Will Sparks Biography

Painter, etcher, muralist, illustrator

One of California’s most important artists, Will Sparks is nationally known for his jewel-like paintings of the California missions and nocturnal adobe scenes.

Born in St. Louis, MO on  February 7, 1862. Sparks was raised in St. Louis and attended public schools there. He began painting when quite young and sold his first painting at age 12. After studying medicine and anatomy at the St. Louis Medical College, he opted to pursue an art career. He then studied at the St. Louis School of Fine Arts and later in Paris at Academies Julian and Colarossi under Gerome, Harpignies, and Bouguereau. While in Paris, he supported himself as an anatomical illustrator for Louis Pasteur. Sparks sketched in and around Bordeaux and was greatly influenced by Cezanne and the Barbizon painters.

After his European hiatus, he returned to St. Louis and exhibited in the St. Louis Exposition of 1886. At the Expo he met Mark Twain whose vivid description of California convinced Sparks to move there. After living briefly in Cincinnati and Denver, he moved to California in1888.  Sparks spent three years working for newspapers in Stockton and Fresno and then settled in San Francisco. Continuing newspaper work, he worked for the Evening Call as a writer-illustrator. While maintaining a studio in San Francisco at 163 Sutter Street, he taught anatomy at UC’s medical school (1904-08) and was one of the founders of the Del Monte Art Gallery in 1907.

Sparks died in San Francisco on March 30, 1937.

Member: Bohemian Club; SFAA; Sequoia Club; California Society of Etchers
Exhibited: SFAA from 1894; Del Monte Art Gallery (Monterey), 1907-25; Alaska-Yukon Expo (Seattle), 1909.
In: California Palace of the Legion of Honor; California Historical Society; Huntington Library (San Marino); Crocker Museum (Sacramento); Bohemian Club (mural, The Home); Minneapolis Museum; Society of California Pioneers; De Young Museum; St. Louis Art Club; St. Louis Museum (portrait); Bordeaux (France) Museum; Toledo Ohio Museum; San Diego Museum; Honolulu Museum.

Source: Edan Hughes, “Artists in California, 1786-1940”