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Thomas (TW) Willis

 (1850 - 1925)
Thomas (TW) Willis was active/lived in New York / Denmark.  Thomas Willis is known for marine art, ship portrait painting on silk.

Biography  
Thomas (TW) Willis


Biography from the Archives of askART

Biography photo for Thomas (TW) Willis
Note from Robert Willis, great grandson of the artist:

I found your site quite informative - you are the only site, in my opinion, that have the dates for his life correctly listed. All other sites I have found list him as dying well short of 1925. Most bracket his life from 1850 to 1910, which I am sure is not correct because I own one of his signed ship portraits dated 1920. It was given to my grandfather who was the son of the artist.

Some other facts surrounding Thomas are rather confusing. He is listed in a number of places as Thomas Willes and as originally from Denmark. His relationship with Antonio Jacobson, who was from Denmark, makes me wonder.

My Grandfather was his only son from his last wife, and I believe his life as an artist was at its very end when the piece I have was made. I have reason to believe this was his last piece of art and was given to my grandfather the year my father was born.

In fact the German Barque that is depicted flies a flag with the name Louise (my grandmothers name ). The ship depicted is, I believe, a replica of an earlier work. Of course this is all conjecture on my part.


Biography from the Archives of askART
Biography photo for Thomas (TW) Willis
Thomas Willis died in New York City. His work is in the Mariner's Museum, the Mystic Seaport Museum, and the Peabody Museum. He used silk or satin for the sails in his ships, and his trademark signature was a "T" over a "W".


Source:
Peter Hastings Falk, Editor, Who Was Who in American Art



Biography from Adelaide Fine Art
The following information is from Ann Marenakos.

For over 30 years, I sold works by Thomas Willis, and my parents collected his paintings when I was a child. Relatively recent biographical information which I found online in many places, as well as on AskArt, list him as having been born in Connecticut and some state as fact that his paintings’ backgrounds were painted by Antonio Jacobsen.

The biographical data held with the Mystic Seaport Museum and the Peabody Essex Museum (two leading American maritime museums) refute this, and continue to list the artist as having been born in Denmark, and neither document any connection between artists Willis and Jacobsen.

The most complete marine artists' dictionary, Dictionary of Marine Artists by Dorothy Brewington (published in 1982 by the Mystic Seaport Museum and The Peabody Museum of Salem (now The Peabody Essex Museum) lists Willis as having been born in Denmark, also with no mention of any connection to Antonio Jacobsen.
 
I wish to try to end the perpetuation of this "modern" version of Willis's bio, unless one of your sources can provide factual data substantiating the changes they have made.
 
I submit to you my bio on Thomas Willis, which I used for years at Quester Gallery, marine art gallery, Stonington, CT.

 
Thomas Willis was born in Denmark in 1850 and sailed to New York in 1870 where he settled in Brooklyn, NY. There, for a time, he worked for a manufacturer of silk embroidery thread (and this very likely influenced his choice to incorporate textiles into his paintings).

Willis became a marine artist advertising himself as “Inventor & sole maker of silk ware pictures” and “Inventor and for over 30 years the only maker of silk marine pictures” (words written on original studio labels on the backsides of examples of the artist’s works).

In 1880, Thomas Willis was listed as a silk goods maker in New York: “Willis, Thomas. Marine Pictures in Silk. 91 Degraw Street, Brooklyn.”[1] Several original Willis studio labels identify other studio locations for the artist, including “Telephone 1615 Bedford”, and “3 Sumpter St., at Fulton St, Brooklyn, NY”, and “426 Stuyvesant Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y.".

The artist received yacht and ship portrait commissions as well as captured yachting and naval events in his paintings. Thomas Willis died in New York City in 1925. His paintings are included in numerous important marine art collections, including: Mystic Seaport Museum, Mystic, CT; Mariner’s Museum, Newport News, VA; and Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA.
 
Willis signed very few of his paintings, some with his monogram “TW” (letters stacked, “T” over “W”, slightly overlapping) and other signed “T Willis”. Most were unsigned, however, probably because the artist felt that his style was so unique and easily identifiable.

Similarities in water styles have been drawn between peer artists Thomas Willis and Antonio Jacobsen (1850-1921) – both were marine painters active in Brooklyn for a period, and both originated from Denmark (and born there in the same year) – and conjecture as to Jacobsen having painted the backgrounds of some of Willis’s works leaving the 3-D textile overlays to Willis has arisen in the past 20 years in marine art dealer arena. There is no documentation of this, however, and thus the idea of these two artists working together is purely speculation.
 
 
Sources:
Brewington, Dorothy. Dictionary of Marine Artists. Mystic, CT: Mystic Seaport Museum, 1982.
 
Peabody Essex Museum, Painted with Thread: The Art of American Embroidery (PEM.org, Exhibition April 13, 2001 to September 30, 2001).


[1] William Wyckoff, The Silk Goods of America (New York: E. O’Keefe, 1880), p. 125.


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About  Thomas (TW) Willis

Born:  1850 - Denmark
Died:   1925 - New York City
Known for:  marine art, ship portrait painting on silk