Merton Clivette (1868-1931) American
Birthplace/Origin: b. Portage, Wisconsin
Clivette was born in Portage, Wisconsin, in 1868 as Merton Clive Cook, to a retired British sea captain and his wife. After his father died, when he was five, his mother, a writer and poet, took the family to the Wyoming Territory where she ran a newspaper. Merton never attended a formal school, but learned to read and write while working in the newspaper office.
He left home when he was twelve to join a traveling circus, performing as an acrobat and magician. He moved to San Francisco and briefly lived in Seattle. He worked for newspapers, including the San Francisco Call, as a quick sketch artist. 1891 he altered his act to conform to the vaudeville stage, billing himself as “Clivette, The Man in Black”. With his wife, the former Catherine Parker Chamberlin, he toured throughout the United States and Europe on the Orpheum Circuit.
Around 1907, the year his daughter, Juanyta, was born in New York City, Clivette gave up his stage career and began to paint full-time. He was about 40 years old and was to continue to paint vigorously and prolifically for the remaining 22 years of his life: he produced a body of work numbering more than a thousand works – paintings in oil and tempera and pencil drawings. In all his art there is a recognizably individual stylistic continuity evident in his characteristic brushstroke, paint-handling, use of line, color, composition and subject matter.
Clivette, with his wife and daughter were a part of the colorful Bohemian life of Greenwich Village in the 1910s and 20’s. He was an active participant in the art world of New York, and his work was exhibited extensively during this period at a number of galleries, among them the Ainslee Art Gallery, the New Gallery and the Anderson Galleries in New York and the M.M. Bernheim-Jeune in Paris. Clivette was included in the exhibition, “Painting and Sculpture by Living Americans” at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1930. Also exhibited in this show were Stuart Davis, Arthur Dove, William Glackens, Marsden Hartley, Childe Hassam, George Luks and Charles Sheeler. A description and critical analysis of Clivette’s work in included in Modern Art, Why, What & How by Henry Rankin Poore.