"Clapp exhibited some of the most advanced impressionist canvases in Canada. Almost a pointillist in touch, his surfaces vibrate with broken colour and dappled light." The Canadian Encyclopedia

William Henry Clapp was born in Montreal, Quebec to American parents in 1879. The family returned to the United States in 1885 and settled in Oakland, California. Clapp came back to Canada in 1900, and enrolled at the Art Association of Montreal where he studied under William Brymner. During this time he painted with Clarence Gagnon in Saint-Joachim and Baie St. Paul, QC. He left Canada again in 1904 to study in Paris at the Académie Julian. He also took classes at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière and the Académie Colarossi. During his studies, Clapp was taken by the Impressionism and Post-Impressionism he found in France and adopted their techniques into his own art. While in Europe he also travelled and painted in Belgium and Spain.


In 1908, Clapp returned to Montreal. There he taught, painted and exhibited. He showed paintings at the Art Association of Montreal's Spring Shows from 1908 to 1915, and again in 1918. He took part in the annual show of the Royal Canadian Academy in 1904, and again from 1908 to 1916, and in 1918. He was made an Associate of the Royal Canadian Academy in 1911, and became a member of the Canadian Art Club in 1913, as well as a member of the Arts Club of Montreal and the Montreal Pen and Pencil Club.


Clapp left Montreal in 1915 and went to Cuba, where he stayed and painted until 1917. He then returned to Oakland and became curator of the Oakland Art Gallery (now the Oakland Museum) and was named director in 1920, a position he held until 1949. In 1923, he became a member of a well known group of California painters called the "Society of Six" and he exhibited his paintings with the group until 1928. He also took up membership at the California Art Club, the Oakland Art League, the San Francisco Art Association and the Western Association of Art Museum Directors (1926) for which he became president in 1928. For six years, he gave art classes in Oakland at the school he operated, the Clapp School of Art.


Clapp died in Oakland, California in 1954 at age 75.


His works can be found in various museum collections: the National Gallery of Canada, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, Oakland Museum, Oklahoma City Museum of Art, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Utah Museum of Fine Arts, Art Gallery of Ontario, Art Gallery of Hamilton and the Art Gallery of Windsor.

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