Sunday, April 16, 2017

The World War 1 Artwork of Clarence Underwood

Clarence F. Underwood - 1905
Clarence Frederick Underwood [1871-1929] was one of the leading illustrators and commercial artists of his generation, providing work to a range of books as well as highly circulated publications such as Harpers, McClure's, The Saturday Evening Post, LIFE, and The Ladies’ World. Although born in Jamestown, NY, he resided in Meadville after his parents opened a drug store on the corner of Chestnut and East Avenue. Here Clarence, along with his younger siblings, Alice, Ida, Belva, and Frederick (all born in Meadville) would grow up.


Clarence attended both the public schools as well as Allegheny College, but art was his ticket to the larger world. Leaving Meadville he received formal training at the Art Students League in New York, then London, and later at the Julian Academy in Paris as a pupil of Jean-Paul Laurens, Benjamin Constant and William Bouguereau, in 1896. Soon after leaving the Academy, Clarence would choose for himself a career as an illustrator.

Marriage and Family

Serenading Grace
Paris is also where the 25 year-old, Clarence would meet and soon marry Grace Gilbert Curtis of New York City, on May 9, 1897. The couple would return to New York where their daughter Valerie Gladys was born on December 22, 1898; however, any joy Clarence felt was soon erased by the death of Grace who passed away a month later on January 27, 1899. She was only 25. Grace’s death had a profound impact on Clarence. Later he would commemorate his late wife in an illustration depicting him playing his violin in front of her portrait while a young Valerie played at his feet.

Eventually Clarence found love again at age 33, marrying 22 year-old, Katherine Ann Spotswood Whitehead. of Erie, PA on February 23, 1905. They would have two children together, a son, Clarence Frederick and a daughter, Katherine Page, both born in New York.

His Commercial Work

Many of his paintings and illustrations bore heavily romantic themes, many of which showing Edwardian couples courting, often with animals or in pastoral backdrops. Women it seems, however, were Clarence’s favorite subject matter. Whether this was due to commissions by publications or his own choosing, is not entirely clear, but it is rare to find any of his popular work devoid of the female figure.

Probably his most well-known accomplishment in commercial field was his creation of the “Palmolive Girl,” a type of beauty girl that became popular throughout the country. Underwood was also credited for being the first to show women smoking in advertisements, when he painted model Suzanne Talbot, and supposedly coined the famous ad slogan, "I'd walk a mile for a Camel."

The Great War

As World War 1 effects loomed ever closer to the United States, Clarence, like many of his fellow illustrators, produced an ever-increasing number of propaganda material meant to arouse sympathy for those fighting the Germans and eventually to foster support of the country's entry into the Great War. In the years immediately before American involvement, Clarence’s work included magazine covers encouraging women’s participation in the Preparedness Movement, anti-German illustrations for short fiction articles, and even the cover art for the J. Stewart Barney novel, L.P.M. The End of the Great War (Putman, 1915), a tale in which a scientist aims to end the War early by means of a startling invention.

After the U.S. declared war, Clarence worked directly for the War Department and the Red Cross, and his material naturally became more overt in supporting the war effort. He illustrated a Marine Corps recruiting poster, and innumerable pro-war, public service advertisements. Clarence's most recognized poster is likely, "Back Our Girls Over There," (1918) which called upon citizens to donate money to the Young Women's Christian Association in support of women serving overseas.


Underwood in his NY studio
Clarence was a well-respected member of the Society of Illustrators in New York City while also holding a regular staff position at the New York Press. No doubt because of its proximity to his many clients, he maintained a permanent studio in Manhattan up until his death. It was in his studio that Clarence collapsed and later died on June 11, 1929, at Flowers Hospital. His obituary would run in papers across the country. He was 58. His wife Katherine would pass away nearly one year later, on April 12, 1930, in Stamford, Connecticut, at the age of 47.

Find more of Underwood's work on our Pinterest page where we have a dedicated board.

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