The Lost Cloars

They're out there somewhere. Stanton Thomas and the staff of Memphis Brooks Museum of Art would love to find them.



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 Carroll Cloar, American, 1913-1993

The Draught of Fishes, 1965

Location Unknown 

Cloar’s work is filled with Biblical references, a natural consequence of his growing up in Wynne, Arkansas, where church was not only the center of every family’s religious life, but also the hub of the entire community’s social network. “He put a Delta spin upon many of the sermons he’d heard and stories he’d read,” explains Thomas. In the case of The Draught of Fishes — hardly the Sea of Galilee, but a sleepy Delta oxbow — a thin man in blue, probably Cloar himself, his ankles in the still water, calmly holds one end of a fishing net obviously put to good use in gathering the large haul of aquatic creatures now scattered on the bank.

 

This sounds like the introduction to an episode of Antiques Roadshow, doesn’t it? That’s why we at Memphis decided to try to move the search process along, by publishing images of five of these as-yet-unlocated Carroll Cloar originals. Thomas tells us that the particular images shown here were scanned from old 35mm slides from the artist’s estate, which are now part of Special Collections at the University of Memphis Libraries. As a result, the photographs vary considerably in terms of the quality of reproduction.

Because Cloar lived in New York City during the early 1950s, he also had several gallery connections there, most notably Edith Halpert, a pioneering dealer of modern art whose other clients included Ben Shahn and Georgia O’Keeffe. Among Carroll Cloar’s earliest collectors were Billy Wilder, Doris Day, and the Rockefeller family. That’s why it’s likely that some of these lost Cloars have traveled far, far away from his native American South.

Two of the five lost Cloars in this feature date from the 1950s, two date to the 1960s, and one comes from very late in his career. Perhaps someone reading this particular issue of Memphis will recall seeing one of these classics at a vacation home in the Smokies, or in a ranch house in Montana, or in a townhouse in Paris. If you happen to come upon one, be sure to let us know.  

 Carroll Cloar, American, 1913-1993

The Luckless Fishermen, 1985

Location Unknown 

Almost nothing is known regarding the current locus of this striking piece, one which contrasts so dramatically with The Draught of Fishes, painted exactly 20 years earlier. “Throughout his career, Cloar touched upon social realism,” explains Thomas. “This is clearly a commentary on his environmental concerns.” The plentiful bounty of fish on the bank in the earlier painting is replaced here by a polluted stream, full of bottles, shoes, and even a Prince Albert tobacco can. It’s a sad place where the efforts of the young fishermen — clearly Carroll Cloar himself and his ubiquitous childhood friend Charlie Mae — are indeed proving fruitless.

 

All images are courtesy Carroll and Pat Cloar Collection, Special Collections, University of Memphis Libraries. © Estate of Carroll Cloar. Special thanks to Dr. Stanton Thomas of the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art for his assistance.

 

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