Will Sparks Biography

Will Sparks




Painter and printmaker Will Sparks was born on February 7, 1862, in St. Louis, Missouri. Originally intent on becoming a doctor, he studied anatomy and medicine at St. Louis Medical College but changed his mind after taking his exams, opting instead to become a painter. He then studied at the St. Louis School of Fine Arts before traveling to Paris to study at the Academie Julian and the Academy Colarossi, under Harpignies, Gerome, and Bouguereau. While in France he supported himself by working for microbiologist Louis Pasteur as an anatomical artist.

After returning to the United States he exhibited at the St. Louis Expo, where he was introduced to writer Mark Twain. A fortuitous meeting, Sparks found himself inspired to explore the West after conversations with the adventurous Twain. Sparks settled briefly in Ohio, working for the Cincinnati Enquirer, before relocating first to Denver, Colorado and finally to San Francisco, California in 1891, stopping frequently to paint and sketch as he went. He established himself as an architectural painter with a focus on the old adobe missions in central and southern California, often portraying them in moody nocturnes.

In 1904 he became an anatomical artist for medical classes at the University of California, and in 1907 he helped found the Hotel Del Monte Art Gallery in Monterey with fellow nocturne painter Charles Rollo Peters, adding to the region's reputation as a destination for artists in the West. One of his major patrons was the philanthropist Alma de Bretteville Spreckles of San Francisco. He continued to live and work in San Francisco until his death on March 31, 1937.

Will Sparks' works are held in the collections of the California Palace of the Legion of Honor; the California Historical Society; the Huntington Library; Crocker Museum; Bohemian Club (mural, "The Home"); Minneapolis Museum; Society of California Pioneers; De Young Museum; St. Louis Art Club; St. Louis Museum; Bordeaux Museum (France); Toledo Ohio Museum; San Diego Museum; Honolulu Museum.

Memberships: Bohemian Club; SFAA; Sequoia Club; California Society of Etchers.

Exhibited: SFAA from 1894; Del Monte Art Gallery, 1907 - '25; Alaska-Yukon Expo, Seattle, WA, 1909.