By the time Thomas Le Clear took up residence in Buffalo in 1847, he had already established a significant national reputation as a portrait painter. Le Clear’s Buffalo Newsboy depicts a young worker taking a break from selling copies of the Buffalo Evening Post, a daily newspaper of the era. Among the different broadsides pasted to the walls behind him is one that clues viewers in to the prevalence of such workers: “Attention. 50 Boys Wanted.” Throughout the nineteenth century, newsboys were among the most common and visible embodiments of child labor in American cities. In some ways, this painting downplays the harshness child laborers experienced during this time. Working for pennies, come rain or shine, they stood on street corners and circulated in saloons before, after, and sometimes during school. Yet in Le Clear’s depiction of the theme, this young subject, with cheeks made rosy by the cold, is shown taking a break to enjoy a shiny apple, seemingly unbothered by a coat that does not fit and the holes in his boots.
Le Clear’s connections to the Buffalo art scene during this time extend beyond his role as an artist. In 1862, he was also one of the founders of The Buffalo Fine Arts Academy (the parent organization of the Albright-Knox) and served as the Academy’s first superintendent.