A classical realist known for his portraits and landscapes, Clough was born in Auburn, New York, the youngest of six children born to a mother widowed soon after his birth. Raised in poverty, he had little formal education, and by age ten had entered the ranks of child laborers. The boy was blessed with exceptional natural talent, however, and with some guidance from a local portrait artist, took up painting. By 1844 young Clough had his own studio in Auburn, which led to his introduction to artist Charles Loring Elliott, who had come there to paint prominent resident William H. Seward. Clough subsequently began his formal training with Elliott in New York City, and by 1847 had distinguished himself in the portrait genre, receiving commissions to paint composer Stephen Foster, among other notables of the day. After his marriage he returned to Auburn before continuing his career in Europe, where he traveled in France, the Netherlands, Italy, and Germany. Upon his return to the United States he concentrated on landscape painting, and the influence of the Hudson River school of painters can also be seen in his work, which features woodland scenes in Pennsylvania, New England, Eastern Ohio, and the Adirondacks and Finger Lakes regions of New York. Clough began painting urban landscapes after moving to Cleveland, Ohio, in the 1860's, and continued to work in this genre as a resident of Brooklyn, New York in the 1880's. He spent the last several years of his life in his native Auburn, where he was buried after his death at age 76.