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 Thornton Oakley  (1881 - 1953)

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Lived/Active: Pennsylvania      Known for: genre-structure and industry theme painting, illustration

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Illustrator and muralist Thornton Oakley was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in architecture.  Then he studied with Howard Pyle, founder of the Brandywine School.  While at the school, Oakley was responsible for the school's supply store, sales, inventory, and collecting students' monthly accounts.

Oakley illustrated numerous books and magazines, including Harper's, Century Magazine, Collier's Weekly, and Everybody's Magazine.  Known for paintings of industrial America, his work is found in the collections of numerous institutions including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, National Gallery of Art, Library of Congress, Boston Public Library, New York Public Library, and the British Museum.

Among Oakley's well-known works are six 12-foot murals which he painted for the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.  During World War II, the National Geographic Society commissioned 48 paintings of war plants and related topics.

Thornton Oakley became one of the closest friends of portrait painter Cecilia Beaux who was twenty-six years older than she.  They met in Gloucester in 1898, when he was seventeen years old and vacationing there with his mother.   In 1904, their friendship firmed when he returned to Gloucester where Beaux was living, and he had established himself as an illustrator, having studied with Beaux's good friend, Howard Pyle.  Oakley became Beaux's closest friend at Gloucester, and taking long walks together, they shared similar attitudes about the world of art.  Although quite apart in age, they each had a very high energy approach to the profession.  Of their times together in Gloucester, Oakley wrote in his diary:  "Evenings with Cecilia! They crowd my recollections . . . our lingerings beside the fire . . .harbor sounds falling softly on the ear, the cry of gulls, the eerie warning of the buoy on Reef of Norman's Woe." (Carter, 157)  Many years later, when Beaux was in bad health, Oakley would take her on annual trips north from New York City to revisit Gloucester, something they did until the year before her death in 1942.  Although the close relationship continued until Beaux's death in 1942, there never was any suggestion it was more than platonic.

In 1910, Oakley married Amy Ewing, and they had one child.  Together they published numerous travel books, which she wrote and he illustrated.  In 1914, Oakley was hired to head the Department of Illustration at the Philadelphia Museum's School of Industrial Art, now the Philadelphia College of Art, remaining until 1936.

Sources include:

Falk, Peter Hastings (ed.). Who Was Who in American Art . Madison, CT: Sound View Press, 1985

Pitz, Henry C. Howard Pyle: Writer, Illustrator, Founder of the Brandywine School, New York: Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., 1975.

Woodmere Gallery. Exhibition of Paintings and Drawings by Thornton Oakley

Alice Carter, Cecilia Beaux: A Modern Painter in the Gilded Age

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at registrar@AskART.com.


Thornton Oakley is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exhibition 1915
Illustrators

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