Find, Learn, Price Art
Enjoy the comprehensive art database we've compiled since 1987
Membership Details
Images, sales charts, bios, signatures, 30 artist Alerts and more ...
Art auction records:  Millions of references for pricing research
Or, register for Free Alerts
To track 10 artists.

Already a member?  Sign in here

Paul Sawyier

 (1865 - 1917)
Paul Sawyier was active/lived in Kentucky, New York, Ohio.  Paul Sawyier is known for Impressionist landscape, river scenes, portraits and townscape painting.

Paul Sawyier

Biography from the Archives of askART

One of the few painters in Impressionist style in Kentucky at the turn of the 19th to 20th centuries, Paul Sawyier was born at Table Rock in Madison County, Ohio on March 23, 1865, on his Grandfather Sawyier's farm. When he was five years old, his parents, Dr. Nathaniel and Ellen Wingate Sawyier, moved with their four children to Frankfort, Kentucky. The family lived with Ellen's mother, Mrs. Penelope Anderson Wingate, who resided on Broadway across from the L&N Railroad Depot.

Paul Sawyier's artistic talent became apparent during his early years. His father had an art tutor come to the Sawyier home for Paul and his sister, Natalie. At the age of 19, in 1884, Sawyier studied portraiture under Thomas S. Noble at the Cincinnati Art Academy.

After the Academy, Paul briefly held a job as a hemp salesman, but the pull of art proved irresistible. Sawyier went to New York City for further training at the Art Student's League. In 1889 and 1890, he studied under William Merritt Chase and was able to observe the famous portrait painter John Singer Sargent. In 1890, Sawyier studied for a year under Frank Duveneck, in Covington, Kentucky, who was at the height of his national fame as an oil portrait painter. Chase and Duveneck were friends and had painted together in Europe.

After his studies were completed in New York and Covington, Sawyier returned to Frankfort. He made a living primarily by painting portraits of members of well-to-do families in the community. He also started to paint scenes of Elkhorn Creek and the Kentucky River.

In 1887, at the age of 22, Sawyier met Mary "Mayme" Bull (1865-1914) of Frankfort and they became formally engaged. Because of a mutual desire to take care of their ailing parents and Sawyier's struggle to financially survive as an artist, they never married. Sawyier's sisters burned all correspondence between Mayme and Paul after his death destroying all intimate details of their relationship.

In 1893, Sawyier went to the Chicago World's Fair Colombian Exhibition where some of his works were in the State of Kentucky display. It was at this exhibition that Impressionism was formally introduced in the United States, and Sawyier, influenced to become an "American Impressionist" became one of the few proponents of Impressionism in Kentucky. He also found his first taste of real popularity in 1893. A covered bridge he had captured in a series of copperplate etchings was closed, and suddenly those etchings were much in demand.

By 1901, Sawyier's parents were both in ill health. Paul's sisters had married, and his brother had moved to Mississippi. Paul took charge of caring for his parents and they moved into the old parsonage of the First Baptist Church. After the death of his mother in 1908, and with his father in a Louisville nursing home, Sawyier decided to fulfill his dream of living on a houseboat, painting scenes of the Kentucky River. He spent the next five years, between 1908 and 1913, on the river, mainly between Shakertown and Camp Nelson, moving up and down the river.

It has been estimated that C.F. Brower & Company of Lexington, sold over 500 of Sawyier's watercolors between 1908 and 1910. Sawyier moved to Brooklyn, New York in 1913, trying to find a new market. While living with his sister, Lillian, he spent two years painting scenes in the beautiful parks of the area. It was also during this time that Sawyier, for unknown reasons, changed his signature.

In 1915, Sawyier moved from Brooklyn to the Catskill Mountains. He initially lived in High Mount, New York, painting in both oils and watercolors. While concentrating on scenes of the Catskills, Sawyier would also work from photographs and paint Frankfort and Kentucky River scenes. He often sent these back to buyers in Kentucky.

After a time, Sawyier moved a short distance to Fleischmanns, New York to live with the Phillip F. Schaefer family. Mr. Schaefer was a local merchant and amateur painter. Sawyier died of a heart attack in the Schaefer home on November 8, 1917 at the age of 52. He was buried in the nearby Covesville, New York Cemetery. In 1923 Sawyier's cousin, Judge Russell W. McReary brought Sawyier's body back to Frankfort. He was buried in the Sawyier-Wingate family plot in the Frankfort City Cemetery.

During the period from 1887 to 1917 it is estimated that Paul Sawyier painted over 3,000 works. He primarily painted scenes of the Elkhorn Creek, Kentucky River and Frankfort in watercolors. Most of his portraits, estimated to be about 100, were in either oil or pastel. Sawyier painted about 200 oils, almost all after moving to New York.

Many thumbnail sketches have been found but most of his oils, while not large, were bigger, either about 13 x 16 or 20 x 24 in size. Today about 1,500 of Sawyier's originals have been found or accounted for. Familiar paintings include "The Fountain in the Rain," "Wilson Store at Keene," "Old Capitol Hotel in the Rain," "Wapping Street," and "Pastoral Scene of Sheep in the Lane."

Of Sawyier's three sisters and brother, only Lillian had children; however, her twin sons never married or had children. Therefore, there are no direct descendants of the Nathaniel and Ellen Wingate Sawyier family, and it is a mystery what happened to the family's original paintings.

Since 1940, Sawyier exhibits have been held at Eastern Kentucky University, Maysville Museum, Georgetown College, University of Kentucky, Kentucky Historical Society, Paul Sawyier Galleries, Inc. (Frankfurt, Kentucky), and twice at the J.B. Speed Museum and Shakertown Village. Four volumes have been written about Sawyier's life and works. These books are all based on the research of historian Dr. W. R. Jillson, who in the late 1930's, talked with surviving Sawyier family members and any individuals who personally knew Paul Sawyier.

Since 1968, over 300 of Sawyier's original paintings have been reproduced as limited edition art prints.


Biography from the Archives of askART
Following is a review published in The State Journal, Frankfort, Kentucky, of an exhibition, "Kentucky Impressions: Paul Sawyier Original Works", held September 22-December 7, 2012 at the W. Frank Steely Library at Northern Kentucky University. 

One of largest shows to feature artist with 65 original works on display
By Kevin Wheatley Published: September 29, 2012 7:12PM

More than 60 original Paul Sawyier watercolor, oil and pastel paintings are on display at Northern Kentucky University through Dec. 9, the first time the impressionist painter's work has been exhibited in Northern Kentucky.

William Coffey, owner of Paul Sawyier Galleries, said the exhibit, called "Kentucky Impressions: Paul Sawyier Original Works," started modestly at 25 paintings but mushroomed to 65 "of the very finest Sawyier originals of all mediums - watercolors, oils, pastel portraits, etchings" from local collectors like the Kentucky Historical Society, Liberty Hall Historic Site, State Curator David Buchta, Wayne and Wanda Morris, Chad and Lenee Peach, Jack Travis, and Coffey.

Other lenders are from Lexington, Versailles, Fort Mitchell and Florida, according to a press release from NKU.

Most of the 65 paintings were lent from Central Kentucky collectors, Coffey said, noting Sawyier's work has never been exhibited in Northern Kentucky or Ohio.

"This is probably the second largest Sawyier exhibit that has probably ever been held," he said during a phone interview Friday.

The paintings will be on display in the Schlachter Family Archives and the Eva G. Farris Reading Room in NKU's W. Frank Steely Library.

Coffey said the exhibit is well worth the 90-minute drive to Highland Heights. He called Monday's opening night, which drew between 100 and 200 patrons, "fantastic."

"I don't think many Kentuckians know what a fantastic campus this is," Coffey said. "… This is certainly their finest exhibition of art they've ever held."

Sawyier, who studied at the Cincinnati Art Academy and is well known for his paintings of scenery and life around Frankfort, sold more than 3,000 original works throughout his career.
Among those at NKU are a portrait of Gov. William Goebel, the only Kentucky governor to be assassinated in office, and three paintings of the same scene during different seasons - Winter Stroll, Walking in the Rain and Old Capital Hotel.

Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport is the title sponsor for the exhibit, and the Northern Kentucky University Foundation Inc. and Mark and Rosemary Schlachter are presenting sponsors.

NKU also plans to hold lectures and events about Paul Sawyier and his work during the exhibit's run.

Submitted by Rebecca Rayburn.

Biography from Charleston Renaissance Gallery
Paul Sawyier was born March 23, 1865, in Madison County, Ohio, but his family had its roots in Frankfort, Kentucky, and moved to that small city about 1870. His father was a physician, and the early years of his son's life were marked by general prosperity. The Sawyiers lived on Broadway Street in Frankfort in a neighborhood considered a "very select part of town."

From a young age, Sawyier was inclined toward artistic, rather than scholarly, pursuits, and his family supported these endeavors. After first attending the Second Street Public School, he was enrolled at Dudley Institute, an Episcopal academy in Frankfort. Because this academy offered no art courses, Dr. Sawyier, who had always dreamed of being an artist himself and who consequently encouraged the artistic inclinations of his children, employed an itinerant artist from Cincinnati, Miss Elizabeth S. Hutchins, to instruct Paul and his sister Natalie. Another source of artistic motivation for Paul was his mother who was one of Frankfort's most accomplished pianists.

Paul Sawyier's serious art study began in the year 1884-1885 at the Cincinnati Art School, where he enrolled in a life drawing class taught by Thomas Satterwhite Noble, who was born in Lexington, Kentucky and who studied under Thomas Couture in Paris. The next year Sawyier opened a studio in Cincinnati with another artist, Avery Sharp, and supported himself by creating commercial charcoal portraits.

In 1886 however, Sawyier, persuaded by his father, returned to Frankfort where he worked as a salesman for the Kentucky River Mills, a hemp factory of which the elder Sawyier was president. Realizing that he lacked the spirit for this kind of work, Sawyier soon resigned to pursue his painting full-time. By this time, his family had lost most of its fortune and Sawyier's life henceforth was to be on the brink of poverty.

By 1889 Sawyier had moved to New York City and was attending classes at the Art Students League, where William Merritt Chase was one of his teachers. Chase considered Sawyier talented and, at one time, gave him the following advice: "Be yourself Paul -- be your individual self[;] be Paul Sawyier." Chase additionally played a significant role in Sawyier's later stylistic development into impressionism -- if not as a teacher, then as a stylistic model to emulate. A relationship between Sawyier's painting style and Chases's definitely exists; however, it is only evident when comparing Sawyier's work completed after the mid-1890s to Chase's impressionistic works.

In 1891, Sawyier was back in Cincinnati where he studied under Frank Duveneck. He was the teacher to whom Sawyier related very well and who taught him much about overall composition. After his instruction with Duveneck, Sawyier's formal training in art was finished. Unlike many contemporary American artists, he never studied in Europe and was strictly an American product. He was however acquainted with European styles as both Chase and Duveneck were great exponents of European painting techniques.

Shortly after his study with Duveneck, Sawyier returned to Frankfort, where he painted many scenes for local patrons and personal friends, and for sale on the open market. From about 1891 to 1908, Sawyier concentrated on Frankfort-area subject matter, often portraying local houses, landscapes, and riverscapes. Although he worked in a wide range of media, at this time his preferred and most frequent medium was watercolor. It was during this Kentucky period that Sawyier began to attract a large group of local admirers who would collect his works throughout the rest of his life.

From about 1908 to the fall of 1913, Sawyier is said to have spent most of his time on the Kentucky River, living on a houseboat that also served as a studio and making runs up the river in his small motorboat. He tied up at High Bridge and Camp Nelson in Jessamine County for long periods of time and often painted scenes from these areas. He also made frequent trips to other towns in Central Kentucky, such as Frankfort, Lexington, and Danville, and to Cincinnati.

Sawyier was a very proud artist and felt strongly about being able to live entirely off the sale of his work. Most often he was in need of money; and yet, he would never accept any sort of odd job. Occasionally, opportunities for public and private commissions came to Sawyier. In 1907, he was commissioned by the State of Kentucky to paint a portrait of Charles Scott, an early governor, and in 1910 he was contracted by Transylvania University in Lexington to execute an oil portrait of Bishop Henry B. Bascom, an early president.

Sometime during the autumn of 1913, Sawyier left Kentucky for Brooklyn, New York where he lived with his recently-widowed sister. As he switched locations, Sawyier also changed his preference in medium, from watercolor to oil. He soon became acquainted with a widow, Mrs. Marie S. Myer, who invited him to paint at the Catskill summer residence of her sister Mrs. Marshall L. Emory in Highmount, New York. Sawyier first visited Highmount in 1915 and stayed until the early spring of 1916. He then moved to the neighboring village of Fleishmanns where he boarded at the home of Phillip Schaefer and where he died on November 5, 1917.

In 1917, Sawyier was listed for the first time in the "Who's Who in Art" section of the American Art Annual. His death at age 52 preceded the artist's full and well-deserved recognition.

Text adapted from Arthur F. Jones, The Art of Paul Sawyier (Lexington, The University of Kentucky, 1976). (EAF)

Biography from The Johnson Collection
One of Kentucky's most well-known artists, Paul Sawyier lived a life many would consider tragically romantic. Although he was born in Madison County, Ohio in 1865, Sawyier spent his childhood and much of his adult life in Kentucky. Sawyier's father supported and encouraged his son's budding artistic talent, and after realizing that Paul's school offered no art classes, he hired a private tutor from Cincinnati for his son.

After high school, Sawyier enrolled in drawing classes at the Cincinnati Art Academy in 1884 where he studied under Thomas S. Noble. By 1885, he had opened his own studio in Ohio with fellow artist, Avery Sharp. Sawyier was unable to support himself as a portraitist and was persuaded to return to Kentucky in 1886 by his father. That same year Sawyier worked as a hemp salesman, but he was miserable and quit his job. He took up residence on a small houseboat and dedicated his time to painting en plein air, or sketching a scene which he finished in his studio on the boat. Landscapes featuring rivers and lakes were prominent in Sawyier's work and were easily studied from his moveable home.

For over seventeen years Sawyier traveled between Kentucky, New York, and Cincinnati developing his artistic style and career. In New York Sawyier studied under William Merritt Chase at the Art Students League in 1889. It was under Chase's tutelage that Sawyier cultivated his Impressionist style. After only one year at the Art Students League, Sawyier returned to Cincinnati to take instruction from another Kentucky artist, Frank Duveneck.

Throughout his life Sawyier traveled back to Cincinnati and New York to stay connected to a larger, metropolitan artistic environment. Much of his oeuvre contains landscapes of locations outside of Kentucky including Brooklyn, New York City and the Catskills. Sawyier's mature style fused the concepts of Impressionism with the atmospheric effects seen in many Tonalist works of the time. Sawyier also continued with portraiture as a means of income, and one such piece was exhibited at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904. Later in his career Sawyier utilized photography as a more modern take on painting en plein air. Many American impressionists, including the well-known Thomas Eakins, were beginning to focus on photography as a means of enhancing the study of a subject and the soft focus lens of a camera complimented Sawyier's attention to atmospheric light.

During his time in Kentucky, Sawyier became engaged to Mary Thomas (Mayme) Bull. Sawyier and Mayme became acquainted when he was twenty-two. Tragically the pair never married. Mayme passed away in 1914 at the age of forty-nine. Three years later Sawyier suffered a fatal heart attack at the age of fifty-two and was laid to rest only a few feet away from Mayme's grave. Although Sawyier remained in relative obscurity in the greater American art scene during his time, his importance as an artist capturing the landscape of Kentucky has grown since his death.

The Johnson Collection, Spartanburg, South Carolina

Biography from Questroyal Fine Art, LLC
According to legend, a young Paul Sawyier received the following advice from his teacher William Merritt Chase: "Be yourself Paul--be your individual self." Sawyier, one of Kentucky's most beloved painters, took the instruction to heart. An independent spirit, he chose to spurn the cosmopolitan lifestyle of many artists to create impressionistic landscapes of Kentucky following his study with Thomas Noble, Frank Duveneck, and Chase. The Kentuckian was unwilling to compromise his artistic vision, which typically focused on nostalgic vistas along the banks of the Kentucky River (he lived on a houseboat for a period starting in 1908) and his hometown, Frankfort. In 1913 Sawyier moved to Brooklyn; there, he created landscapes of New York's parks and waterways, while continuing to paint Kentucky views using his photography collection. The artist died in 1917, just three years following the death of his childhood sweetheart. His impressionistic works can now be seen in the University of Kentucky Art Museum.

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

Share an image of the Artist

  Full access to biographies is
  free each Friday

About  Paul Sawyier

Born:  1865 - Table Rock, Ohio
Died:   1917 - Fleishmanns, New York
Known for:  Impressionist landscape, river scenes, portraits and townscape painting

Essays referring to
Paul Sawyier

Impressionists Pre 1940