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Theodore Clement Steele

by Dr. Lori Verderame
Theodore Clement Steele

Steele's Beginnings

Born in Owen County, Indiana in 1847, Theodore Clement Steele began painting at an early age. He studied art in Chicago, IL and Cincinnati, OH and moved to Indianapolis, IN in 1870.

Steele married Mary Elizabeth Lakin and lived in Battle Creek, MI where the artist produced commissioned portraits as well as landscape compositions. By 1873, the couple returned to Indianapolis, where Steele set up a studio. Steele, like numerous important artists of his day, traveled abroad to study art in Munich with the European masters and the American painters, Frank Duveneck, William Merritt Chase, and William Trout Richards.

American Impressionism

Steele studied at the Munich Art Academy and lived abroad with his family from 1880 to 1885. Steele was associated with the preeminent landscape painters of American Impressionism in famous artist colonies located in Cos Cob, CT, Long Island, NY, Cape Cod, MA, and New Hope, PA. In 1885, the Steele family relocated to Indianapolis, IN. 

Steele gave instruction in art and established an art school in cooperation with Sue Ketcham and William Forsyth from 1889 to 1895. By this point in his career, Steele realized that he could earn a living from portrait commissions, but his most important compositions and primary interest was landscape paintings. 

By the 1890s, Steele was a nationally recognized artist. Exhibition record includes shows at the Hoosier School at Huntington, IN and the Society of Western Artists at Chicago, IL. After the death of Steele’s wife, he purchased two hundred acres of land in Brown County, the site of many of Steele’s most important and highly sought after landscape paintings. Theodore Clement Steele was associated with Indiana University at Bloomington, IN and was made an honorary professor there. Steele continued to make art until his death in July 1926.

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