William Henry Clapp Biography


A man who earned a prestigious reputation in Canada and the United States, William Henry Clapp was a painter and etcher of modernist styles ranging from Impressionism to Fauvism to Pointillism. He was born in Montreal and moved to Oakland, California with his family in 1885 and lived there through his childhood until the early 1900s when the family returned to Montreal.

In 1904, he went to Paris with several other Montreal artists and fell under the influence of Claude Monet. Returning to Montreal he was part of a group of progressive artists that changed the art of that city, and he was later credited as being one of the most significant influences. Clapp became a member of the Canadian Art Club in 1912, an exclusive society of those with the most "sophisticated" and avant-garde levels of artistic taste. During this time, he was highly productive completing many impressionist-style paintings. He encouraged experimentation in other artists and was active in 1913 in the Thirtieth Spring Exhibition of the Art Association of Montreal, which, like the Armory Show in New York, shocked the public with exhibits of modernism.

His family moved back to Piedmont, California where Clapp, shortly after his arrival at the age of thirty-eight, became Director of the Oakland Art Gallery from 1918 to 1949. Throughout these years, he was an aggressive force for modernism and experimentation. As Gallery Director, he became associated with and arranged exhibitions for the Society of Six led by Selden Gile. This group of artists banded together to create a modernist style that was uniquely about California and was a rebellion against the dominance of traditional painters Arthur Mathews and William Keith who espoused decorative and tonalist styles.

He also ran the Clapp School of Art in Oakland and had several exhibitions of his monotypes. In 1933, he married Gertrude Schroder, Secretary of the Oakland Gallery. He was a member of the California Art Club, the Oakland Art League, and the San Francisco Art Association. His works are held in numerous institutions including the Canadian National Gallery and the Oakland Museum. He died of cancer on April 21, 1954.

Source: Nancy Boas, "Society of Six"; Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"