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Laurence, Sydney PDF Print E-mail
Known for his dramatic landscape paintings of Alaska, Sydney Laurence was one of the first professionally trained artists to live in the Alaska Territory. His trademark subject was Mt. McKinley.

Laurence was in the mainstream of a large group of young artists searching for a new way to paint landscape. Reacting against the theatrical, detailed and dramatic paintings of Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Hill, and others, Laurence and his colleagues were attracted to the more subdued tonalist style and plein-air naturalism of Camille Corot and his fellow Barbizon School painters. Laurence and many of his peers were also influenced by the more 'radical' work of the French Impressionists, a movement that flourished from 1880 to 1915.

Sydney Laurence's early work places him with American painters whose work embodied tonalism and/or impressionism such as Henry Ward Ranger, Dwight Tyron, John Francis Murphy and George Inness. However, responding to the diverse landscapes he encountered in his travels to England, Europe and Alaska, Laurence developed his own signature style of painting, a combination of realism, tonalism, impressionism, luminism and atmospherics.

Laurence was a native of Brooklyn, New York, and attended Peekskill Military Academy in New York sometime before 1885. He exhibited paintings at the National Academy between 1887 and 1889, and was involved in the founding of the American Fine Arts Society. During this time, he took courses at the Arts Students League and privately from Edward Moran who was living in Manhattan. (Laurence's entry in the Paris Salon of 1890 listed Moran as his former teacher, but there is no evidence that Laurence spent time studying in Paris)

In 1889, Sydney Laurence and his wife, Alexandrina Dupre, a New York artist who exhibited at the National Academy in 1889 and 1892 and whom he married on May 18, 1889, traveled to England where they spent most of the first year of their marriage at the artists' colony at Cornwell. From the mid-1890s, he took jobs as an artist-war correspondent and traveled to various parts of the globe including to Africa, and China. In Zulu, he lost his hearing, and he was injured in the Boer War.
He also did sketches of the Spanish-American War for the "New York Herald".

For unknown reasons, Laurence left his wife and two young sons in England, where she remained for most of the remainder of her life. He traveled to Alaska around 1903, and from 1904 into 1908, was in Tyonek on the north shore of Cook Inlet, and in 1906, he filed claims near Talkeetna on Poor Man Creek. Although he had very little success as a miner, he continued to paint, including a canvas called "Cordova" that is in the Whatcom Museum in Bellingham, Washington. Laurence traveled to Cordova and painted there in 1908 and 1909, completing a 4-foot by 16-foot panorama. A Christmas postcard from his wife and children in 1904, addressed to him in Tyonek, Alaska, is the last known contact between the artist and his first family.

Financially supported by friends, Laurence set up camp in the vicinity of Mount McKinley, the subject of hundreds of his paintings, often shown in the clouds. The unique qualities of the Alaskan light and the sense of human beings overwhelmed by nature especially fascinated him. He painted many views of McKinley, dating from 1911. In 1913, the Knapp Company produced a 1913 calendar with a Mt. McKinley chromolithograph view.. The original painting was a 36 X 54 oil and likely was painted no later than 1912.

Laurence found abundant inspiration for his art in Alaska, and by 1920 he had
established a studio in Anchorage and had become the territory's most prominent painter. In 1923 he established a studio in Los Angeles, where he remarried in 1928. The rest of his life he spent most winters in Los Angeles or Seattle, returning to Alaska to paint nearly every summer. Although his landscapes of Southern California and the Pacific Northwest survive, the majority of the paintings he did both in his Los Angeles and Anchorage studios were of the Alaska landscape.

Although Mount McKinley was his trademark, he also depicted sailing ships and steamships in Alaska waters, totem poles in Southeast Alaska, cabins under the Northern Lights, and Alaska Natives, miners and trappers engaged in their solitary lives in the Alaska wilderness.

A large traveling retrospective exhibit of his work, "Sydney Laurence, Painter of the North", was held in 1990-1991. He was a member of the Royal Society of British Artists and the Salmagundi Club

Sydney Laurence died in Anchorage, Alaska, in 1940.


Sources:
Len Braarud, Braarud Fine Art
Kesler Woodward, "Sydney Laurence, Painter of the North" (exhibition catalogue, 1990-1991)
Michael David Zellman, "300 Years of American Art"
Peter Falk, "Who Was Who in American Art"

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