Thomas Benedict Clarke (1848-1931) was a New York prosperous merchant who began collecting American art in the 1870s. Over the course of the next 20 years he actively traded, loaned, and sold artwork through dealers in New York City, outlets in Worcester, Cincinnati and St. Louis, and with artists. He also shared his collection through public and private exhibitions in New York and elsewhere. He earned praise from the critics for being the foremost patron of American painters during the late 1800s and was praised by many painters for his attention to American artists at a time when they considered themselves neglected or ignored.
Hudson River School painter Homer Dodge Martin (1836-1897) was one of the artists for whom Clarke acted as patron. Martin studied briefly with James Hart and spent his summers during the 1860s sketching in the Adirondacks, the Catskills and the White Mountains and then painted landscapes from the sketches he made at his studio in New York City's Tenth Street Studio Building.
In 1876 he took his first trip to Europe and from 1882-1886 lived in Normandy, France. There he was influenced both by the Barbizon school of painting and the Impressionists and his painting took on darker, more melancholy tones.
By 1887 Martin had returned to New York and in 1893 moved to St. Paul, Minnesota. During the 1890s Martin was plagued by ill health and financial struggles. A dead optic nerve in one eye and a cataract in the other, left him close to blindness when he died in February 1897. At the time of his death two of his greatest paintings, Westchester Hills (circa 1887) and Harp of the Winds (1895), remained unsold and another, Adirondack Scenery (1895) had been bought by Clarke for circa $400.
In 1890, Clarke had dissolved his dry-goods partnership, Clarke & King, and announced that he would no longer deal in American pictures except as an agent for George Inness. Clarke opened a showroom known as "Art House" in 1891 on Fifth Avenue in New York City, and began dealing primarily in Oriental porcelains and Greek antiquities. The Martin letters are one source of evidence that Clarke did, however, continue to deal in American art as a private agent through Macbeth Gallery and others. A letter written on Clarke's behalf to Martin dated April 17, 1896, stated that he had contacted Samuel P. Avery on Martin's behalf, and suggested that he consign his paintings to Avery, rather than having Clarke promote them himself.
In January 1899 Clarke announced that he would dispose of his American pictures at auction following a week long exhibition at the American Art Association. In February 1899, 7 of the 10 Homer Martin paintings in Clarke's possession were sold at that auction, including Adirondack Scenery for $5500. Within two years of his death, Martin's Harp of the Winds was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
In addition to the Metropolitan Museum, Martin's work can be found in other important American museums including the Addison Gallery of American Art, the Albany Institute of History and Art, the Cleveland Museum of Art, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. He became a member of the National Academy of Design in 1874 and was one of the founders of the Society of American Artists.