Oliver Clare was a still life artist of renown hailing from, and working predominantly in, Birmingham.
Clare formed part of a trinity of painters in his family. Along with his father, George Clare (1830-1900), and his brother, Vincent Clare (1855-1925), Oliver Clare found an affinity for the often-overlooked subject of still life painting. Declared, in academic eyes, as a lesser subject than figurative or landscape painting, still life was going through a renaissance in the second half of the 19th century and early 20th century. As the domineering rule of the academies and ‘high art’ waned, more and more artists turned to still life, as did the paying public.
Clare was most likely trained by his father. Indeed, there are striking similarities in their work, although critics now hail the younger Clare as the better artist. An exquisitely crisp realism lends to apples, grapes, plums, and myriad other fruits and flowers an uncanny depiction. A rich colour palette brings his brimming scenes of abundant nature even more to life, his fruits mouth-watering, flowers headily scented. The addition of small water droplets is a cunningly clever skill which adds another layer of fine detail to his works. His fruits are seemingly bursting with juiciness, moist and appealing.
In his early career, Clare found success in exhibiting both at the Suffolk Street Galleries and the Royal Academy in London. However, whilst the growing appreciation for still life was certainly a positive, it also meant the British market became flooded with works, making it very competitive. Clare tried his luck in the USA, travelling to New York. He returned, however, after four years, settling down in his hometown of Birmingham. He would exhibit successfully in the northern galleries for many years.
Indeed, many testimonies remain of Clare’s artistic and personal character and spirit. He was said to have offered up teaching lessons, as well as gifting paintings in thanks for a favour. He was also known to paint on unusual canvases, such as cigar box lids, and gift these to friends and family.
It seems a passion for nature fuelled his desire to paint still life, the artist often drawing inspiration from the country hedgerows, and their myriad foliage and vegetation. Many people report seeing him regularly, in search of the next spark to light his creative fire.
Alongside him were his dogs, of whom he was very fond. They would apparently fetch fruit from the greengrocers to bring to Clare’s studio for him to paint. These canine companions also ignited an interest in animal painting in his later years.
Despite there being some challenging times, Clare reportedly had to paint lampposts whilst going through a particularly rough patch, Clare’s works have nonetheless stood the test of time. Well after his death, they have remained incredibly popular, impeccable examples of British still life painting. Today, examples are held in museums and galleries across Britain, including Birmingham City Art Gallery and Russell-Coates Art Gallery and Museum.
Born in Birmingham, Britain.
Exhibited at the Suffolk Street Galleries, London, Britain.
Exhibited at the Royal Academy, London.
Lived and worked in the USA.
Died in Birmingham, Britain. Buried in Handsworth Cemetery.