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 Alton T. Wiles  (1866 - 1938)

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Lived/Active: New York/Rhode Island      Known for: Watercolor landscape and miniature painting

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Ad Code: 4
Alton T. Wiles
Portrait of Edwin Hopkins Seaman, Jr., nephew of the artist
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
This following biography was researched, compiled, and written by Geoffrey K. Fleming, Director, Southold Historical Society, Southold, NY.

Alton T. Wiles (1866 – May 19, 1938)

Watercolorist and miniature painter.  Born in England to Elizabeth and James Wiles.  While some sources report Alton Wiles as having trained and/or exhibited at the Royal Academy in London, their records do not indicate this is so (This fact was reported in the New York Tribune as early as 1903).  He may have claimed this at some point as a way to improve his standing in the American artistic community, where it “… was easy …  … to claim training at the Royal Academy but difficult in the US to corroborate the facts.”  Where he actually trained is difficult to determine.

According to Andrew Potter at the Royal Academy Library: “There were numerous places that Wiles could have obtained an art training in the UK in the 19th century. Schools such as the Sass/Cary Academy trained artists specifically for entrance into the Royal Academy Schools (The RA Schools was considered the best place to train). Like Leigh’s Academy and Heatherley’s, they were private institutions. The Royal College of Art was established in the 1830s and is still one of the premier art colleges of the UK. It was originally known as the Government School of Design and is often referred to as the South Kensington Schools. The Slade School of Art is another leading art School that traces its  roots back to the 1860s and is part of the University of London.  Of course this was also still an age of apprenticeships where artists would have a studio where they trained pupils.”  

Though his training is unclear, his arrival in America is not.  He began coming to America in the late 1890s, and eventually became a naturalized citizen.  Though he lived and worked primarily in New York City, he began to spend summers at the popular resort of Narragansett, Rhode Island.  There, he exhibited his works and painted miniature portraits of Society visitors, both from America and from abroad.  In July of 1899 he was recorded as staying at the Mathewson Hotel in Narragansett where it was noted he was of “London” England.

During the following summer of 1901 he traveled to Montreal, Canada, where he embarked on board the Corinthian, bound for Liverpool, England.  He soon returned to America, and his regular jaunts to Narragansett.  He made the Gladstone Hotel his main point of operations, and spent the next several summers in residence there.  He became popular enough during the season of 1904 that Inez Sprague (1889-1981) – once called "the most beautiful girl in Rhode Island” – to give a dinner in his honor at ‘Canonchet,’ her family’s luxurious estate, that July.  In August of that year, the Gladstone Hotel held an exhibition of his watercolors and miniature paintings.  Around this time he began to work on Long Island, New York, and in 1906 the New York Times reported “Mr. Alton T. Wiles, a miniature painter and landscapist, has returned to his studio, 645 Madison Avenue, from a brief sketching tour of Long Island.

As he became more successful, Alton Wiles ended up with many commissions from important New York families.  In the fall of 1906 the New York Times again reported that he had “… just received  a commission to paint a portrait of Miss Catharine Sage, daughter of Mrs. Annie Ward Sage of Albany, N.Y.”  The article noted further “Mr. Wiles has painted several portraits in miniature for the Sage family.”  Funny enough, the young girl he painted in 1906, Katharine (Kay) Sage (1898-1963), would go on to become a leading American 20th century surrealist painter.

By December of 1908 Wiles was exhibiting his miniatures and watercolors at the Studio Building in New York City, and in August of 1909 the Arlington Hotel of Narragansett held an exhibition of his miniatures and watercolors, in which some of his subjects were recorded:  “At a recent exhibition of miniatures held by Alton Wiles of London in the Casino, portraits were shown of Mr. and Mrs. J[ohn] H. Hanan and Mrs. Tarbox of New York.  The ideal figures included “Summer Moon” and “Night and Morning.”  In the group of water colors were colorful glimpses of the Narragansett Country and scenic bits of the mountains of Sullivan County, N.Y.  The exhibition was well attended.  Mr. Wiles is spending August at the Arlington.”

In 1911, Alton Wiles was residing at 111 East 56th Street in New York City.  He was living among other artists in his building, including the sister artists Heva (b. 1864) and Diana Coomans (1861-1952).  His studio remained at 645 Madison Avenue.  He returned to the Gladstone Hotel for the summer of 1911.  It is most likely that during one of these summers he was introduced to Julia Hopkins (1868-1959), the daughter of Edwin A. Hopkins (1809-1891) and Mary Hopper Hopkins (1826-1910).  He courted her, and on the 20th of May of 1914 they were married at “Aarberg,” the Hopkins family farm in Glen Cove, Long Island, New York.  The house, which was located on the east side of Cedar Swamp Road, was built by Silas Hopkins in the second half of the18th century.  It was demolished in 1965 to make room for St. Hyacinth’s elementary school, which still occupies the site today.

A month after his marriage Alton Wiles was reported as enjoying the area where he had come to reside, and was working that June at  “… completing a series of water color sketches of the region.”  He painted a number of miniature portraits of his newly adopted family, including his nephew, Edwin Hopkins Seaman, Jr.  In December of 1914 he participated in the 50-50 art exhibition held at Mrs. Harry Payne Whitney’s New York City Studio in support of French artists who now found themselves embroiled in war.  During the exhibition he sold a watercolor to Mrs. Willard Straight (1887-1968), the social activist, philanthropist, and prominent member of the Whitney family.

He continued to reside in Glen Cove, Long Island until his death on the 19th of May 1938 at the age of seventy-two.  He was buried in Greenwood Cemetery, located in Brooklyn, New York, in the Hopkins family plot, number 8795, on the 21st of May 1938.

Though there are undoubtedly other exhibitions in which Alton Wiles participated, those presently known include the following exhibitions:  Gladstone Hotel, Narragansett, RI, 1904 (solo); Studio Building, New York, NY, 1908 (solo); Arlington Hotel, Narragansett, RI, 1909 (solo); 50-50 Art Exhibition, New York, NY, 1914.

None of his works are known to be in any public institutions at present.  The largest number of his works reside in private collections throughout the United States.

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