Howard Barclay French


Edith Barretto Parsons’ daughter, Edith Gilman Parsons, married Howard Barclay French in 1937. They both studied at the Art Students’ League in New York City, although not at the same time.

Howard French was born in Kentucky in 1906 but moved to New Jersey when he was very young. He knew from the time he was six that he would be a painter. At the age of fifteen he had his first contact with sailing, and the contract was sealed for him: he would be a marine artist.

At the Art Students’ League he studied with George Bridgman and other great instructors, but primarily with Frank DuMond. After finishing his studies he worked briefly with Sparkman & Stevens naval architects, and then, in his own studio, began a series of paintings for the cover of Yachting magazine, as well as other paintings of marine subjects. His aim for his paintings was, beyond accuracy, to capture the feel of the sea: the smell of the water, the sounds of slapping waves or hissing salt foam or a snapping flag. He wanted the viewer to enter the moment of the painting, to be part of the story. In 1940 he painted a large mural for the SS America (United States Lines). The painting was lost when the ship was scuttled after World War II. From 1943 – 1945 he worked at the Merchant Marine Academy on Long Island, New York, as a muralist and historical painter. His work for Yachting continued until the magazine moved to photography rather than paintings, but he still painted on commission for yacht owners. In the early 1960s he completed a commission for the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD, begun by Charles Robert Patterson, for a series of murals of historic moments in U.S. naval history and portraits of training ships used by the Academy. Those murals are installed in Memorial Hall (Bancroft Hall). His painting of the Battle of Lake Erie, visible upon entrance to the hall, is placed above the famous flag of Commodore Oliver Perry in that battle, “Don’t Give Up The Ship.”

Mr. French died in Vermont in 1987. He spent his last years busy in his studio where he worked on several series of paintings. One ambitious project was the creation of illustrations from imagination upon reading his great grandfather’s logs. His great grandfather was Captain Carl Behm of the clipper ships Staghound and Jacob Bell, among the last and largest of the clipper ships, competing against steam for world trade routes.