Joseph Clark (1834-1926) was born in Dorset, the son of a draper and calico bleacher. Encouraged by his family to pursue his artistic talents he travelled to London and enrolled at “Leigh’s Academy” in Newman Street, an art academy set up by the painter and writer James Leigh in 1848. At the age of twenty-three, Clark exhibited his first painting at the Royal Academy in London, where would continue to exhibit with great success for many years.
Clark specialised in domestic genre scenes featuring children and animals and also painted a small number of biblical subjects. Many Victorian painters sought to demonstrate their social conscience through emphasising in their paintings the importance of family life and Clark was no exception. Whilst avoiding the overly sentimental style of some of his contemporaries, Clark frequently chose subjects which sought to remind people of their good fortune in having a caring family at a time when many children grew up as orphans in workhouses.
Clark enjoyed considerable success with his paintings. He became known for capturing the spirit of Victorian England, depicting scenes of domestic bliss, such as children sleeping, playing household games and families gathering around the hearth. Before he started his oil paintings, he normally made a series of precise drawings and expressive watercolours of the chosen subject, frequently using members of his own family as models.
Clark’s success spread overseas during his lifetime and he became a popular artist of choice for American collectors; in 1876 he was awarded a bronze medal at the Centenary Exhibition at Philadelphia in America. In England, his work was highly sought after both by private collectors and public institutions. The Chantrey Bequest, a fund set up in 1877 to be used to buy paintings and sculpture made in Britain with a view to encouraging the establishment of a public national collection of art, which would subsequently form the Tate Gallery after its establishment in 1897, acquired two of Clark’s paintings; Early Promise in 1877 and Mother’s Darling in 1885; both paintings are today held by the Tate Britain in London.
Clark also exhibited at the British Institution, the Royal Society of British Artists, the Royal Institute of Oil Painters, the New Watercolour Society, and across galleries in England and Scotland. His work can also be found in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.