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Alice McClure

Time Period: 

Alice McClure (1884-1971)

Painter-photographer Alice McClure was born in Trinity Grove, Leith, Scotland. Her family moved to Buffalo, New York, where she trained as a fine artist with impressionist painter Edward Dufner, then resident in that city. In 1906 she  enrolled in the Glasgow Art School, living with her aunt Sarah Higgins Fraser.  She returned to New York and continued training with Dufner, who was  embracing a lightsome, radiant palette in in new Parisian style.[1] He no doubt recommended that McClure go to France to finish her education in the fine arts.  In 1909 she crossed the Atlantic again, enrolled at the Academie Moderne in Paris and joined the American Woman’s Art Association in the city. She began exhibiting paintings with the Association in winter 1910.[2]  McClure was drawn to experimental modernism and exhibited several starkly rendered portraits in the Salon d-Automne in 1913. She served on the jury of the Salon in 1914.  World War 1’s outbreak prompted her return to the United States where she took up residence in New York City. 

 In New York City McClure convinced senior photographer George T. Bassett to go into partnership with her in a  portrait gallery located at 224 Fifth Avenue  called McClure Studio.[3]  Struck by her boldness and vision, Bassett consented to serve as president and financial manager of the firm, using his broad connections in the trade to assist the young artist.[4]  McClure threw herself into the associational world of professional photography, hosting the monthly  meetings of the Professional Women’s Photographic Club and joining the national societies.  She won the reputation of a good sport by serving as the live model for an address by photographer Orrin Champlain on posing at the 1915 Convention of the Photographers’ Association of New England.  At that same convention she had ten photo portraits on display as one of the featured exhibits.[5]

Conscious that her reputation as a painter might raise suspicions among the brotherhood of professional photographers, McClure made a direct avowal of her commitment to photography as a representational medium in the pages of Photo Era Magazine in 1915:  “There is no profession more vital to mankind than photography.  We are writing the history of the world with indelible truth, we are keeping alive the memory of loved ones with more satisfaction than the painter can produce, and I am very sorry to say that we are not receiving from the general public the respect that our profession should demand, because in  many cases we do not respect one another.”  One admires the rhetorical craft of this call for  photographic  solidarity, but we should not draw the conclusion from it that McClure had put down her brushes permanently in favor of the camera.  In 1917 she showed three still lifes, two flower paints, a landscape, a portrait of Jean Hengerer, and a self portrait at an exhibition at The Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, New York.

Almost immediately McClure Studio became a favorite haunt of the actresses then dominating Broadway.[6]  In December 1915, McClure’s Magazine featured a large portrait of Pauline Frederick to illustrate Anna Steese Richardson’s article on the rise of the vamp, “What’s the Use of Being Good.” Placements in The New York Times, The Green Book, American Magazine, and The Sketch followed.  From 1915 to 1922 McClure and her collaborator Mildred N. Weed prospered.  Of that wartime generation of actresses that sat for McClure, Genevieve Tobin, Josephine Victor, the lovely ingénue Maude Fealy, Laura Walker, Violet Heming, and Marguerite Clarke inspired particularly arresting images. 

[1] Carol Lowrey, “Edward Dufner,” A Legacy of Art: Paintings and Sculptures by Artist Life Members of the National Arts Club (New York: Hudson Hills, 2007), 88-89.

[2] “Show Women Artists’ Work,” New York Times (February 13, 1910), 4.  “American Women Exhibit in Paris,” New York Times (February 20, 1910): “Two portraits of humble models, ‘Antoinette’ and ‘Jeanne’ by Alice McClure, are remarkable for their strength and boldness, but their searching literalness unfortunately appeals little to the aesthetic sense.  Still they illustrate what is considered the best result of the independent movement in art, of which Paris found a somewhat conglomerate expression in the Autumn salon.”

[3] Polk’s New York Copartnership and Corporation Directory, Boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn (New York: Polk, 1915), 617.

[4] Alice McClure, “Breaking In On Fifth Avenue,” Photo Era Magazine 35 (1915), pp. 235-36.

[5] J. P. Haley, “August Tenth in Boston,” Bulletin of Photography 17 (1915), 84.

[6] For the feminine domination of the 1915-1916 Broadway season, see Anna Steese Richardson, “A Woman-Made Season; Beauty, Brains and Technique Win,” McClure’s Magazine 46, 6 (April 1916), 22-23.  This article is illustrated by a McClure portrait.


Alice McClure developed a modernist approach to posing. Against a featureless background of light, a partial image of the sitter projects from the left frame of the pictorial field. Sometimes the subject rests an elbow on the table (as in the images of Josephine Victor and Juliet Day), sometimes a head turns to regard us from relatively close distance (as Laura Walker does). Magazine editors found these sorts of portraits dramatic, even in the muted fidelity of half tone reproduction.