Sydney Mortimer Laurence was born in Brooklyn, New York. He moved to Anchorage, Alaska, and spent the remainder of his life there. He is known as a painter of Indians and Alaskan landscapes. Indeed, Laurence became the foremost painter of the Alaskan landscape, and his work is so well known to Alaskans as to make him a legend in the forty-ninth state.
At the same time, his paintings of a romantic, unspoiled northern frontier - Mt. McKinley, trapper’s cabins and caches, quiet pools, rocky coasts, and totem poles - are little known beyond Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. Even in Alaska, where his work is known to virtually every resident, the artist’s life and early career have long been shrouded in mystery, and his work is rarely placed in the larger context of the art of his time.
Laurence, or as he is sometimes referenced, Lawrence, came to Alaska as a gold seeker at the turn of the century, after a successful early painting career in New York, England, and Europe. He had exhibited at the National Academy of Design in New York, won an award at the Paris Salon of 1894, and was a member of the Royal Society of British Artists. He was also an active participant in the thriving colony of British and expatriate American artists in St. and White magazine, a publication covering the Spanish American War, South Africa, and China.
The artist spent his first years in Alaska looking for gold and painting little. However, by 1915 he was gaining a reputation as the first ambitious painter of the Alaskan landscape, and his six by eight foot canvas of Mt. McKinley had been acquired and exhibited by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Collection of Fine Arts. Laurence continued to paint the Alaskan landscape as a full time resident until the mid-1920’s, and continued working as a commuter between Anchorage, Alaska, Seattle, Washington, and Los Angeles, California until his death in 1940.
Laurence’s work and life is described in a book by Kesler Woodward, entitled Sydney Laurence, Painter of the North, published in 1990. This book is the first to present the full range of the artists’ work, as well as discussing his artistic development and geographic importance.
Reference: Samuels’ Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West, by Peggy and Harold Samuels, www.keslerwoodward.com