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 Wayman Elbridge Adams  (1883 - 1959)

About: Wayman Elbridge Adams


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Lived/Active: New York/Texas      Known for: portrait-notables, figure, genre and mural painting

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BIOGRAPHY for Wayman Adams
1883 (Muncie, Indiana)
1959 (Austin, Texas)

New York/Texas

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portrait-notables, figure, genre and mural painting

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Wayman Adams is known for portraits of prominent persons including authors, painters, political leaders, etc.  His portrait of Booth Tarkington brought him early recognition, and he was known as a "lightning" artist because his portraits were completed in one sitting.  Ethnic types constitute one of the most intriguing aspects of his work.

After receiving instruction at the Herron Art Institute* of Indianapolis, he went on to study with William Merritt Chase in Florence, Italy.  From there he traveled, in 1912, to Spain with Robert Henri, and besides studying Velazquez, made many sketches of the life of the Spanish people.

The sitter is the main focus in Adams' portraits, although he did utilize accessories. Examples of such accessories would be a cigarette in his portrait of Professor Alexander Ernestinoff, shown after the War in the Luxembourg; a desk with papers and a Chinese figurine in the portrait of the dramatic critic Oliver Saylor; or a walking stick in his well-known portrait of Booth Tarkington.

Several portraits of the late Joseph Pennell, a significant figure in American art, and two portraits of the painter John McClure Hamilton, rank among Adams' best works.  His portrait of President Harrison hangs in the Los Angeles Museum of Art, and one of Charles Dennis is at the Herron Art Institute.  Wayman Adams also painted Col. E. M. House, Leopold Auer, Agnes Repplier, and Alice Roosevelt Longworth.  Like the portraitist Gilbert Stuart, Adams was known to do a portrait two or three times to make sure he had achieved the result at which he aimed.

Adams also completed some notable group portraits, including that of Irvin S. Cobb and His Daughter; and The Conspiracy, which shows Pennell, Hamilton and Charles Burns in intimate discussion on the steps of a Philadelphia building; as well as The Art Jury, depicting a group of four Adams' first teachers in Indiana.  He completed several regional series, one recording the people of Chinatown in San Francisco, and another series depicting the life of New Orleans.

Among his awards are the Logan Medal of the Arts*, with $1500, Art Institute of Chicago*, 1912, for the portrait Joseph Pennell; Greenough Memorial Prize, Newport, 1925; medal of the Sesquicentennial Exposition, 1926; first Altman Prize of the National Academy of Design*, 1926.

Cuthbert Lee, Contemporary American Portrait Painters, Illustrating and Describing the Work of Fifty Living Painters

* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary:

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Muncie, Indiana on Sept. 23, 1883, Wayman Adams studied at the Herron Art Institute in Indianapolis, and with William Merritt Chase and Robert Henri. In California, he was a resident of Los Angeles in 1916 and painted scenes of San Francisco's Chinatown.

Most of his career was spent in New York before moving to Austin, TX in 1948.  He died there on April 9, 1959.

Member: National Academy.
Exhibition: National Academy of Design, 1914 (prize); Art Institute of Chicago, 1918; Int'l Expo (Venice), 1924; Carnegie Inst., 1943 (prize).

Collection: Indiana State Library; Texas State Capitol; AIC.
Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
City Directory; Who's Who in American Art 1936-56; Art and Artists of Indiana; NY Times, 4-9-1959 (obituary).
Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

Biography from Charleston Renaissance Gallery:

Wayman Adams was born in humble surroundings on a farm near Muncie, Indiana. His father was a livestock breeder and amateur artist whose own interest in painting encouraged his son's early interest in art.   In 1904 Adams enrolled at the John Herron Art Institute* in Indianapolis, where he spent four years.   In 1910 he accompanied William Merritt Chase and others on a study trip to Italy; in 1912 he made a similar trip to Spain with Robert Henri.

An enthusiastic advocate of alla prima* painting, Adams painted in the style of Chase and Henri, often completing a portrait in a sitting of three or four hours. At one point, he maintained studios in Indianapolis, New York City and Philadelphia.  During the winter months he traveled to picturesque and exotic settings.  In 1916 he made his first visit to New Orleans; thereafter, he spent several winters in the French Quarter, painting portraits and genre pictures of black subjects.

This essay is copyrighted by the Charleston Renaissance Gallery and may not be reproduced or transmitted without written permission from Hicklin Galleries, LLC.

* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary

Biography from The Johnson Collection:
Wayman Adams was born in rural Indiana in 1883. His interest in art was cultivated at an early age by his father who was a horse farmer and an amateur artist. At the age of twenty-one Adams moved to Indianapolis to attend the John Herron Art Institute. It was here that Adams began to paint portraits, the subject matter for which he became best known. Having made a name for himself as a portraitist, Adams moved to New York City. While there he took two trips to Europe, the first in 1910 when he traveled to Italy with William Merritt Chase. Two years later he accompanied Robert Henri to Spain where he met fellow artist Margaret Borroughs, whom he married six years later. The couple had one child, a son named Wayman Jr. who was called "Snig."

Approaching the canvas, Adams favored the alla prima style of painting that he learned from Chase and Henri. He would paint an entire portrait in one sitting, often only for three to four hours long, rather than over the span of several drafts and sittings. This loose and expressive style of painting gave his images an emotional immediacy, and made the portrait-painting experience more pleasant for the sitter. He became well known as a "lightning" artist and painted many prominent figures such as Presidents Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover, tire tycoon B.F. Goodrich, and golfer Bobby Jones. As a portrait artist, Adams traveled throughout the country to fulfill commissions. This was not unusual for portraitists as they relied on wealthy patrons who could afford to commission paintings of themselves and their families. During the winter months, Adams spent a good deal of time in the South, especially in New Orleans.

In addition to being a prolific portrait artist, Adams was also a teacher. In 1932 he and Margaret opened and taught at the Old Mill Art Colony in the Adirondack Mountains, and from 1935-36 he taught art in Taxco, Mexico. Adams also acted as a mentor to young Maltby Sykes, an artist he meet when working in Birmingham, Alabama. The two artists remained in contact for many years, and Adams offered Sykes his instruction and guidance at his art schools in both upstate New York and Mexico. In 1948, Adams left the cold of New York State and retired to his wife's hometown of Austin, Texas. He remained active in the city's artistic circles until his death in September 1959. His work is now featured in the collections of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the San Antonio Museum of Art.

The Johnson Collection, Spartanburg, South Carolina

Biography from The Heritage Society:
Born in the small town of Muncie, Indiana, Wayman (by age 14) was known throughout his home state as a "boy wonder" because of his painting abilities.  His father, a stock raiser by profession, was also an artist.  While Wayman's creative interests were supported by his parents, he had no choice but to pay his own way through art school.  The young Adams worked at a dairy daily from 6pm to 6am., managing to arrive at art class by 9am.  Eventually, Wayman was able to quit his night job and make a living as a portrait painter.

He went on to study in New York, Italy, Spain, and Philadelphia.  In 1918 he married Margaret Boroughs of Austin, Texas, a fellow pupil whom he had met in Italy. By this time he had won many awards.

In 1919 he was asked by the French government to exhibit at the Luxemburg Museum in Paris.  Adams made Austin his home around 1920 and began painting several Austinites and other celebrities.  Later that decade he won a Gold Medal from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts for watercolor.

In 1933 he and his wife opened an art school in Elizabethtown, NY.  They continued to live in Austin, spending their summers up North. The couple retired from teaching in 1945.  In a late 1950's newpaper article, the accomplished artist reflects on his early struggles in the profession: "I haven't had a hard time of it, at all," he states matter-of-factly.

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at

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