Sidney Mortimer Laurence was born on October 14, 1865 in Brooklyn, New York. There are few confirmed facts about his childhood and early adult life; it is believed he studied painting with Thomas Moran’s brother, the marine artist, Edward Moran.
In 1888, Laurence studied antique drawing at the Art Students League of New York. In 1889, he married the artist, Alexandrina Fredericka Dupre. The couple moved to England. Their first home was in the St. Ives Artist Colony on the Cornwall coast.
Laurence became a member of the Royal Society of British Artists in England and the Salmagundi Club in New York. Laurence was an artist correspondent and produced illustrations of the Zulu War for Black and White Magazine in London and images of the Spanish American War for the New York Herald.
In 1904, Laurence left his wife and two sons in England to become a prospector for gold in Alaska. During the next ten years, he continued to prospect and paint. Eventually, painting won out and by 1923 he began painting fulltime. Laurence opened a studio in Los Angeles. In 1926, Carl Block, an Illinois store owner, asked Laurence to provide him with as many paintings of Alaska as Laurence could produce. With the success of his painting sales, Laurence split his time between Anchorage, Seattle and Los Angeles.
Laurence was not the first artist to paint Alaska, although his work stood out among others because he actually lived in Alaska. He was not just a tourist, as were other artists like Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Hill. Primarily a marine and landscape painter, Laurence had the ability to capture the grand scale of the Alaskan Wilderness. In his paintings, the human elements seem fragile, their hold on the environment temporary and insignificant. He used old European motifs and applied them to the Alaskan backcountry, creating an art that was his own.
Sidney Laurence died in Anchorage, Alaska in 1940 at the age of 75.
Sydney Laurence Painter of the NorthKesler E. Woodward
University of Washington Press 1990
I was attracted by the same thing that attracted all the other suckers, gold. I didn’t find any appreciable quantity of the yellow metal and then, like a lot of other fellows I was broke and couldn’t get away. So I resumed my painting. I found enough material to keep me busy the rest of my life and I have stayed in Alaska ever since.