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William Clapp was born on October 29, 1879 in Montréal, Canada. In 1885, Clapp moved to California with his family settling in Oakland where he spent his childhood. In 1900, he returned to study with William Brymner at the Montréal Art Association. He furthered his studies in Paris at Academie Julian, Academie Colarossi, and the Ecole de la Grande Chaumiere. He established himself at the Salon d’Automne in 1906.

From 1906-08, Clapp took a trip to Belgium and Spain. While in Spain, the warmer climates influenced his palette to become brighter. In 1909, he studied in Madrid at the art school of the Prado Museum and the following year, he spent a few months in New York and eventually moved back to Montreal the same year. From 1912-1914, after having established himself in Montréal, he was elected an associate member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts and participated in many other exhibitions and venues that generated good reviews but poor sales.

Clapp moved with his family to Cuba from 1915-16 and then to Piedmont, California. He became the director of the Oakland Art Gallery in 1918. In this position and as a member of a group of painters known as the Society of the Six consisting of artists Gile Seldon, Maurice Logan, August Gay, Bernard von Eichman, and Louis Siegriest, he arranged exhibitions of their works from 1923-28. During the 1920s, he experimented with pointillist dabs and broken color and believed that one should paint “nature as seen, not as it is.” For six years he operated the Clapp School of Art in Oakland.

In 1933, William married Gertrude Schroder and spent much of his time painting at his studio or working at the gallery. Eventually, as other museums and galleries in the San Francisco area began focusing on modernism, the Oakland Art Gallery began to lose its reputation and influence as a leading art institution. He worked at the gallery until 1950 and then part-time until 1952. Although his works did not sell, Clapp continued to paint throughout his life. He died in Oakland on April 21 1954. While his early works reflect the impressionist style of Renoir, his later works are of the pointillist style of Seurat. Clapp is as well known in Canada as he is in the US.

Member: California Art Club; Oakland Art League; Montreal Art Club; San Francisco Art Association, Pen and Pencil Club, Montréal, American Artists Professional League.

Exhibited: National Academy of Design, New York; Carnegie Institute; Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts; San Francisco Art Association, 1918-1919; Society of Six 1923-1928; Oakland Art Gallery, 1932; Golden Gate International Exposition, 1939; Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto 1937; Society of Six Retrospective, Oakland Museum, 1972.

Works Held: Canadian National Gallery; Ontario Provincial Government; Montreal Museum; Oakland Museum.

Artists in California: 1786-1940 by Edan Milton Hughes
Society of Six by Nancy Boas