|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|Maria Dewing's Flower Power: Works by a Nineteenth Century American Woman Gain Prominence at Museums and at Auction |
By Daniel Grant
are some clear benefits for artists marrying other artists. For one
thing, art is an approved activity (not needing to be justified) and
each partner may receive encouragement and in-house criticism.
such pairings may also occasionally lead to competitiveness and
jealousy or, most commonly, someone having to take a back seat.
Historically, it has just as often been true that the husband's art has
taken precedence with the wife subordinating her work or career or
both. However, in the past few decades, new attention has been
cast on the careers of Marguerite Zorach (painter wife of sculptor
William Zorach), Sally Michel (painter wife of Milton Avery), Bernarda
Bryson Shahn (painter wife of Ben Shahn) and Suzy Frelinghuysen
(painter wife of George L.K. Morris), as well as on a number of other
artists who happened to marry male artists.
recognition tends to come late -- often posthumously. Add to the
list Maria (ma-RYE-ah) Oakey Dewing (1845-1927), who is best known as a
painter of indoor floral arrangements nature and outdoor flowerbeds,
and who, in 1881, married Thomas Wilmer Dewing (1851-1938), an
Impressionist figure painter whose career soon overshadowed hers.
He gained renown and historical importance as one of the founding
members of The Ten, the band of American Impressionist painters who
exhibited their work in group shows in the 1890s and early 1900s, while
she confined herself to flower painting, which at the time was
considered strictly for women, according to Dr. Susan A. Hobbs, former
curator of American Art at the Freer Gallery in Washington, D.C.
of her contribution to the marriage was painting floral backgrounds for
several of his works. Fortune now seems to be shining more
brightly on her in the wake of her second million dollar price at
auction last May at Sotheby's, when her 1891 oil Poppies and Italian Mignonette sold for $1,105,750 (est $1/1,500,000). In May of last year, her only other time at auction, the 1901 oil Rose Garden
set a record for her work, $1,160,750, well above the $2/300,000
estimate. These are both outdoor pictures, of which Dewing produced
relatively few, and Rose Garden at 24 by 40 inches is a relatively large work for the artist (Poppies, on the other hand, is a more typical 23 by
These prices top those of her husband, whose highest auction price came this past May at Christie's when The Music Lesson sold for $721,000, ahead of the $4/600,000 estimate. Other significant prices for his work have been $314,000 for Woman in Black: Portrait of Maria Oakey at Christie's in 2000 and $288,500 for Lady Listening at Christie's in 1997.
stated that there was a unique confluence of factors that contributed
to the prices of Maria Dewing's work at auction. They're showy,
decorative, in great condition, in eight-inch Stanford White frames and
absolutely fresh to the market, which counteracts the fact that her
work is not so well-known and doesn't have a track record at auction.
contributing element may be the fact that she was not a highly prolific
artist, as the catalogue raisonné currently includes 35 paintings and
approximately 20 drawings. She got sidetracked with domestic duties and
her child, Hobbs said. She may have also believed that there was little
outside interest in her work.
Poppies and Italian Mignonette,
for instance, was painted as a present for Charles Lang Freer, a
Detroit railroad car building magnate who was Thomas Dewing's primary
patron. Maria had hoped that he would become a patron of her
work, too, but he never did. Perhaps, she created more, but some
works may have been discarded or allowed to deteriorate (some have
holes) after 1913, when Modernism was formally introduced to the United
States through the Armory Show. The reputations of both she and
Thomas Dewing declined significantly.
Her long-time New York
City dealers, William and Robert Macbeth, returned to her a number of
her unsold canvases in the 1910s, and Smith College deaccessioned one
of her paintings Lilies, Larkspur & Foxgloves, 1894 for $6
in a fit of housecleaning in 1947 through the New York City-based Kende
Gallery (auction house) in the Gimbels Department Store. Most of
the sales in her lifetime were for portraits of friends and family
members. As a result, those who appreciated her work have always
been select group.
William Merritt Chase, a contemporary, called her flower paintings inimitable, and Rose Garden was
sold by a retired art historian, Jennifer Martin, who had written
scholarly articles about Dewing's work. A number of museums have
quietly acquired her work, among them the Addison Gallery of American
Art in Andover, Massachusetts, the Art Museum of Western Virginia in
Roanoke, the Detroit Institute of Arts in Michigan, Hood Museum of
Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, and the Smithsonian
American Art Museum.
Every calendar produced by the Smithsonian for the past 15 years has included her painting Garden in May,
Hobbs said. That 1895 oil painting has gained icon status.
Dewing's paintings do not come up for sale very often, either at
auction or through dealers, and no gallery currently represents her
work. In the mid-1990s, the Leslie Hindman Gallery, a Chicago
auction house subsequently bought by Sotheby's, sold Dewing's Roses in a Vase
for $9,500 (est $1,500-2,500) to a dealer who subsequently sold the
work to a private collector for an undisclosed sum. The Addison Gallery
purchased the 1899 oil Irises at Dawn in 1999 from a private
dealer for $140,000. Hobbs noted that private dealers sold three of the
artist's paintings of flowers in vases
within the past five years in the five figures. At least one went for around $80,000.
|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|Maria Oakey Dewing is best known as a painter of nature, outdoor
flowerbeds, and floral arrangements. She was born in New York City in
1845, and was 17 years old when she began painting. She studied at the
Cooper Union School* of Design for Women from 1866 to 1871, and at the
National Academy of Design* from 1871 to 1875. She studied briefly
under William Morris Hunt, in Boston, and Thomas Couture, in Paris. In
the late 1860s she associated with the inner circle of New York artists
and writers, including John La Farge, while sharing a Broadway studio
with Helena de Kay, future wife of Richard Watson Gilder. |
In 1881, Maria Dewing married figure-painter Thomas
Wilmer Dewing. Although her husband's career eventually overshadowed
her career, she, when the couple met, was the more highly trained and well-established
artistic figure, known for still life and figure painting. In 1886 the couple went to summer in Cornish, New
Hampshire, and became part of the Cornish Art Colony*,which had been founded in 1855 by the sculptor
Augustus Saint-Gaudens in 1885.
From 1886 to 1903, their
summers were spent at "Doveridge", their home in Cornish, which they
acquired from Charles Beaman, the major developer of the area, and
there they cultivated an exquisite garden. It is believed that
gardens inspired the horticultural craze that swept through the Cornish
Art Colony in the 1890s; and it was here where her specialty of flowers
was born, a field perhaps chosen because of her admiration of John La
Farge. It was also a subject that could not possibly compete with
husband's work. She did, however, provide some floral backgrounds
several of his works. She created portraits of elegant tabletop
arrangements and lush floral vignettes set outdoors. Dewing
familiarized herself with her subjects both botanically and
aesthetically, and was at her time unsurpassed in her genre.
addition to painting, Maria Dewing was an author and poet, but stopped
writing after the birth of her daughter. In 1915, she wrote that a
painter of nature must first engage in a "long apprenticeship in the
Her catalogue raisonne is being written by Susan A.
Hobbs, who is seeking information on the location of items. Contact her
* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see
|Biography from The Parrish House Museum:|
|Born in New York City, Maria Oakey Dewing was a descendent from her
father of Gilbert Stuart. Her mother was an upper class Bostonian
who wrote for Scribner's magazine. She studied painting
at the Cooper Union School of Design for Women and with John LaFarge at
the National Academy of Design. She also studied in Italy, London
and France. In 1875 she participated in the formation of the Art
Students League. |
In addition to her artistic pursuits, Maria
wrote articles poems and three books during the late 1870’s and
1880’s. According to her biographers, Maria Oakey’s ambition to
be a figure painter was curtailed by her marriage to Thomas Wilmer
Dewing in 1881. When the Dewings moved to Cornish, NH in 1886,
Maria working from her flower garden in their home named Doveridge,
took a special interest in botany and the structural make-up of
She won medals at the World Columbian Exposition in
Chicago (1893) and at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo (1901),
and then in 1907 earned a one-person exhibit at the Pennsylvania
Academy of Fine Arts, a very rare honor for a woman at the time.
Despite her success, Maria Dewing painted relatively few works, which
rarely become available (two florals done in Cornish were sold at
auction by Sotheby’s in New York in 2000 and 2001 for over a million
dollars). It is estimated that she painted about one-hundred
works in her lifetime, fifteen of which have been located at this time.
She is in the permanent collection of the following museums:
the National Gallery of Art, the Addison Gallery of American Art, Mount
Saint Mary’s College and Seminary, the Hood Museum, the High Museum of
Atlanta, the Detroit Art Institute, and the Art Museum of Western
|** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at registrar@AskART.com.|
Maria Dewing is also mentioned in these AskART essays: