Exhibition Reviews


The New York Evening World, September 17, 1919 by W. G. Bowdoin

“His present exhibition at the Art Mecca consists of a gathering of Village Vamps (they’re still wet). These paintings are quickly produced. They are intended to show the soulful side of their subjects, which are vampires (not firemen, as you might be led to suppose from their titles)...

One of the girlies is painted in cobalt, as indicative of her mood, to say nothing of her tense...

The pictures are nailed to the walls of the exhibition gallery somewhat after the fashion followed by holders of confederate bonds or investors in certain mining shares, which went down, down to infinity until they could be used as wallpaper and for nothing else...

They show the emotional side of the village life, and Mary, Jane, Fanny, Louise, Rose, Kitty and a whole flock of other girls enter into the showing at $500 per...

One of the small galleries of the Mecca is filled with pen and ink sketches of the village notables and of the various visitors that have shed white lights upon the place and that on going away have left only gloom behind...

A visit to the Art Mecca is really needful if one wishes to be liberally educated, and besides the shades of Thomas Paine, Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne and O. Henry constantly hover over the place – and there you are.

Among the other paintings is one of Rodin, which is alone worth a trip to the Art Mecca.”

The Evening Telegram – New York, Tuesday, March 13, 1923 quote from an interview with Clivette on his planned trip to Paris:

“The French like my work because they see that I have a sense of light that none of the masters had. Most artists look merely at the outer form of the face they are painting. But I paint the inner soul. And I paint the movement of the light.

Twenty years of juggling on the stage made my eye so quick that I catch every movement of the light while I am painting. A juggler has to watch the high lights when he tosses the balls in the air.

I don’t call myself a modern painter, if by modern you mean this cubist and futurist stuff. But my ideas are new and they have taken France by storm.”

Newark Evening News, June 8, 1925 Unusual Paintings at Spanish Society by W. G. Bowdoin

“...Merton Clivette...sets himself down as the painter of “The Mob”. He has sketched and painted types picked from the throng and with the grimmest kind of realism, he shows the man in the street, the prize fighter, the rounder, the bohemian, the negro, the fat lady, the vamp and other less attractive characters of the village and elsewhere. All of the Clivette paintings have been dashed of hastily. He obtains spontaneity whatever else he gets.”

New York Evening Post, Saturday January 15, 1927 Merton Clivette

“Any one who was formerly in the habit of passing the “Soul Shrine” on the junction of Washington Place and Fourth Street, where works of Merton Clivette adorned the windows, will share an honest amazement at the announcement of an exhibition of paintings by Clivette this week at the New Gallery. It is still more amazing to see that besides the familiar canvases piled up with muddy pigment which seems scooped into topographical reliefs, there are also paintings of brilliant, uncannily brilliant, color and a sort of dynamic intensity that almost make one gasp. “Outriding the Blizzard” is such a surprising work with its horses galloping down upon one driven ahead of the swirling wind that sweeps them along. Or the fish swimming in varying depths of an aquarium like jewels breaking up the translucent planes of water into refracting mirrors that distort forms and awake a new rainbow spectrum. In fact, Clivette is at his best painting fish...this artist has made them a handsome people who range tropical waters with gay freedom and enrich them with the elegance of their lithe movements and flaming color. Color and movement are the two striking characteristics of this unusual painter. For that reason his water colors are most attractive, for they have greater fluency and brilliance. The artist appears innocent of interest in design in most of his work. At times he makes the pattern of his exotic weaving count decidedly. The enormous tiger head, burning as brightly as Blake fancied it, or any of the strange animals of tropical climes (or, perhaps, of mystic vision), make a remarkable impression. One feels that one has been participating in an orgy of emotion and color...”

The Sun, Saturday, January 15, 1927 Clivette, the Impressionist, at the New Gallery by Henry McBride

“Clivette...is having an exhibition devoted to his works in the New Gallery. Mr. Hellman, who directs it, states that his Clivette has been, among other things, an acrobat, prestidigitateur, magician, circus man, fomenter of disturbances in the Far East and a superb Baron Munchausen. Apparently Clivette has led a free life and paints accordingly. Freedom in painting is, of course, highly desirable as a means to an end. In itself it is nothing. But it certainly must dazzle artists who are themselves rather tight in manner to see such a complete emancipation from fear of the brushes as is evinced by Clivette.”

New York Times, Sunday, January 23, 1927 The Week’s Art Notes, Around the New York Galleries

Work by Several Artists, Including Merton Clivette, Shenkel, Boardman Robinson, Lemordant, Pye, Czobel and Others

“All available trumpets having been blown by such esthetic citizens as Maurice Sterne, Paul Manship, Eugene Higgins, Carl Sprinchorn, Paul Burlin, Waldo Peirce and Edward Bruce in their enthusiasm for the paintings of Merton Clivette, now being shown at the New Galleries, there is nothing for this chronicler to add save that the ta-ra-ra is justified, if what you like in painting is raw color hurled on to the canvas with brawn and power. What this artist, who...was for many years a stage “magician” possesses is a tremendous vitality. In such a work as “Outriding the Blizzard” or in the paintings of busy goldfish and exultant seas, this vitality is communicated quite lustily. In other words, it is his vitality rather than his painting which is distinctive, for Mr. Clivette’s work is all in one key. That is, though his colors sing, their song is always the same blast of colorful sound.”

The Art News, Saturday, January 29, 1927 Exhibitions: Clivette, New Gallery

“It is quite probable that most of the people who have gone to see the exhibition of Clivette’s paintings have expected a hearty laugh. Everyone whose acquaintance with New York is at all intimate has long been familiar with the “Man in Black”, his house of mystery and his junk shop on Sheridan Square. It was until recently, the general impression that his work belonged in the latter place. Therefore one was prepared to scoff. Clivette has fooled everybody. In the sudden reversal of opinion accurate estimates are quite impossible. His painting is so vigorous and colorful and has excited so much enthusiasm that there is great danger in becoming a too eager worshipper. Preconceived ideas get in the way of same judgment. The exhibition is one which must be visited several times. It may be that a great artist has been discovered. Or, one may be glad to know that a man who has been regarded with some suspicion, is at the least a strong, sincere painter.”

The New York Times, Sunday, July 24, 1927 Now On Exhibition In Paris

“Florent Fels writes about the magician, Clivette, now exhibiting at the Bernheim -Jeune Gallery: “In the person of Clivette, the American writers on art seem to have found their Douanier Rousseau. Not that these strange painters are to be compared, but that their feeling for the picturesque lends to their real worth a quality belonging to the realm of the fantastic – a sort of bell on a fool’s cap. Clivette’s painting is only one of the possibilities for this surprising human. Painting for him comes at the end of a career for which one wants to find a climax. It is an impassioned desire for uniting rhythm and color, the spirit that fired Van Gogh and the Japanese.”

The Christian Science Monitor, Boston, Saturday, December 31, 1927 Art News and Comment, New York Exhibitions by Ralph Flint

“...a number of interesting and important fixtures are scheduled for the local galleries. Just now the New Gallery is the rendezvous for those who like their art with a good dash of bravura and brawn. Clivette, that colorful individuality in paint who made something of a stir with his last year’s exhibition at the same gallery, is again on view, but with even more zest and substance than before in his work. He presents the interesting spectacle of a rampant individualist at close grips with himself and his medium, who, by virtue of his wide determination to achieve a mastery over both, dares at each and every step to storm the pictorial heights, technically as well as thematically. Clivette’s most striking canvas this year is his boldly brushed-in vision of a swiftly descending eagle grappling with a swan, a scene reduced to spurtive shafts of light and color and far removed from the realm of representation. It is a tour de force, at first glance striking enough, and commanding itself for the consistency of its vision and its handling.”

Detroit, Michigan news paper clipping 1928

“Beginning Monday, Detroit lovers of fine pictures will be much richer, for the Ainslie Galleries, well known New York art dealers, have opened a branch in the new Fisher Building...The first showing is a ...group of paintings by the French and English masters...but along with them are two highly arresting one-man shows. One consists of canvases by the mysterious Merton Clivette, the American magician and jack of all trades who... (has) produced works which, though extremely individualistic, instantly caught the public fancy and excited the admiration of his fellow artists. The one reproduced above gives a good hint of his style, though little indication of the vitality of his color.”

The Detroit News, Sunday, December 16, 1928 Art and Artists Ainslee Opens with Clivette

“Who is Clivette...From whence this daring dramatic quality, this swirl of light and color, this broad modeling? Fittingly enough he comes out of the background of the stage and the circus, an ex-magician, acrobat, poet, printer, newspaper man and pamphleteer. A character so strange, so forceful, so free that he dares to paint what he feels. So he gives us swirls of light and color and calls them flowers, seascapes, tropical fish, tropical birds, Indians, Black Swan and in a tremendous exposition of action a panel of horsemen which he calls “Outriding the Blizzard”. The horses, it is true are hardly more that daubs of the brush, the riders roughly modeled, but there is the blizzard and the thumping gallop of the horseman bearing down against the wind... Perhaps this notice should, by rights have been devoted to some account ...of George Ainslie, the founder of the galleries, or even the quality of the beautiful Fragonards which are brought to Detroit for the opening...But Clivette, with his swirls of color and his sense of daring and youth and strength...offers a more exciting introduction.”

New York Herald Tribune, Sunday, November 24, 1929 News and Exhibitions of the Week in Art by Carlyle Burrows

“Merton Clivette, venerable painter of Greenwich village holds the center of the stage at the Art Center with an exhibition of paintings which probably will be a shock to most souls who have a way of looking to art for subtle emotional or intellectual stimuli...There are doubtless those who will go to his exhibition and looking at his large canvases filled with swirling masses of paint will recall Ruskin’s famous criticism of Whistler. There are others, perhaps, who will give Clivette the benefit of the doubt and make the most of the undoubted vigor and force of his impressions”

The New York Times, Sunday, November 24, 1929 Art Notes, Clivette and Others by Elizabeth Luther Cary

“Enormous canvases by Clivette fill the walls of the main gallery in the Art Center at present where they will remain on view until the end of the month. Clivette was the forerunner of Soutine, apparently, for many of the Greenwich Village painter’s canvases belong in the same métier and genre as that of Paris’s latest “discovery” Soutine. Most of Clivette’s figures are of heroic size and never let the spectator forget for a moment they are fashioned out of paint”

Los Angeles Times, August 30, 1931 “Clivette the Eternalist”

“Ten paintings by the late Merton Clivette now hang in a gallery belong the Preston Harrison French collection at the Los Angeles Museum. Tight rope walker, acrobat...Clivette was one of the earliest American “modernists”. The present group of Clivette’s paintings contain some of his best-known ones. The gold fish picture, the self-portrait for instance, what about him? With all his showmanship the man carried something over from his acrobat knowledge that compels admiration....how many a fine painter would not sacrifice much to have on tap the energy that animates such a picture as his still life or the ferocious tiger who grows alive as you look...Look at the speed of his race horses and finally study the motion in the gold fish picture. Clivette is one extreme end of art practiced not as a craft, but as a means to instantaneous expression. How history will weigh him remains to be seen. He will stand or go down with a number of modern French and German painters though Clivette was born in Wisconsin and painted in New York... It is interesting to compare them with the paintings of another New York modernist, Jan Matulka, hanging among them. Matulka organizes spots of light, dark and color in landscapes in a manner made familiar by Andre L”Hote and other Frenchmen. Beside Clivette’s his seems a cerebral and rather small performance, as though he were cautiously working out a system. Clivette steps out on the wire confident of his power to move and balance. We repeat, the old acrobat has something many better painters lack – and let it go at that.”

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