The Clare Family of Painters

OLIVER CLARE (1853 – 1927)

Oliver Clare 1853 – 1927 with his dog Pip in 1926 aged 73

Born in 1853, Oliver was the son of the renowned still life artist George Clare and his wife Lizzie, formerly Elizabeth Bowen. The Clare family members, George, Oliver and Vincent were Victorian artists who specialized in, and were well known for, their highly finished and precisely detailed still life fruit and flower paintings. George and Lizzie’s third son David didn’t paint so little is known about him.

George Clare, who painted most of his life in London, would certainly have known William Henry Hunt (1790-1864), often referred to as “Birds Nest” Hunt, who was a major inspiration for George’s subject matter along with William Dexter (1818-1860). However, it was Oliver who took up the mantle of still life painting and made it a “celebration” of nature’s bounty and the beauty of life in the English hedgerow to the exclusion of all else.

Oliver spent most of his artistic life in Birmingham. He was born at 185 Edward Road, Springhill, Birmingham in 1853. Although there are no records indicating where he received his training, one can be quite certain that most, if not all, was from his father. Their stippling technique and choice of subject matter are almost identical. His amazing and unique technique and finish are superlative. Capturing the bloom of wild yeast on plum and grape skins down to the very subtle drops of water found on fruit from the early morning dew. His brush strokes are almost invisible and the urge to wipe the dewdrops off the fruit is almost irresistible. His subjects are often set against mossy backgrounds producing a more informal composition than many of his contemporary artists. Clare is recorded as enlisted in The 4th Kings Own at the age of 18.

At the age of 36 Oliver decided to emigrate to America and took passage on the SS Roman, sailing from Liverpool, an immigrant ship bound for New York. He is clearly listed as passenger 266, artist bound for New York. Oliver lived and worked in America for four years, finally deciding to return to his native homeland where he once again settled in Birmingham where he remained for the rest of his life.

All 12 of the postcards from the two sets of cards commissioned by the Pitman Health Food Co.

He married his wife Emma and they both lived at 11 Wills Street, Lozells, Birmingham where he died on 13th April 1927 from throat cancer.

While Oliver lived in Birmingham he was commissioned by a local firm “Pitman Health Food Co” to paint still life fruit to be reproduced on postcards and posters to promote healthy eating. There are two known series of six cards in each pack, twelve in total.

Oliver Clare exhibited many paintings throughout his lifetime and is most often associated with the Artists of Birmingham. He exhibited eighteen works at the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists, three at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool and six at the Manchester City Art Gallery. Throughout the late 1870’s and early 1880’s he lived in London where he exhibited several works at the Royal Academy and the Royal Society of British Artists, Suffolk Street.

Oliver Clare was also noted for painting on unusual items such as cigar box lids, papier-mâché plates and lacquer boxes as shown on the gallery page. These were usually for gifts to family and friends.

Oliver was not the heavy drinking man as has been stated in previous writings of the artist. This has been strongly refuted by none other than the artist’s nephew, Walter Clare, who was very close to his uncle and spent much time with him.

By Walter’s account, Oliver was a quiet placid man, a man who was keen on country pursuits such as shooting which he regularly did, either in Sutton Coldfield Park or at Kinver Edge whilst staying with his nephew. It was this interest in country life that gave Oliver the need to celebrate the English hedgerow which he does so well with his birds nest and flower paintings which are regarded by many as among his best and most desirable works.

However, it has recently come to light that, as with many artists, drink did play a part in his life and I attach some paper cuttings relating some of Oliver Clare’s scrapes with the law. The one stating he was an American is a reference to the fact that he had been living and working in America for about four years trying to break into the enormous American art market at that time. Nothing is known about this period of his life other than there is proof of his sailing as shown.”

Whilst on these shooting trips he took both his dogs with him. Both were named Pip, one a Springer Spaniel who retrieved any game that his lurcher, also Pip, managed to disturb and flush out. Calling the two dogs by the same name meant that one loud shout had both dogs returning to him. Oliver used to take his dogs to his studio in Livery Street, Birmingham on the tram and would often, whilst waiting for paint to dry, play with the dogs, often playfully pulling the Spaniel’s ears. Pip didn’t like this and would often just leave the studio and get on the tram on his own and take himself home. This he did often. Pip, the lurcher, was trained to go and collect fresh fruit from the local greengrocer in a wicker basket and bring it back for Oliver to paint. He also learned to stoke the fire. It was this Pip that lived the longest and eventually died on the same night as Oliver sat singing “Abide With Me”.

His paintings are in the following public collections:

  • Birmingham City Art Gallery
  • Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, Coventry
  • Torre Abbey House
  • Llandudno Museum
  • Bolton Art Gallery and Museum
  • Russell – Cotes Art Gallery and Museum,
  • Bournemouth
  • Wolverhampton Art Gallery
  • Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama, USA

Exhibited works during his lifetime:

  • Royal Society of Artists – Birmingham (18 works)
  • Royal Glasgow Institute of Fine Art
  • Walker Art Gallery – Liverpool (3 works)
  • Manchester City Art Gallery (6 works)
  • Royal Academy
  • Royal College of Art

    Another example of a printed reproduction of Clare’s work, dating to slightly later than the postcards.

Reference books for Oliver Clare (British 1853-1927):

  • Royal Society of British Artists 1824-1893 and The New English Art Club 1888-1917 – Antique Collectors Club, 1975 – 1984 & 1987 – 617 pages
  • Dictionary of British Art Volume IV – Victorian Painters (1. The Text & 2. Historical Survey & Plates – Antique Collectors Club – 1995)
  • E. Benezit Volume 3 1999
  • The Dictionary of British Artists 1880-1940 – Antique Collectors Club – 1976
  • Dictionary of British Artists working 1900 – 1950 – Grant M. Waters
The funeral card his family had printed along with an epitaph written by a close friend.

 

Peter Clare, Oliver Clare’s grandson, holding an early painting dated 1889

It was in the early 1960’s that antiques and art dealer Eric Jones started to collect and deal in the works by Oliver Clare which he regularly found when called in to clear housefuls of furniture and paintings in the Erdington/Birmingham area. Eric, who ran Kestrel House Antiques, Erdington, I knew well, was without doubt the first person to really promote Oliver Clare’s work to the extent that many wealthy Midlands businessmen, who had never before shown much interest in art, became enthralled by his work and they became widely sought after and prices rose at an alarming rate. Local businessman, Terry Wallin, was among the first to seriously collect Oliver Clare’s paintings in the late 1960’s and had without doubt the finest collection of his work. Sadly, due to a burglary at his home and the subsequent loss of 21 paintings from his collection he decided to stop and eventually sold most of the rest of his collection. Surprisingly some quarter of a century later these stolen paintings were found in an attic of a near neighbour to Terry and were eventually returned to him. After Terry’s death in 2007 the remaining part of his collection came up for sale in 2017 and many acquired by myself to add to my own collection. Oliver Clare is regarded now as one of the most collected artists coming from the Birmingham area and is regarded as a true “Son of Birmingham”.

Above: Terry Wallin with two of the paintings from his Oliver Clare collection.

I would like to thank Peter Clare, Oliver’s grandson by his son David Clare, for the information and help he has afforded me along with other members of his family as shown below.

Brian and Peter Clare both grandsons

L-R Lesley, a great granddaughter, Georgia his great great granddaughter and Sandra Clare his great granddaughter.

Susan Clare, Oliver’s great granddaughter

Above is a press cutting from The Birmingham Evening Mail showing John Clare, Oliver Clare’s grandson, continuing the family tradition of painting. Although not a professional artist himself he is however still continuing the family artistry as a draughtsman with a well-known Birmingham manufacturing company.

And finally… we recently found Oliver Clare’s final resting place.

An unassuming urn marks the artist’s grave.

 

GEORGE CLARE (1835-1890)

George Clare was the father of Oliver, Vincent and David Clare. Oliver and Vincent were successful artists and David followed a completely different profession.

George was without doubt the influence on both Oliver and Vincent and likely to have been their sole tutor. As there is no information to the contrary it can be assumed that they were both trained by their father as their painting technique is so similar to that of George, both in technique and subject matter.

George was born in Barnet in 1835 where he remained for most of his life except for a period during the 1860’s when his address was 173 Bristol Street, Birmingham. During this period he exhibited at the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists. We believe it likely that he shared the studio in Livery Street, Birmingham with his son Oliver for a period as it was only a short walk from his home in Bristol Street, Birmingham.

George was very limited with his subject matter painting exclusively still life of fruit and flowers and birds nest studies. These had been made popular by William Henry Hunt, often referred to as “Birds nest Hunt” 1790 -1864. Thomas Worsey 1829 – 1875 and William Dexter 1818 – 1860. These were the three main artists who were the first to popularise the “Birds nest” subject. Dexter, who started painting flowers and birds at The Derby China Factory, went to Paris to study before returning to England to marry Caroline Harper. Shortly after their marriage they both emigrated to Melbourne, Australia in 1852 where he opened an art gallery. At some stage during the latter part of the 1860’s George returned to Barnet, Hertfordshire where he died in 1890.

George exhibited at the Royal Academy during 1864, 1866 and 1867, The Royal Society of British Artists and The British Institution regularly throughout his career until 1874 when there are no further records of him exhibiting again.

George Clare’s paintings reflect the enormous popularity of the highly defined works of the Pre-Raphaelites who were becoming prominent at this time.

WORKS IN PUBLIC COLLECTIONS:

  • Birmingham City Art Gallery
  • Torre Abbey
  • Southampton City Art Gallery
  • The Cooper Gallery

Below, a pair of oils by George Clare, “Still Life of Fruit” and Birds Nest with Flowers” 24 x 20 in.

Also a rare work by William Dexter “Bird’s Nest and Flowers in a Hedgerow” dated 1849, done just before he emigrated to Australia.

 

VINCENT CLARE (1855 – 1925)

Vincent Clare was born in Birmingham in 1855. It is then fair to assume that George Clare, his father, was living and working in Birmingham at this time.

Little is known about Vincent except that, like his father and brother Oliver, he painted exclusively still life of Fruit, Flowers and Bird’s Nests in both oil and watercolour.

Although very similar in subject matter, Vincent’s technique was never so fine and detailed as that of his brother and father. His palette was of a much softer and lighter colouring and didn’t have the same finish as Oliver with his fine handling of bloom and dew drops on the fruit and flowers. They were much more flat and less complex in their construction, often leading into a pastel colour. Although his drawing ability was equal to his father and brother, his paintwork was not nearly as good and sometimes seem a little flat especially with his fruit. His flower and bird’s nest paintings were excellent and it is these that collectors tend to go for. Like his father and brother he was clearly influenced by William Henry Hunt otherwise known as “Bird’s Nest Hunt”.

As with Oliver Clare, Vincent’s work is very popular in the United States possibly as a result of Oliver’s visit there for four years from 1886 – 1890.

He appears not to have exhibited widely in the principal exhibitions having shown only 3 works at The Walker Gallery, Liverpool from 1888 – 1897. It is likely he would have shown work at The Royal Birmingham Society of Arts with Oliver who was a regular exhibitor but there is no definite proof of this.

WORK IN PUBLIC COLLECTIONS:

  • Northampton Museum and Art Gallery
  • Rotherham Heritage Services
  • Clifton Park Museum

For most of his adult life he lived and worked in London from Fern Cottage, Nursery Road, Southgate, London where he died in 1925.

 

The life and times of David Clare (brother of Oliver and Vincent Clare)

This document was prepared with the sole purpose of providing my father, Ronald Clare with some background information on the life and times of his father, David Clare. It is written from that perspective and does not attempt to trace the lives of David’s children or other relatives.

While on holidays in July 2010, my wife, Leanne and I joined the local library, which had access to Ancestry.com. The range of records available included the British Army WW1 Pension Records. We had a suspicion that David Clare had been in the Army Veterinary Corps. A search of his name in the pension records revealed five documents, one of which gave the names of his wife and four children at the time of his enlistment in 1914. This was the start of further research, which I thought had concluded on 27 July 2010 and I was ready to finalise this document for presentation to Ronald.

Incredibly, I received a telephone call from Mrs Jean Brown on 28 July 2010. Jean was trying to contact an Oliver Clare who lives in Brisbane based on advice she had received from Sarah Harper who had responded to the genealogy forum ten years ago.

Jean is the daughter of Gladys (Mary) Clare, who is the daughter of David Clare and his second wife Jessie Clarke. This makes Gladys known as Mary, Ronald’s half-sister.

Jean provided me with her research and some family photographs. I have incorporated these in the document and included Jean’s research in its entirety in the attachments. We are very grateful to Jean for this information as my original work had some big gaps in it.

The story is by no means complete and may be subject to further update and correction.

Oliver Clare
15 August 2010.

VIEW IN FULL: The life and times of David Clare

Leon Suddaby

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