Having lived a full and adventurous life, Sydney Laurence may well have looked at his historic paintings of Alaska as his greatest accomplishment. Widely regarded as Alaska’s premier resident artist, Laurence studied under Edward Moran with the National Academy of Design in the 1880s and enrolled in 1889 in the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. He worked as a marine painter in Europe for nearly ten years, from a St. Ives, Cornwall, home.
While always an artist, Laurence’s professions included sailor, war correspondent, and prospector. His circumventing path started on the sea as a runaway from his Brooklyn boyhood; he was credited with saving his captain’s life during a shipwreck. After a decade at sea, his New York return led him to the National Academy. Later, as a journalist, he covered the Spanish-American war for the New York Herald and the Zulu and Boer wars for an English publication. He surrendered it all by 1903, succumbing to the lure of the Yukon Gold Strike which tempted him to the Far North.
By 1912, he again began to paint, this time choosing t. Mckinley and arctic landscapes as subjects. He achieved national recognition with his exhibit at the 1915 Panama-Pacific Expo in San Francisco. His supporters purchased two large canvases, which were hung in the National Museum of American Art of the Smithsonian Institution. He set up a commercial studio in Los Angeles in 1918, where he painted scenes from his personal experiences, sketches and photographs while waiting out the less-hospitable Alaskan winters. His ability to translate the awe-inspiring and solitude-invoking natural face of the last vast American frontier with oil and canvas is his grandest fame.