Merton Clivette (1848-1931) was highly regarded in his lifetime; we hope to rekindle well-deserved interest in his vivid and energetic paintings. A man of many talents, he led a varied career as an acrobat, palmist, juggler, astrologer, reporter, and author before devoting himself to art. He settled in Greenwich Village in the first decade of the 20th century where he was known as “The Man in Black,” a sobriquet from his vaudeville days.
A critic at the New York Times wrote that “Clivette was the forerunner of Soutine.” He also presages the abstract expressionist movement of gestural painting that would not blaze in Manhattan until after WWII, and is eerily predictive of the paintings of the English master, Frank Auerbach.
He left home at twelve to join a traveling circus, performing as an acrobat and magician, eventually moving to San Francisco, and briefly Seattle where he worked for newspapers, including the San Francisco Call, as a quick sketch artist. In 1891 he changed his act for the vaudeville stage billing himself as “Clivette, The Man in Black.” With his wife, the former Catherine Parker Chamberlin, he toured the United States and Europe on the Orpheum Circuit.
Around 1907, Clivette gave up his stage career to paint full-time; nearly 60 years old, he was to continue to paint vigorously and prolifically for the remaining 22 years of his life, producing a body of more than a thousand works - oils, temperas, and drawings in his New York studio at #1 Sheridan Square. Clivette played a central role in the colorful Bohemian life of Greenwich Village.