A painter and illustrator
specializing in Indians and landscapes of Alaska, Sydney
Laurence was born in Brooklyn in 1865 and died in Anchorage in
1940. In between he led a full and adventurous life in which
his art was a constant.
Like some fictional character, as a teenage boy Laurence ran
off to sea, was shipwrecked and saved the captain’s life. He
returned home to a more placid life in New York where he began
studies at the National Academy of Design with Edward Moran.
This was followed by a move to Paris in 1889 and further
studies at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. He achieved success in
Paris, receiving an honorable mention at the Salon Artistes
Francais in 1894.
That same year he moved to the art colony at St. Ives in
Cornwall, England, where he continued to paint on and off for
the next thirteen years. During this time, however, Laurence
also became a war correspondent for various U.S. And British
journals, traveling to Africa where he lost his hearing
covering the Zulu war; getting wounded during the Boer War;
and traveling to China, apparently without incident!
After returning to England in 1903, Laurence’s thirst for
adventure took him to Alaska, where he searched for gold in
Valdez from 1904-1912. Unsuccessful in his quest, he returned
to painting in 1912. In the interim, in 1908, he spent time in
the Pacific Northwest, helping to establish the Western
Academy of Beaux Arts in Seattle. This arts and crafts school
later moved to the town of Bellevue and became a short-lived
Art was to become Laurence’s most successful endeavor for he
is now considered perhaps Alaska’s most famous painter, whose
many works are on display in Anchorage. He is particularly
known for his numerous depictions of Mt. McKinley. It was
while in Valdez that Laurence heard about Mt. McKinley, so he
journeyed there by steamer and dogsled. So impressed was he
with the mountain that by the summer of 1913 he had produced
40 oil sketches. By 1914 he had finished an eight foot canvas
entitled "Top of the Continent", which was his first finished
view of Mt. McKinley, and has become one of his most famous.
Laurence continued to paint, but also opened a photography
shop in Valdez to support himself. He later moved to the newly
developing town of Anchorage and started a studio there; a
fortuitous move as it increased his growing reputation. While
he frequently returned to his cabin in Alaska to paint, he
spent the last eighteen winters of his life in Los Angeles
where the days were longer and the light was better.