Will Sparks (1862-1937)
Will Sparks was born in St. Louis, MO., on Feb.7, 1862. Sparks was raised in St. Louis and attended public schools there. He began painting when relatively young and sold his first painting at age 12. After studying medicine and anatomy at St. Louis Medical College, Sparks opted to pursue an art career. He then studied at the St. Louis School of Fine Arts and later in Paris at Academies Julian and Colarossi under Gerome, Harpignies, and Bouguereau. While in Paris, he supported himself as an anatomical illustrator for Louis Pasteur. Will Sparks sketched in and around Bordeaux and was greatly influenced by Cezanne and the Barbizon painters. After his European hiatus, he returned to St. Louis and exhibited in the St. Louis Expo of 1886. At the Expo, he met Mark Twain, whose vivid description of California convinced Sparks to move there. After living briefly in Cincinnati and Denver, he moved to California in 1888.
Will Sparks spent three years working for newspapers in Stockton and Fresno and then settled in San Francisco. Continuing newspaper work, he worked for the Evening Call as a writer-illustrator. While maintaining a studio in San Francisco at 163 Sutter Street, Sparks taught anatomy at UC’s medical school (1904-08) and was one of the founders of the Del Monte Art Gallery in 1907. Will Sparks died in San Francisco on March 30, 1937.
One of California’s most influential artists, he is nationally known for his jewel-like paintings of the California missions and nocturnal adobe scenes. Sparks claimed to have painted about 3,000 oils and often signed on top of the varnish making his signature easily removed if care is not taken in cleaning.
Edan Hughes, “Artists in California 1786-1940”
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