurens.42 He also supported himself by working as an art correspondent, first for the Chicago Daily News and then for the Chicago Record-Herald to illustrate the 1900 Paris Exposition, providing a stunning drawing of President Loubet
and the Commissioner touring the grounds on Opening Day.43 He often visited the Louvre and traveled to the countryside to spend time at Auvers-sur-Oise, van Gogh’s haunt.44 Studies with René Prinét led Clute to figure painting at which he excelled influencing his work for the rest of his life.45 While in Paris he discovered the rage of collecting Japanese prints. Their subtle color and harmony were features in art that appealed to Clute and would later appear time and again in his own compositions. In Laren, there were many reminders of his Dutch heritage including the Reform Church, which he had attended in Schenectady. He was inspired by the Netherlands and by the works he saw and studied in the museums. While countless other artists were being swayed by the Impressionist movement in Europe, Clute’s work remained meticulous, detailed and conscious of texture and illumination. The one year experience in Laren seems to have had a large impact on his art.46 He never returned to regular duties as an illustrator; this trip in many ways defined him as a painter. It seems to have extended his artistic interests for dramatic mood lighting and a tendency towards genre scenes, well known attributes of Dutch and Flemish art.

When Clute returned to Chicago, he continued teaching the evening illustration class he and Frederick Richardson had begun at the Art Institute.47. He married Beulah Mitchell in her hometown of Decautur, Illinois, on December 26, 1900, and by 1903 they had settled in quiet Park Ridge.48 The small Chicago suburb had been transformed from an agricultural community to an affluent business town when it became the first suburban stop on the North and Western rail line. An artist colony formed around the “Little Red House” studio of James William Pattison, a teacher at the Art Institute who was an admired lecturer, critic and friend of the Clutes. Several artists settled into homes in Park Ridge, including Albert Krehbiel (1875-1945) and his wife artist Dulah M. Llan Evans (1878-1951) and sculptor John Paulding (1883-1935).49 The Clutes became involved with civic and artistic groups in the town for the next thirteen years.

While Clute commuted into Chicago to teach his evening classes at the Art Institute, he often gave art lectures to a variety of groups. One talk about his year in Holland had an audience of eight hundred students at the Perkins Bass School.50 Since he taught in the evenings, he was free during the day to paint and accept freelance work such as a series of calendar illustrations for “The Seven Ages” charity bazaar at the North Shore Congregational Church in 1903 or illustrated sheet music with Howard P. Heath in “Songs of the Months” in 1904.51

Clute immediately became a regular exhibitor at both the Annual Exhibition of Works by Chicago Artists and the Annual Exhibition of Oil Paintings and Sculpture by American Artists. In 1903, his work The Thunder Head (Park Ridge school system, destroyed by fire) was accorded a place of honor.52 The Chicago Record reported that “it is an excellent picture, which wins by its simplicity, honesty.”53 The following year, in 1904, he exhibited works at the St. Louis World’s Fair (properly known as the Universal Exposition and often called the Louisiana Purchase Exposition) and a painting entitled Saugatuck Sand Dunes at the summer exhibition of Chicago Artists at the Art Institute.54 The trip to Saugatuck, Michigan, that summer proved to be a landmark event as he would return again several years later to found one of the most important summer schools in the Chicago area.

The birth of a daughter, Marjorie Medora, on September 21, 1904, soon inspired scenes of family life.55 With the addition of a young one at home, his interest in domestic scenes heightened. From Clute’s experience in Holland, he later had attributed his:

“…bent in the direction of genre painting, not only to his academic training, but to his natural love for that department of pictorial expression. His inclination in that line, also, he regards as largely answerable to his Dutch ancestry. Since the field is little trodden here in the middle West, Mr. Clute feels happy in the assurance that he is enabled to work out his problems in his own way and in his own good time.”56

The childhood memories and later visits to Schenectady would enliven his work but his own home in Park Ridge and the growth of his little daughter would serve as the greatest inspiration to his painting.57 In 1905, Clute illustrated advertisements for the Apollo Piano Company in Dekalb, Illinois, and was hired by the Chicago Camera Club for a series of lectures and criticism of member works.58 His Dutch Interior (location unknown) was accepted for the annual exhibition of the National Academy of Design. As a painter of such interiors, he was beginning to gain noteriety:

“Mr. Clute’s ancestral inheritance accords him an insight into the quaint life of the Netherland [sic] folk and an ability for recording their domestic scenes that Americans rarely… [are exposed to]. Something in his work always stamps it as the fruit of one who has been able to enter into, and become one with, the life he depicts.”59

As an artist whose work was popular with the public and the critics, Clute began credibly critiquing current exhibitions in Chicago and became a favorite juror for local shows.60 Clute’s written reviews reveal a sensitive man who appreciated his own training at the Institute and the talent of others. In one review of the Twelfth Annual Exhibition of the Art Students League, he wrote:

“Plenty of cleverness and a perfection of technique which dazzles a little is present – but then that has always been a feature of any exhibition given by artists or students who received their training at the Institute… Many of these are still working in the school to the mutual gain of the older and younger students. This is mentioned because I believe it is the student, almost as much as the instructor, who helps to advance the standard, after he has gained enough of the working method to enable him to express the idea embodied in form and color. It is the work of this more mature student developed under the eyes and in the heat of discussion of his fellows, which is the potent element of leavening power in the daily progress of any strong school or art body.”61

In 1906, the Clutes bought an old livery stable in Park Ridge, at 14 Garden Street (now 720 Garden Street), and remodeled it for a studio and bungalow home. Named the “The Birches” for the trees in the garden, the large area where horses had been kept was perfect for a large skylight and a studio. At the front was a split Dutch door and in the rear there was a rabbit hatch. The bedrooms were upstairs and it was the studio that was the center of activity: lectures; art classes; dinners and parties.62 The Chicago Inter Ocean vividly described the home that was like looking at Clute’s paintings in which the home was the model in his works:

“Mr. Clute’s barn has a picturesque, half timbered gable, cunning dormers in the roof, wide spreading eaves and an old fashioned half-door, over which he is erecting a highly becoming pergola. If you add to the long rambling structure and octagonal workshop – once a chicken-house which he wisely moved up to his house and hitched on – you can, perhaps, imagine how charming a home he has in “The Birches”. Then there is the garden, which, beside the fine trees… possesses a hedge, a Camperdown elm, making a huge umbrella of greenery, and a genuine old-fashioned arbor… The ex-carriage-house with its generous proportions makes an ideal living room. Its walls have been plastered rough-cast in a warm gray, separated off into panels by strips of brown wood. At the upper corners of the doors these strips frame mellow-toned Japanese prints. A long shelf holds casts, candlesticks, Brittany plates and all manner of interesting burdens.”63

The Clutes hosted numerous events at their studio home. Starting in 1906, an open house for the Park Ridge Women’s Club was held annually in October and Clute would frequently ask his students to come to the studio to work and socialize.64 In Park Ridge, there had formed a regular “colony.” The group often included the Albert Krehbiels, James Pattisons, Leonard Crunelle (1872-1944) and Adam Emory Albright (1862-1957), all or some of whom would regularly meet at “The Birches” on Saturday mornings, sometimes bringing visitors from Chicago to sketch, paint or model in clay from a hired model.65 Before leaving, visitors would sign a beautifully illuminated guest book.66 The admirable quality about this artistic circle was their genuine admiration, positive reviewe, open praise and encouragement of each other without jealousy or competition. It is striking how kind Clute was to his fellow artists – never competitive or critical but encouraging every effort and work. Clute wrote about his friend Pattison:


“To sum up the artistic activities of this art teacher, lecturer, critic, director and adviser of numerous art societies and schools, and author of biographical histories, but first and last, pre-eminently the painter, would call for more space than can be given in this brief appreciation… [his work] is characterized by great wealth of color, directness of expression in brush work and a certain naïve choice of subject which commands our admiration by reason of its great dignity in the final analysis as well as its qualities of good workmanship.”67

The local press was also favorable to Clute and often illustrated his works. In 1906, they published his My Old Song (location unknown) depicting a very Dutch scene of a lady playing a lute.68 Clute always understood hard work and dedication were necessary in art. He reserved mornings for studio work and then taught in the late afternoons and evenings at the Art Institute. He socialized and exhibited with a variety of artist groups and often was elected into offices, taking an active role in organizing exhibits.69

In late fall 1906, Clute reviewed the annual exhibition of the Society of Western Artists. In the review Clute discusses works by his colleagues and is especially appreciative of Krehbiel’s works from France and Holland. The group had become the most important art organization of the Midwest and membership was a sign of status; their exhibitions were heavily reviewed and much looked forward to:

“The general character of the exhibition is best expressed when I say that the absorbing interest and joy which the artist takes in his work is apparent, and increasingly so when I study the different canvases in detail… There is more of a homelike complexion to the pictures and we seem to feel [more of] the pulse-beat of mutual understanding and respect than we have before.”70

During the next year, Clute was very active: his Dutch scene, The Big Barn (location unknown), was exhibited in St. Louis;71 his paintings were in an exhibition of works by Chicago artists at Marshall Field & Co. Gallery; another painting was featured in the newspaper, The Connoisseur (location unknown);72 his The Gown and the Book (location unknown), was included in the twelfth annual exhibition of the Society of Western artists and in January of 1908, he reviewed the show in the Fine Arts Journal with characteristic enthusiasm.73 Clute traveled to Louisiana to paint some landscapes, being particularly interested in the gum trees, oaks and Spanish moss of the south and one of these works was exhibited the same year at the Carnegie Institute’s annual show of 1908.74

Sometime after 1906, Clute had begun a series of paintings entitled The Child in the House. He would continue these works for the next seven years based on his observations of Marjorie and Beulah at home75 He made warm visions of domesticity come to life by showing the simple activities at “The Birches.” An early mention of these works comes in 1908 when one was shown in the Thirteenth Annual Exhibition of the Society of Western Artists. Critic Mae J. Evans wrote:

“Walter Marshall Clute’s ‘The Child in the House’ hangs to the left. The cozy corner of the living-room of the Clute home, with its leaded windows, through which the sunlight streams, forms a rich setting for little Marjorie Clute, who is a picture out of a canvas as well as in one.”76

The exhibit then traveled to St. Louis where Frederick Oakes Sylvester, in the Fine Arts Journal, was unabashedly delighted with Clute’s effort:

“I love the good things that Clute had contributed, especially ‘The Child in the House.’ I love the subject and I love the way it is painted. It has the same spirit in its conception and same mode of completion that gave Rembrandt’s ‘Mother’ and Whistler’s ‘Mother’ to the world. Devotion transcending skill. Affection affectionately manifested to win the approval of the heart. Inward beauty of one’s own demanding and providing wrought into an artistic reality. I love the way this picture and several others by this artist are painted. There is no work on them, no stereotyped moldings and sizes, no unseasoned wood, no slick varnish, and they are neither warped nor loose at the joints and like the old hand-made oaken doors they will hang well forever.”77

Clute’s genre scenes continued their popularity with the local press. Another painting, The Course of True Love (location unknown), was exhibited at the 1909 Annual Exhibition of Works by Chicago Artists and was highlighted in an illustration in the Chicago Tribune.78 A young lady sits slouched, illuminated by a lamp with her friend, whose back is to the viewer. They are in serious discussion. Uncharacteristically, he also exhibited a still-life which seemed to surprise the critics. However, it is not so much a surprise to find Clute choosing another subject favored by the old Dutch masters:

“A new venture for Walter Marshall Clute is his still life study, which he calls “The Summer Squash.” A vegetable symphony, supported by an
earthenware jug and bottles is the spirit of the performance. It is well done, but it is a surprise.”79

Two other works shown included Arcadia, Lousiana (location unknown), described as a “very clever piece of painting… Its tropical aspect is heightened by the trees being trapped in moss. Between the branches, glimpses of clear blue sky are seen.” and Gray, Russet and Green (location unknown), which showed a girl surrounded by characteristic Japanese robes, screens and prints with an arrangement of autumn leaves in a vase.80

That June, Clute established the Park Ridge Summer School of Art with classes centered around the suburban fields and at “The Birches.”81 He had taught summer illustration for the Art Institute beginning in 1904 and probably saw a demand for other avenues of study in painting. Frequent lectures were open to the community and when he spoke on “A Picturesque Sketching Tour Through Holland,” over eighty people attended. Frederick Richardson contributed by speaking on “The Meaning of a Motif in Landscape Composition” and a lecture on flower portraits, illustrated by colored photographic slides, was given by Jessie L. Smith (1885-after 1947), the principal of Highland Park School and the Chicago Geographical Society.82 The idea of a regular summer school would prove very popular with students and was one that Clute and his colleagues would further develop over the next several years.

In October, Clute’s work was accepted at the Annual Exhibition of Oil Paintings and Sculpture by American Artists which included a memorial exhibition of sculpture by Augustus Saint-Gaudens. The Chicago Record-Herald chose Clute’s painting The Samovar (location unknown), to illustrate the exhibition.83

“A colonial folding table holds the tea cups and the samovar, while a young woman, in old-fashioned flowered gown, pours. A maid stands behind the table to the right, and on the wall, assisting to unite the picture as a whole, is placed Mr. Clute’s inevitable Japanese print.”84

In November the Clutes hosted one of the most elaborate parties Park Ridge had ever seen. The invitation intoned:

“All Hands on Deck – The captain and crew of the Park Ridge brig request the pleasure of your company Saturday evening, November 20, 1909 at 6. All guests in fancy costumes, pirate preferred, or suffer the garb of slaves perchance be hanged. Sharply at six bells the Bos’n’s whistle will sound at the pirate bungalow of Capt. Clute.”85

The Clutes and their co-hosts Albert and Dulah Evans Krehbiel arranged for sixty-five people, many of them from the Art Institute, to come to the suburban Park Ridge in a special train car. Their bungalow was rigged up to represent the deck of a Spanish galleon. The Chicago Sunday Tribune published photos of a jaunty pirate captain Walter Marshall Clute, first mate Professor James William Pattison and an inset of Marjorie Medora Clute as the pirate captain’s daughter. The event started with a play and prizes were awarded for best costume, and the most blood curdling yarn told in three minutes. Guests read poems and performed whimsical skits. Guests included Charles Hutchinson, president of the Art Institute, art editor Lena McCauley of the Chicago Evening Post, art editor Maude I.G. Oliver of the Chicago Record-Herald, among others.86

The Clutes and their co-hosts Albert and Dulah Evans Krehbiel arranged for sixty-five people, many of them from the Art Institute, to come to the suburban Park Ridge in a special train car. Their bungalow was rigged up to represent the deck of a Spanish galleon. The Chicago Sunday Tribune published photos of a jaunty pirate captain Walter Marshall Clute, first mate Professor James William Pattison and an inset of Marjorie Medora Clute as the pirate captain’s daughter. The event started with a play and prizes were awarded for best costume, and the most blood curdling yarn told in three minutes. Guests read poems and performed whimsical skits. Guests included Charles Hutchinson, president of the Art Institute, art editor Lena McCauley of the Chicago Evening Post, art editor Maude I.G. Oliver of the Chicago Record-Herald, among others.86

The beginning of 1910 saw the first prize of Clute’s career in Chicago. His successful series depicting Marjorie in various states of domestic life culminated with the Mrs. Julius Rosenwald Prize for best figure painting at the Annual Exhibition of Works by Artists of Chicago and Vicinity.87 This specific painting, A Child in the House – The Golden Age (Union League Club of Chicago), shows Marjorie looking towards her mother who is reading a story bathed by dramatic light. Marjorie’s face is beautifully expressive and innocent and the warmth of the light bonds mother and child. It was received enthusiastically and exhibited that Spring at the Fifth Annual Exhibition of Selected Paintings by American Artists in the Albright Art Gallery, Buffalo.

Clute maintained an excellent reputation as a teacher and mentor at the Art Institute. In the spring, his classes would venture out on all-day sketching tours in the fields around Park Ridge and ever the host, he would conduct dinners at his home.88 When summer came, he and thirty-five students left Chicago on June 18 for Dixon and then a fifteen mile boat ride to Grand Detour, Illinois, on the Rock River.89 For four weeks, students sketched and painted the fields, river vistas and quaint streets of the town. The studio was built on the river bank and was used for rainy days and criticism sessions.90 Clute mentioned in the newspaper the studio was hung with student works and was so popular “visitors are willing to purchase the entire output of the summer school.”91

The summer school at Grand Detour was the precursor to the Ox-bow Summer School of Art in Saugatuck, Michigan, which today functions as the School of the Art Institute’s summer extension.

At the end of the 1910 summer, Clute and family traveled to northern New York state and Schenectady to visit his family Clutes.92 The old Dutch colonial buildings and the green rolling hills were a refreshing change from the vistas of the Midwest. Back in Park Ridge, “The Birches” remained a hub of activity for the rest of the year. Beulah Clute and Dulah Evans Krehbeil had started a business around 1904 called The Colony Craft and later known as Ridge Craft (after Park Ridge) where they made bookplates and greeting cards. An avid bookplate collector, Beulah showed her collection to the public which included examples from England, France and Germany.93 Young Marjorie Clute was becoming well known as the subject in her father’s painting and was
described by Maude I.G. Oliver:

“Marjorie Clute, out in Park Ridge, is like a little princess with her lithe movements, her copper colored hair and hazel eyes. She is at an age in which the results of an artistic environment are beginning to be apparent… Her appreciation of lovely things seems to have been with her from babyhood, developing constantly as she has grown. With the ability to form a ‘picture’ with every turn, she never has known the time when she has not posed. And excellent material her painter father has discovered in the ‘Birches’ interior as a background for her as the center of interest… young as she is, Miss Clute is well versed in children’s literature, having her own private shelves, on which her own special books belong.”94

Marjorie had obviously captured her father’s heart and interest. She was the subject in many of his paintings. He continued to experiment with the motif and one particularly successful effort caused critic Oliver to become effusive about The Child In The House – Another Morning: “…it is absolutely new to the art world. It is easily one of the most important if not the leading picture of the exhibition.”95


Illustrated in the May 1911 Fine Arts Journal, a dresser and oval mirror in the room are illuminated by a characteristic mellow light behind two figures.96
Clute’s domestic scenes continued to garner praise from the press. Although James William Pattison was his friend, he was also a highly respected art critic. After viewing the fifteenth annual Exhibition of Works by Chicago Artists, Pattison wrote an article for the Fine Arts Journal about his friend’s work what looks like an attempt to hide his enthusiasm:

“There are figure pieces of decided high order, as the interior of his kitchen, by Walter M. Clute entitled ‘The Evening of the Party’ [location unknown]. It is a very simple composition, mostly in horizontal and upright lines. On a long wide shelf are grouped sundry shining brass utensils and at the opposite extremes of the picture are two women, one wiping a dish and the other cutting fruit. In the center between these two points of interest is a long window through which the bluish notes of the night time enter. The whole picture is illuminated by a lamp, not visible, and is painted with great care and excellent success. Mr. Clute has another picture, ‘A Quaint Old Porch’ [location unknown] evidently of Dutch extraction, but existing in New York state. The upper and lower Dutch doors, with glass in them, the parts painted green and unusual shaped pillars, are all in shadow, though the sun which illuminates the charming landscape steals into the darkened porch in a very cheerful way.“97

For over a decade Clute had worked diligently at teaching and lecturing, sometimes taking commissions for illustrations. Unlike other artists of his acclaim, who often exhibited five to ten paintings, he rarely exhibited more than one or two paintings at the annual Art Institute exhibitions. If he was producing a limited output and several of the works were selling, it is possible, although we can’t know for sure, this kept him from singular displays.98 The “New Gallery” at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts (81 East Madison Street) presented Clute’s first solo painting exhibition, which opened on Easter Monday in April 1911, comprising fourteen (or sixteen, accounts vary) canvases. Among the better known pieces were: The Samovar; The Connoisseur; The Golden Age; The Little Room [location unknown]; Another Morning [location unknown] and The Evening of the Party.99 Of his own work Clute gave an explanation which described both the exhibition and gave a summation of his painting career:

“My forte seems to be genre, at least the critical public is demanding it, and as both my severe academic training and natural love for the genre motif (probably an inheritance from my Dutch ancestry) are natural preparation for the work, provided I can work the various problems out in my own good time, I don’t object. The field in the middle West for genre painting is left pretty much to myself.”100

Critic Lena M. McCauley gave an apt description of Clute domestic life:

“With preparation such as he has had, and the stress of duty at the Art Institute, it is logical that Mr. Clute should find artistic material near his picturesque house at ‘The birches’ in Park Ridge. Mrs. Clute being an artist of considerable ability as well as a home woman, the conditions are arranged for tender and intimate genre painting, such as the Dutch delighted in. The series of pictures ‘The Child in the House’ uses the charming portraiture of Marjorie Clute growing from little girlhood to riper years. The backgrounds of the spacious living-room, a reading corner, the dainty bed chamber are fascinating in the eyes of lovers of homes… the exquisite skill for the treatment of materials is most evident… the mellow light and atmosphere holding together the homeliness of the scene… Mr. Clute’s gift to western art deserves fostering. His paintings are the fruits of hardly-earned leisure, created in the spirit of a fine sincerity to give the poetic depths of his own outlook upon the loveliness of the simple things of life.”101

In Summer 1910, artist Frederick Frary Fursman (1874-1943) had recently returned from France and taught an Art Institute class in illustration two to three times a week from July to September.102 He undoubtedly came into close contact with Clute. The following summer, Clute took his classes to Saugatuck and became partners with Fursman in teaching classes there.103

Saugatuck was a small resort community located about ninety miles around the Lake Michigan coast from Chicago. It had been discovered by artists at least by 1896 when four from the Chicago area rented a red scow and paddled along the Kalamazoo River painting the scenery. John C. Johansen (1876-1964) and his brother, Peter, had organized summer classes for many of John’s students from the School of the Art Institute in the summers of 1904 to 1906.104 John Warner Norton (1876-1934), a teacher at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and later an Art Institute instructor, had held classes in nearby Douglas in 1906.105 Clute wrote a biographical article on Johansen for The Sketch Book and mentioned the impact Saugatuck had: “The sketches made by the students at Saugatuck were inspired by the spirit and splendor, rather than by the prose of nature, and show the stimulus of an instructor who possesses the rare faculty of diffusing sweetness and light.”106

In the Summer 1911, Clute and Fursman opened the Summer School of Painting and took over the Bandle Barn at Saugatuck, which had been built years earlier by John C. Johansen’s students. From the very beginning, the classes offered competition for John H. Vanderpoel’s (1857-1911) summer school in Delavan, Wisconsin. Like Delavan, the school at Saugatuck was always allied, at least informally, with the School of the Art Institute. Students and faculty would meet at the Graham and Morton Transportation docks at the foot of Wabash Avenue and the Chicago River to take a Saturday night boat across Lake Michigan. Fursman taught the class in figure painting and Clute taught the landscape classes.

The students painted outdoors during the day taking classes in the morning until noon. The latter part of the day was for boating and exploring the countryside. In July, they planned a play as a social event. Under the direction of Janet Grant, the school’s business manager, they put on an elaborate musical version of “Mother Goose” for the many resort guests in the Saugatuck area. They illustrated programs and invented their own dialogue and costumes. Beulah Clute performed as a dancer and Walter Clute managed to sing as Little Jack Horner.107

Clute’s work was clearly appreciated by Chicago critics and audiences and his reputation began extending beyond Chicago’s borders. He shared an exhibit at the University of Missouri in Columbia with Adam E. Albright in February of 1912.108 His home life continued to be the source of his inspiration. Another painting from his “Child in the House” series was illustrated in the press, entitled The Child in the House: Half Past Eight (location unknown). It was a charming view of a mother fixing her daughters’ hair in the next room, the darkened outer room framed by the warmly lit interior.109 Clute again depicted his own Japanese art and Beulah and Marjorie were shown looking into an unseen mirror. Shortly after the opening of the sixteenth Annual Exhibition of Works by Chicago Artists, it was announced Clute had won the prestigious Arché club purchase prize for his painting The Big Lantern (Arché Club collection, now unlocated). The Club voted to buy the work for the purchase price of $250. Before the decision, though, some members of the club argued the lantern was too large and out of proportion to which Clute offered an invitation to the members to visit his studio to see such lanterns, some that were even larger. The selection was won by sixty-five votes.110 Illustrated in the press, as had now become common for Clute’s work, it shows his wife in silhouette, seated in a chair and his daughter, with her face lit, looking at a glowing lantern.111

Critic James Pattison described the work and circumstances further:

“The Arché Club, one of the most important in Chicago as everyone knows, has purchased… This is genre painting… The simplest possible incident of domestic life, mostly the life of his own family, furnishes the subjects. In this picture, a huge, yellow Chinese lantern has just been lighted and throws its glow over the interested members of the family. While Chinese lanterns often have served artists I have never seen one treated just in this way.”112

The Summer School of Painting had become instantly popular and the next summer season in 1912 included fifty-seven students. Some returned later with him in the autumn to paint fall foliage.113 When Clute returned to the city, he took a teaching position at the University of Chicago in addition to his other regular duties.114 He and Beulah also continued their active involvement in the community. Beulah headed the Civic Improvement League in Park Ridge and the Clutes were instrumental in encouraging the artists in the community to support the formation of a community art association.115 An indication of just how involved the Clute’s were with the children and others in the community is described in this account:

“Mr. Clute and his wife helped the school children design their costumes and paint their scenery for their theatricals. Sometimes when funds were not too plentiful, Mr. Clute also furnished the costumes and paid for printing the posters which he had designed.”116

Again Clute’s work was illustrated in the local news. In conjunction with the annual exhibition of the Society of Western Artists, his The Evening of the Party was reproduced in the Daily News as an example of the quality of the show, “…[the painting] shows rare coloring and character delineation.” was the brief comment. 117 The Chicago Record-Herald reported that: “Several of Mr. Clutes fellow artists, who have witnessed this production for the first time at the present show, have been unstinted in their admiration of it, declaring it to be the author’s most accomplished achievement.”118

The painting was then sent to Minneapolis for exhibition at their annual Society of Fine Art show where Clute had previously juried an exhibition in 1909. It was selected as one of eight finalists for purchase for the city’s new museum. Votes were cast by visitors to the exhibit so the purchase would represent a popular prize by local citizens. Clute’s painting was the early leader in voting.119

The most prestigious award ever won by Clute was the Fine Arts Building Prize at the 1913-1914 Society of Western Artists annual show. The prize was offered by the owners of the building in Chicago and since 1906, had been awarded to many prominent artists throughout the Midwest. The prize was awarded his painting An Afternoon Call (Park Ridge Public Library) and was illustrated in the Chicago Tribune, replete with streaming sunlight, a darkened interior and Japanese lanterns hanging from the ceiling. Critic Harriet Monroe called it a “clever bit of genius.”120

In February of 1914, another Clute painting was reproduced to announce the eighteenth Exhibition of Works by Artists of Chicago and Vicinity. The painting, Youth (location unknown), was chosen from among hundreds for this illustration.121 Critic Lena McCauley stated: “Walter Marshall Clute’s group of figure paintings should have a chapter of their own. At least three are gems of the collection.”122

Clute traveled frequently in 1914 serving on juries for the Minnesota State Art Commission competition and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.123 In March, Clute was asked to be a member of the jury for the Peoria Society of Allied Arts who engaged him to pick the most representative forty canvases from the Exhibition of Works by Artists of Chicago and Vicinity at the Art Institute.124 The exhibition was supplemented by his lectures and he also gave gallery tours which were received with great enthusiasm. He later spoke before the Women’s Teachers’ Club in Peoria about artists from Illinois.125

Classes for the 1914 summer school were announced in April by Clute and began June 22, delayed so Fursman could finish up his other teaching activities. For the first time both the Summer and Fall classes were held at the Riverside Hotel which they managed to purchase and rename the Ox-bow Inn because of its location on the Ox-bow Lagoon.126 The particulars of how exactly the two business partners came into the location was recounted in the press:


“This year Directors Clute and Fursman… announce that they have made a discovery… The United States government was the agent that helped them to their location. It sent out dredges to make a short-cut channel from the Kalamazoo River to Lake Michigan… leaving… the Riverside Hotel and the old fishing village high and dry… with a watery way, a bayou approach known only to the chosen few. Here, in the spacious hotel, surrounded by apple orchards, green woods, open spaces for sunlight, an ideal bathing beach and the world to themselves, the French-American School of Open-Air Painting is at work.”127

Fursman would later tell a reporter, “We found the spot one day by chance as we walked along the river and cut through the woods toward the lagoon... this spot, close to the village and yet quite apart from it... was ideal for our purposes.”128

Fursman and Clute hosted a record eighty students, including some Saugatuck area artists. To encourage female participants Mrs. Minnie C. Neebe acted as chaperone for those students staying at the Inn. A broad array of students that year included a doctor, an insurance man, a vaudeville actor and mothers and daughters.129 They celebrated the Fourth of July holiday by inviting a number of important Chicago art critics out for a visit including: Lena McCauley, of the Chicago Evening Post; Maude I. G. Oliver, of the Chicago Record-Herald; Eva Webster, of the Chicago American and Harriet Monroe of the Chicago Tribune.130 Theodore J. Keane, Dean of the School of the Art Institute also came out for a visit. In August, an exhibition of work by both faculty and students was held at the Saugatuck Village Hall and several paintings were sold. Fursman and Clute were speakers at a special pre-exhibition show held at the Saugatuck Woman’s Club.131

Frederick Fursman had left for France in the Fall, 1913, and returned sometime prior to Summer, 1914. Something about that trip might have enthused his partner Clute, for in December, critic Maude Oliver reviewed the Annual Exhibition of American Oil Paintings and Sculpture at the Art Institute and was surprised by Clutes painting, illustrated with the article, Romance (location unknown), stating that it was:

“an altogether new venture… Heretofore this artist has produced landscapes or he has executed figures in the environment of a sort of Americanized Dutch interior. In the present instance he combines landscape and figure in a delightful sylvan ‘Romance.’ A young woman, who is more of a wood nymph than a mortal, stands in the flecked sunlight from overhead leafage beside the trunk of a great tree, her hands gently resting as if in caress upon its rugged bark.”132

The painting shows a decided tendency towards the style of American Impressionism popular at that time in Giverny, France. It is similar in many respects to works we would expect from Chicago Impressionists, Lawton S. Parker (1868-1954), Louis Ritman (1889-1963) or Karl Albert Buehr (1866-1952); and in many respects to Frederick Frieseke (1874-1939). Critic Maude Oliver later commented it was his first foray in the field of plein-air figure painting.133 We will never know how permanently Clute had adopted a new genre and in what direction he would take this somewhat more open approach to the figure.

By Christmas the Clutes decided to leave Chicago and “The Birches” in Park Ridge for the warmer climate of Berkeley, California, where Beulah had several relatives. The papers reported: “the change is being made in the hope of benefiting the health of Mrs. [Mr.] Clute… who has been engaged in illustrating another book and can make her drawings under more favorable conditions in the west.”134 Clute had suffered his entire life from a weak heart and he was badly impacted by the Chicago winters.135 The artistic community was understandably saddened. An article in the Chicago Herald said:

“Walter Marshall Clute… is now obliged to leave this climate on account of his health. His identity, with the Chicago fraternity has become so much of a fixture that it will be hard to connect it in mind with the California group. However, coming with regret to Mr. Clute’s many Chicago friends knowledge of this change of residence will not be a surprise. The family are [sic] planning to leave on Tuesday. Their attractive home ‘The Birches’ will be left furnished with the hope that some artist will want to rent it as an ideas place, truly, for any family of taste and appreciation.”136

Since the Clutes spent their winter at Berkeley, they must have had a chance to visit his plein-air painting Romance, at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco early in 1915. On February 14, 1915, Walter Marshall Clute died at North Cucamonga, California, of heart failure and was cremated in Pasadena.137 Students and colleagues were saddened by the loss and a series of exhibitions was organized as a memorial to the fallen artist. Organized by the Village of Park Ridge Improvement Association, of which Beulah had been the first president, was a memorial opening April 13, to last for four days in the village hall. In addition to twelve paintings (or ten, accounts vary) by Clute, his friends were invited to send their works to round out the exhibition. Many of Chicago’s leading artists responded with canvases.138 An article in the Chicago Tribune commented that the exhibit had been hung and lit by specialists from the Art Institute and the presentation successfully attracted over 1,400 people in just four short days.139

“The school-children of Park Ridge, including the Industrial Home for Girls, Irving Park and Edison Park, were dismissed from their classes for the opportunity of seeing the pictures and hearing about them… Thursday members of the women’s clubs from Irving Park and Barrington took advantage of the privilege afforded them. As a result, all classes of villagers came during the period of exhibition and many, who confessed that they never had been within the doors of the Art Institute, declared that they would pay the museum a visit next Sunday.”140

The memorial show was next moved to the rooms of the Artists’ Guild in the Fine Arts Building, opening April 17.141 After Clute died, Frederick Fursman partnered with George Senseney (1874-1943) to take Clute’s landscape painting classes at the school in Saugatuck.142 Senseney had this to say about his friend and memorial show:

“One who sees these pictures will realize that in the passing of Walter Clute Chicago lost one of her most active and sensitive workers - a man of distinction in his profession. I knew him in his student days in Paris when we worked together at ‘Julien’s’ and in the country at Auvers sur Oise. These canvases on exhibition are a reflection of his discriminating taste and the fine sanity of his outlook on life.143

The exhibition then traveled to LaCrosse, Wisconsin, later in the month.144

As a tribute from his friends and family, many of Clute’s works ended up in Park Ridge. In the 1920s, the Park Ridge Improvement Association presented the painting by Clute, Afternoon Callers (An Afternoon Call), to the town to be hung in the Public Library.145 Six of his paintings, including The Winding Road and The Thunder Head, were given to the school that Marjorie had attended in Park Ridge – four paintings were put in the rooms where Marjorie attended class.146 Unfortunately they were lost in a fire at Central School in the 1930s.

Beulah and Marjorie Clute stayed in Berkeley.147. Beulah Clute continued to work as an illustrator and bookplate artist until her death in 1958 at the age of eighty-four. Marjorie, their prized only child, who had been so much the center of attention in the Park Ridge artist colony, married five times and had one son, Herbert Briggs, who has several descendants.148

More than ten years after his death, in 1928, Clute had not been forgotten by his colleagues. The Walter Marshall Clute Gallery was built through funds solicited by architect Thomas Tallmadge and other donations on the grounds of The Summer School of Painting, Saugatuck, Michigan.149 Clute left a lasting legacy to the students of Chicago with his Ox-bow school. In 1919, the Alumni Association of the Art Institute, formed an affiliation with the school which led to the School of the Art Institute purchasing the Ox-bow school in 1995, where today it operates summer classes for its students, a tradition which spans ninety years.


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