James E McClees, founder of McClees Galleries, was born in 1821 in Chester City, Pennsylvania. He began his career in 1844 working as a photographer for M. P. Simmons. In 1845, he opened his first daugerrian shop with partner Washington L. Germon at 80 Walnut Street in Philadelphia.
In 1853 McClees purchased Whipple’s patent for making crystalotypes (salt prints from albumen negatives). After taking lessons from John W. Black in Boston, he wrote a 40 page pamphlet entitled “Elements of Photography” which described his photographic processes.
By the late 1850s, McClees & Co. was a thriving business. Dubbed “The Philadelphia Photographic Imporium", McClees employed 14 people including 6 artists.
In 1867 James McClees became a dealer and collector of oil paintings.
Eventually, his son took over the gallery and ran it until his retirement in 1920.
1916: “Philadelphia’s First Exhibition of Advanced Modern Art"
1930: David Paige
Turkish-born artist, David Paige exhibited his series of paintings depicting the exploits of Admiral Byrd's expeditions to Antarctica. Although he had never been there, he was able to paint the region from descriptions.
1923: Mary Cassatt
1924: Mary Cassatt
1931: Mary Cassatt
1932: French Art
McClees was the first gallery in America to represent Mary Cassatt while she lived in France. She participated in exhibits in 1923, 1924, 1931, and in an exhibition of French Art in April, 1932. The exhibition covered three generations of French artists It included Rococo, Claude Jean Baptiste Horn, Peirre Bonnard Andre Dunoyer de Segozac,Degas,Toulouse-Lautrec, Cezanne, Renoir,Van Gogh and Seurat.
1933: Walter Baum
The Pennsylvania Impressionist, Walter Emerson Baum had his first one man show at the gallery. On view were 38 works, mostly landscapes that he painted in the preceding 3 years. He received good reviews from the Philadelphia papers. The Inquirer referred to him as the “artist, critic, and arch-apostle in his art of the country side of Bucks,Montgomery, Berks and Lehigh counties where in truth much simple homely beauty is to be found."