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 Lemuel Everett Wilmarth  (1835 - 1918)

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Lived/Active: New York/Massachusetts      Known for: genre-narrative, still life and figure painting

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BIOGRAPHY for Lemuel Wilmarth
1835 (Attleboro, Massachusetts)
1918 (Brooklyn, New York)

New York/Massachusetts

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genre-narrative, still life and figure painting

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Paris Pre 1900
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Lemuel Wilmarth was born in Attleboro, Massachusetts on 11 November 1835 and died in Brooklyn on 27 July 1918. Thus his life spanned the publication of Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville to the death of Guillaume Apollinaire and the last battles of World War I.  Before studying painting, Wilmarth was a watchmaker.  Known as the leader of rebels who left the National Academy of Design to found the more liberal Art Students League, Wilmarth started out in the most conventional of settings, studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (1857-59) then at the Munich Academy under Wilhelm von Kaulbach between 1859 and 1862.  From Munich, Wilmarth went to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and was the first American to study under Jean-Léon Gérôme.  Back in America, he taught at the Brooklyn Academy of Fine Arts (1868-70).

Within a year, Wilmarth was teaching at the National Academy.  The NAD, operating on borrowed money, ran into financial difficulties when enrollment expanded.  President Worthington Whittredge and others supported the Academy’s free tuition policy, despite the fact that the NAD was in danger of ceasing its operations.   By the end of the 1874-75 school year, funds had been exhausted; Whittredge’s solution was to close the Life School and not renew Professor Wilmarth’s contract.  This action drove students to stand behind Wilmarth and to look for an alternative to the NAD.  Students met in Wilmarth’s studio and organized the Art Students League, electing Wilmarth as president.  The ASL became known as a more progressive art school, even though most of the instructors were academicians.
Wilmarth returned to the National Academy in 1877, where he introduced the practice of quick poses, a concept that was diametrically opposed to careful, meticulous draftsmanship and to the precepts of more deliberate, academic disegno.  In the NAD’s life-class, “a sketch from the pose held briefly required the student to render his immediate perception of the entire figure.” (Fink and Taylor, Academy, 1975, p. 59).  In addition, Wilmarth initiated composition exercises, which required students to finish sketches in a set period of time.  One may conclude that Wilmarth launched progressive teaching methods in two of the most important American art schools.

Wilmarth retired in 1889 but lived another twenty-nine years.  He was forced to quit painting in 1892 because of poor eyesight.  His own paintings, mainly sentimental genre scenes, hark back to his Germanic training.  Jake’s Return, 1884 (Private collection) has an almost High Renaissance classical balance in the center of the picture where figures meet within an arch configuration.  The emphasis is on the emotional interaction of the figures.  Wilmarth executed superb still-lifes, marked by informal compositions, soft, luscious textures, and trompe l’oeil details.

Submitted by Richard H. Love and Michael Preston Worley, Ph.D.

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Lemuel Everett Wilmarth, a watchmaker, teacher and painter, was born in Attleboro, Massachusetts in 1853. He was known for meticulously painted still lifes and genre scenes, both full of detail and exact finish. He was also unique in that in Paris, he became the first American student to study with Jean Leon Gerome, famous teacher at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, and then in New York City, he became the first full-time instructor at the National Academy of Design.

He was raised in Boston, Massachusetts and trained as a watchmaker. While pursuing this job by day, he studied art at night, first at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia and later at the National Academy of Design in New York City.

In 1859, Wilmarth's passion and focus turned to art. He went to Germany to study for three and a half years at the Munich Royal Academy of the Fine Arts and then traveled to Paris to study for several years at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts with Gerome.

As Wilmarth's fine quality paintings became noticed, he was selected to be the first full-time instructor at the National Academy of Design School in New York City. He also became very active in teaching and organizing classes at the Brooklyn Academy of Fine Arts. He stayed with the Academy until 1889 and died in 1918 in Brooklyn, New York. Between 1875 and 1877, he became part of a rebellion against the Academy but then returned to his teaching position.

Michael David Zellman, "300 Years of American Art"

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