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 Maria Richards Oakey Dewing  (1845 - 1927)

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Lived/Active: New York      Known for: floral still life, landscape, figure painting

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BIOGRAPHY for Maria Dewing
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Birth
1845 (New York City)
 
Death
1927 (New York City)

Lived/Active
New York

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floral still life, landscape, figure painting

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Cornish Colony
Women Artists
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Maria Dewing's Flower Power: Works by a Nineteenth Century American Woman Gain Prominence at Museums and at Auction
By Daniel Grant

There are some clear benefits for artists marrying other artists. For one thing, art is an approved activity (not needing to be justified) and each partner may receive encouragement and in-house criticism.

Unfortunately, such pairings may also occasionally lead to competitiveness and jealousy or, most commonly, someone having to take a back seat.  Historically, it has just as often been true that the husband's art has taken precedence with the wife subordinating her work or career or both.  However, in the past few decades, new attention has been cast on the careers of Marguerite Zorach (painter wife of sculptor William Zorach), Sally Michel (painter wife of Milton Avery), Bernarda Bryson Shahn (painter wife of Ben Shahn) and Suzy Frelinghuysen (painter wife of George L.K. Morris), as well as on a number of other artists who happened to marry male artists.

Sometimes, recognition tends to come late -- often posthumously.  Add to the list Maria (ma-RYE-ah) Oakey Dewing (1845-1927), who is best known as a painter of indoor floral arrangements nature and outdoor flowerbeds, and who, in 1881, married Thomas Wilmer Dewing (1851-1938), an Impressionist figure painter whose career soon overshadowed hers.  He gained renown and historical importance as one of the founding members of The Ten, the band of American Impressionist painters who exhibited their work in group shows in the 1890s and early 1900s, while she confined herself to flower painting, which at the time was considered strictly for women, according to Dr. Susan A. Hobbs, former curator of American Art at the Freer Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Part of her contribution to the marriage was painting floral backgrounds for several of his works.  Fortune now seems to be shining more brightly on her in the wake of her second million dollar price at auction last May at Sotheby's, when her 1891 oil Poppies and Italian Mignonette sold for $1,105,750 (est $1/1,500,000).  In May of last year, her only other time at auction, the 1901 oil Rose Garden set a record for her work, $1,160,750, well above the $2/300,000 estimate. These are both outdoor pictures, of which Dewing produced relatively few, and Rose Garden at 24 by 40 inches is a relatively large work for the artist (Poppies, on the other hand, is a more typical 23 by
17-inches).

These prices top those of her husband, whose highest auction price came this past May at Christie's when The Music Lesson sold for $721,000, ahead of the $4/600,000 estimate. Other significant prices for his work have been $314,000 for Woman in Black: Portrait of Maria Oakey at Christie's in 2000 and $288,500 for Lady Listening at Christie's in 1997.

Hobbs stated that there was a unique confluence of factors that contributed to the prices of Maria Dewing's work at auction. They're showy, decorative, in great condition, in eight-inch Stanford White frames and absolutely fresh to the market, which counteracts the fact that her work is not so well-known and doesn't have a track record at auction.

Another contributing element may be the fact that she was not a highly prolific artist, as the catalogue raisonné currently includes 35 paintings and approximately 20 drawings. She got sidetracked with domestic duties and her child, Hobbs said. She may have also believed that there was little outside interest in her work.

Poppies and Italian Mignonette, for instance, was painted as a present for Charles Lang Freer, a Detroit railroad car building magnate who was Thomas Dewing's primary patron.  Maria had hoped that he would become a patron of her work, too, but he never did.  Perhaps, she created more, but some works may have been discarded or allowed to deteriorate (some have holes) after 1913, when Modernism was formally introduced to the United States through the Armory Show.  The reputations of both she and Thomas Dewing declined significantly.

Her long-time New York City dealers, William and Robert Macbeth, returned to her a number of her unsold canvases in the 1910s, and Smith College deaccessioned one of her paintings Lilies, Larkspur & Foxgloves, 1894 for $6 in a fit of housecleaning in 1947 through the New York City-based Kende Gallery (auction house) in the Gimbels Department Store.  Most of the sales in her lifetime were for portraits of friends and family members.  As a result, those who appreciated her work have always been select group.

William Merritt Chase, a contemporary, called her flower paintings inimitable, and Rose Garden was sold by a retired art historian, Jennifer Martin, who had written scholarly articles about Dewing's work. A number of museums have quietly acquired her work, among them the Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover, Massachusetts, the Art Museum of Western Virginia in Roanoke, the Detroit Institute of Arts in Michigan, Hood Museum of Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Every calendar produced by the Smithsonian for the past 15 years has included her painting Garden in May, Hobbs said.  That 1895 oil painting has gained icon status. Dewing's paintings do not come up for sale very often, either at auction or through dealers, and no gallery currently represents her work.  In the mid-1990s, the Leslie Hindman Gallery, a Chicago auction house subsequently bought by Sotheby's, sold Dewing's Roses in a Vase for $9,500 (est $1,500-2,500) to a dealer who subsequently sold the work to a private collector for an undisclosed sum. The Addison Gallery purchased the 1899 oil Irises at Dawn in 1999 from a private dealer for $140,000. Hobbs noted that private dealers sold three of the artist's paintings of flowers in vases
within the past five years in the five figures. At least one went for around $80,000.

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Maria Oakey Dewing is best known as a painter of nature, outdoor flowerbeds, and floral arrangements.  She was born in New York City in 1845, and was 17 years old when she began painting.  She studied at the Cooper Union School* of Design for Women from 1866 to 1871, and at the National Academy of Design* from 1871 to 1875.  She studied briefly under William Morris Hunt, in Boston, and Thomas Couture, in Paris.  In the late 1860s she associated with the inner circle of New York artists and writers, including John La Farge, while sharing a Broadway studio with Helena de Kay, future wife of Richard Watson Gilder.

In 1881, Maria Dewing married figure-painter Thomas Wilmer Dewing.  Although her husband's career eventually overshadowed her career, she, when the couple met, was the more highly trained and well-established artistic figure, known for still life and figure painting.  In 1886 the couple went to summer in Cornish, New Hampshire, and became part of the Cornish Art Colony*,which had been founded in 1855 by the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens in 1885.

From 1886 to 1903, their summers were spent at "Doveridge", their home in Cornish, which they had acquired from Charles Beaman, the major developer of the area, and there they cultivated an exquisite garden.  It is believed that their gardens inspired the horticultural craze that swept through the Cornish Art Colony in the 1890s; and it was here where her specialty of flowers was born, a field perhaps chosen because of her admiration of John La Farge.  It was also a subject that could not possibly compete with her husband's work.  She did, however, provide some floral backgrounds for several of his works.  She created portraits of elegant tabletop arrangements and lush floral vignettes set outdoors.  Dewing familiarized herself with her subjects both botanically and aesthetically, and was at her time unsurpassed in her genre.

In addition to painting, Maria Dewing was an author and poet, but stopped writing after the birth of her daughter.  In 1915, she wrote that a painter of nature must first engage in a "long apprenticeship in the garden".

Her catalogue raisonne is being written by Susan A. Hobbs, who is seeking information on the location of items. Contact her at susanhobbs@worldnet.


* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see AskART.com Glossary: http://www.askart.com/AskART/lists/Art_Definition.aspx




Biography from The Parrish House Museum:
Born in New York City, Maria Oakey Dewing was a descendent from her father of Gilbert Stuart.  Her mother was an upper class Bostonian who wrote for Scribner's magazine.  She studied painting at the Cooper Union School of Design for Women and with John LaFarge at the National Academy of Design.  She also studied in Italy, London and France.  In 1875 she participated in the formation of the Art Students League.

In addition to her artistic pursuits, Maria wrote articles poems and three books during the late 1870’s and 1880’s.  According to her biographers, Maria Oakey’s ambition to be a figure painter was curtailed by her marriage to Thomas Wilmer Dewing in 1881.  When the Dewings moved to Cornish, NH in 1886, Maria working from her flower garden in their home named Doveridge, took a special interest in botany and the structural make-up of flowers.

She won medals at the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago (1893) and at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo (1901), and then in 1907 earned a one-person exhibit at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, a very rare honor for a woman at the time. Despite her success, Maria Dewing painted relatively few works, which rarely become available (two florals done in Cornish were sold at auction by Sotheby’s in New York in 2000 and 2001 for over a million dollars).  It is estimated that she painted about one-hundred works in her lifetime, fifteen of which have been located at this time.

She is in the permanent collection of the following museums: the National Gallery of Art, the Addison Gallery of American Art, Mount Saint Mary’s College and Seminary, the Hood Museum, the High Museum of Atlanta, the Detroit Art Institute, and the Art Museum of Western Virginia.

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at registrar@AskART.com.

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