Painting with his father and some of Walter’s friends, including John H. Twachtman, Edward Potthast, Joseph R. DeCamp, and Frank Duveneck, in Gloucester, Massachusetts, Eliot mastered the tonalist style and began to assimilate a few of the salient features of impressionism. Both Clarks admired the paintings of George Inness. In 1904, Eliot left for a two-year sojourn in Europe, where he traveled from Giverny to the Alps, from Venice to London, before returning to New York in 1906. Back in the Van Dyke Building, Eliot enjoyed the company of Bruce Crane, Karl Anderson, and others of his generation. Here, he painted in a typical impressionistic style, featuring the effects of sunlight and a spontaneous application of brightly contrasted dashes of color. Soon, the impressionist formula had been mastered, and Eliot began adapting it to his own interests. Following in the footsteps of his busy father, Eliot was presented with his first major one-man show at the Doll and Richards Gallery in Boston. His career picked up momentum as he exhibited regularly in national shows throughout the first decade of the century. In 1912, his works were seen in a one-man show at the Louis Katz Gallery in New York. He also won the Third Hallgarten Prize at the National Academy for Under the Trees. In 1915, President Woodrow Wilson honored him by purchasing one of his paintings. A three-man show at the Milwaukee Art Institute in 1919 included the works of Eliot Clark as well as to those of George Elmer Browne and Walter Griffin. And, while teaching at the local art club, Eliot exhibited at the Telfair Academy of Savannah, Georgia, in 1924.
Balancing his teaching at the Art Students League with visits to the Grand Canyon and Santa Barbara, California, Eliot’s exceedingly diversified background included writing as an art historian. In 1916 he published his first monograph on one of America’s great landscape painters, Alexander H. Wyant. Following a trip to Nova Scotia, where he executed a few bright and spontaneous works, Eliot continued his writing with an article for Art in America about America’s pioneer impressionist, Theodore Robinson. His other works included a book on John Henry Twachtman, published in 1924; History of the National Academy of Design, published later in 1954; and, prompted by the success of his article, a major monograph on Theodore Robinson, scheduled for publication in 1920. This latter manuscript was never taken to press, however, and remained in the artist’s possession until its publication by R. H. Love Galleries of Chicago in 1980. Clark served as president of the American Watercolor Society between 1920 and 1923. As an art historian, Clark is among the best of his time. His article on Twachtman (Clark, 1919-B) is refreshingly formalist-oriented, considering its early date; it lacks the anecdotal, home-spun quality of many contemporary writings, which deal mainly in platitudes and genteel generalities.
Following his marriage to Elizabeth Trowbridge Eggleston in 1921, Eliot spent the winter painting in Kent, Connecticut. In 1923, he camped in the deserts of California and Arizona in an effort to achieve the best atmospheric effects in his plein-air manner. Beginning in 1933 he taught summer school classes in Charlottesville. Between 1956 and 1959 Clark served as president of the National Academy of Design. Throughout the remainder of his life, he continued his work in both writing and painting until his death in Charlottesville, Virginia at the age of ninety-seven.