Kate Freeman Clark was born on 3 September 1875 in Holly Springs. Her father, Edward Clark, was a Vicksburg attorney who served as an assistant to L. Q. C. Lamar; her mother was Cary Freeman Clark. After her father’s death, Kate, her mother, and grandmother moved to New York City, where Kate graduated from the Gardiner School in 1891. She subsequently enrolled in drawing and painting courses at the Art Students League, receiving instruction from John Henry Twachtman, Irving Ramsey Wiles, and most importantly William Merritt Chase.
Attracted by Chase’s masterly touch and dark, Munich School manner, Clark left the League in 1896 for the Chase School of Art. That summer, she attended Chase’s first Shinnecock Hills Summer Art School on Long Island, the first major summer art colony of its kind. Clark became enthralled with the summer school, especially painting outside amid the landscape, a practice called “plein air” in Europe. She and many other students also became fascinated with Chase, a natural teacher full of enthusiasm. Leading by example, he encouraged his students to launch directly into a painting, responding immediately to the imagery without careful preliminary drawing or compositional mapping. His art lectures were often peppered with admonitions to which Clark gave careful thought. Clark returned to the summer school for five years, completing at least one work per day during the three- to four-month school period. Some paintings were large, while other works were painted on cigar box lids.
As winter and summer studies with Chase became a routine for Clark, her skills improved. Her landscapes reflect Chase’s preference for persistent diagonals; undramatic scenery; the earthy color schemes of the French Barbizon School; quick, confident brushwork; soft treatment of distant spaces; and genteel subject matter.
Clark began exhibiting her works at New York’s National Academy of Design in 1904 and then at other prestigious venues, including Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Institute; the Boston Art Club; the Buffalo Fine Arts Museum; the Concord School of Art in Washington, D.C.; and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. She had some solo exhibitions, and one of her paintings was selected for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. Reserved by nature and social class, Clark hid her gender by signing works Freeman Clark and declined to sell her paintings. Her last exhibition occurred in 1918 in New York City.
Clark’s promising career was brought to a halt by Chase’s death in 1916, followed by the deaths of her grandmother in 1919 and her mother in 1923. She put all of her paintings and drawings into storage in the New York City area, returned to her family home in Holly Springs, and essentially stopped painting even though she had few responsibilities and a generous inheritance. She died on 3 March 1957, leaving money to build a facility to house and exhibit her works. The Kate Freeman Clark Art Gallery in Holly Springs contains at least one thousand oil paintings, watercolors, and drawings.
- Carolyn J. Brown, The Artist’s Sketch: A Biography of Painter Kate Freeman Clark (2017)
- Kathleen McClain Jenkins, in Mississippi Women: Their Histories, Their Lives, ed. Martha H. Swain, Elizabeth Anne Payne, Marjorie Julian Spruill, and Susan Ditto (2003)
- Cynthia Grant Tucker, Kate Freeman Clark: A Painter Rediscovered (1981)