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Chamberlain, Samuel

(28 Oct. 1895–10 Jan. 1975)
  • Karen Patricia Heath

Chamberlain, Samuel V. (28 Oct. 1895–10 Jan. 1975), graphic artist, photographer, and gourmet food writer, was born Samuel Vance Chamberlain in Cresco, Iowa, the son of Dr. George Ellsworth Chamberlain, a surgeon, and Cora Lee Summers. In 1901 the family moved to Aberdeen, Washington, where Chamberlain undertook his early education. In 1913 he entered the architecture program at the University of Washington in Seattle, and in 1915 transferred to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). When the United States entered World War I, Chamberlain joined the American Field Service as a volunteer ambulance driver for the French infantry.

In 1919 Chamberlain returned to MIT but found that his calling was drawing, not architectural design. He moved to Seattle and worked as a perspective artist. Still, Chamberlain hankered after the continent, and in 1922 set sail for France, where he spent months traveling and drawing. On the voyage back to New York, Chamberlain met Narcissa Gellatly; the couple married in 1923. They had two daughters: Narcisse, in 1924, and Stephanie, in 1931.

After a few months of commercial work for magazines, Chamberlain took up the American Field Service Scholarship and toured France, Spain, Italy, and North Africa. In 1925 Chamberlain provided drawings for a book, William Emerson’s Old Bridges of France, and in 1926 published his own portfolio, Sketches of Northern Spanish Architecture. In Paris the Chamberlains entered a convivial circle of American expatriates, but while his compatriots embraced the avant-garde, Chamberlain studied in the academic, neoclassical tradition, under the direction of Edouard Henri Léon Cortès.

Throughout the 1920s Chamberlain was a visitor to the United States (he taught at the University of Michigan, and later MIT). In 1926 he won a Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship to study at the Royal College of Art in London, where he worked under the instruction of printmaker Malcolm Osborne. For Chamberlain 1928 was a busy year: he published another portfolio, Domestic Architecture in Rural France; his first book, Tudor Homes of England (with Louis Skidmore); and his own Through France with a Sketchbook. By the end of the decade, Chamberlain was well known in both Europe and the United States for the quality of his drypoints, etchings, and lithographs.

By 1930 the Chamberlains had decided to become permanent expatriates and bought a property in Senlis, a small town near Paris. But in 1934 they were forced to return to America due to the poor economic climate. Chamberlain produced covers for the architectural magazine Pencil Points, and took up a post as a lecturer at MIT. The family subsequently settled in Marblehead, Massachusetts.

From 1935 onward Chamberlain focused on photography, particularly of the New England states. The result was the photobook A Small House in the Sun, published in 1936 by Hastings House of New York City, an enterprise founded by Walter Frese specifically as an outlet for Chamberlain’s work. Further photobooks followed, including the popular American landmarks series, a collection of inexpensive, yet lavishly illustrated guides designed for the tourist or armchair visitor. In 1939 Chamberlain started producing week-by-week engagement calendars featuring photographs of American scenes. Chamberlain was now not only a well-respected photographer of the American Scene, but also the author of handsome books that did much to stimulate both the tourism industry and the historic preservation movement in New England.

The Chamberlains had continued to summer in France throughout the 1930s, meaning that when war broke out in 1939, Narcissa, the two children, and their cook, were forced to decamp in haste. Upon their return home, Chamberlain started to work up a series of articles based on the hilarious adventures of a French cook who sought to adapt haute cuisine to the American kitchen. Chamberlain approached Earle MacAusland, the editor of the nascent Gourmet: The Magazine of Good Living, who welcomed the suggestion—and so, the character of Clémentine was born. Readers delighted in living the high life vicariously through the “Clémentine in the Kitchen” column, written by Chamberlain under the nom de plum of Phineas Beck (an Anglicization of fin bec, meaning a gourmet). In 1943 Chamberlain published Clémentine in the Kitchen, and the book remained in print for decades. Clémentine became a beloved figure for the aspirational upper-middle classes and introduced Americans to the gastronomic delights of bœuf bourguignon and coq au vin long before gourmet cooking was popularized by television chefs such as Julia Child.

Chamberlain also sought to help the war relief effort by raising funds through the publication of nostalgic art books, such as France Will Live Again (1940), followed by This Realm, This England (1941), both with Donald Moffat. In 1942 Chamberlain enlisted as a captain in the Army Air Force and trained as a reconnaissance photographer. That same year he released a patriotic photobook of traditional Americana, entitled Fair Is Our Land (also with Moffat). In between his photographic intelligence work, Chamberlain learned Italian. He also traveled to South Africa, Egypt, Greece, Tunisia, Italy (where he was promoted to major), Romania, and finally London, where he joined the Strategic Bombing Survey in 1945.

When the war ended Chamberlain returned to Marblehead to publish his popular tour guides, and he also began work on pictorial histories of Ivy League universities. The year 1947 saw the publication of Behold Williamsburg detailing John D. Rockefeller, Jr.’s re-creation of the historic district in Virginia (Chamberlain was the project’s official etcher). And in 1948 Chamberlain produced a tourist handbook for Rockefeller Center in Manhattan. When not engaged with such projects, Chamberlain served as an editor and consultant for Hastings House.

Chamberlain’s thoughts turned often to France though. Luckily, MacAusland agreed to run a new series on French food, wine, and travel in Gourmet. The result was Chamberlain’s “Epicurean Tour of the French Provinces” column; favorable letters from readers encouraged him to compile Bouquet de France, published in 1952. This book served as a gastronomic introduction to the country, with travel recommendations and authentic recipes, all set alongside Chamberlain’s drawings, etchings, and photographs. “A Gastronomic Tour of Italy” column quickly followed, then Italian Bouquet in 1958, followed by “The Beauty of Britain” column, and British Bouquet in 1963. While these later works never enjoyed quite the sales of Clémentine in the Kitchen, Chamberlain was now an arbiter of taste, feted by glossy magazines such as American Home.

Chamberlain carved out new interests in historic interiors in the 1950s, with photobooks such as Salem Interiors, plus illustrations for his wife Narcissa’s books. He also contributed artwork for his daughter Narcisse’s cookbooks. In 1953 Chamberlain released another nostalgic book of photography, Soft Skies of France, and in 1962 published The New England Image, a twenty-fifth-anniversary collection of the best of his New England photographs. Chamberlain helped found the Marblehead Arts Festival in 1963 and served on its advisory committee. In 1971 Hastings House reissued A Small House in the Sun, and the following year, the National Trust for Historic Preservation honored Chamberlain with an award for outstanding services. He died in Marblehead.

Samuel Chamberlain was a master of reinvention who left behind a remarkable body of graphic works, New England travel guides, and gourmet cookery books. His best-selling Clémentine in the Kitchen brought the pleasures of French cooking to the middle classes and did much to influence the subsequent generations of American cookery writers.


The bulk of Chamberlain’s papers are split between two archives: The Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, holds Samuel and Narcissa’s personal and business correspondence from 1895 to 1975, while the Archives of American Art of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, holds Chamberlain’s personal and business correspondence from 1908 to 1971. Chamberlain’s artworks may be found in a number of major collections, including the Art Institute of Chicago; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the British Museum, London; the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris; the Library of Congress, Washington, DC; and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City. The Chamberlains’ extensive cookbook collection was donated to the Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University. Chamberlain’s autobiography, Etched in Sunlight: Fifty Years in the Graphic Arts (1968), explores his artistic, published, and gastronomic life with characteristic wit, while Narcissa’s The Prints of Samuel Chamberlain, N.A. (1984) forms a detailed catalogue of his graphic works. Clémentine in the Kitchen (1943), was revised by his daughters (1988), and subsequently reissued (2001). Secondary works include Nathalie Jordi, “Samuel Chamberlain’s Clémentine in the Kitchen,” Gastronomica 7, no. 4 (Fall 2007): 42–52, and David Strauss, Setting the Table for Julia Child: Gourmet Dining in America, 1934–1961 (2011). An obituary appeared in The New York Times on 11 Jan. 1975.