Friday, 12 June 2009

Maria Oakey Dewing (1845-1927)

Maria Oakey Dewing was born in New York City in 1845. She grew up in a cultured environment and her interest in writing and painting was encouraged by her family. Though she initially wanted to become a writer, she decided at age seventeen to devote herself to painting. She received her early training at the Cooper Union School of Design for Women in 1866 and later studied under John La Farge, whose influence is particularly evident in her beautiful plein air paintings of flowers. By 1875, Dewing had established herself as an artist and was one of the primary motivators behind the formation of the Art Student's League in New York.

"The Rose Garden" 1901

In 1881, Maria Oakey married Thomas Wilmer Dewing, and her primary subject matter began to shift away from figure painting, for which her husband was established as one of the finest talents, toward gardens and flowers, painted spontaneously out of doors. From 1885 to 1903, the Dewings spent their summers in Cornish, New Hampshire, where Thomas cultivated a garden and both husband and wife devoted themselves to their work. Jennifer Martin writes, " There, at the home she called 'Doveridge,' she executed many of the plein air flower paintings. The beauty of the New Hampshire landscape stimulated her creativity, just as it motivated a host of artists and writers who flocked to Cornish during those years.

"Garden in May" 1895

"...In her Cornish garden she spent long hours studying the growth patterns, textures, and dispositions of the individual plants in order to nurture her 'garden thirsty soul.' She firmly believed that a painter of nature must bind himself to a 'long apprenticeship in the garden.' Yet, for her, a flower painting was not to be a 'mere reproduction' of reality but 'picturemaking'...

"Irises and Calla Lilies" 1905

"Cartnations" 1901

"Her composition, which is similar in all of the pictures...contributes importantly to the sense of animation. The use of the highest lights in the foreground...not only emphasizes the immediacy of the composition, but also contributes to a feeling of depth. The sensation of depth is also implied by the overlapping of forms as in Rose Garden, where roses peek through the mass of green foliage, and by the rather less defined areas in the upper center...In such a two-dimensional surface where forms move out toward the frame, the viewer has an immediate sense of intimacy with growing life and, concurrently, a sense of awe."

"Poppies and Italian Mignonette" 1891

...The originality of her paintings was noted by [Arthur E.] Bye who wrote: 'These remarkable works are absolutely unique. There is nothing like them in the field of flower painting,' and by Royal Cortissoz, authoritative critic for the New York Herald Tribune, who wrote after her death, 'The salient trait of Maria Oakey Dewing, was the strain of originality that characterized her deep feeling for beauty--There was no mistaking her quality, her accent...she knew how to interpret the soul of a flower--but her principal aim was to make it a work of for John La Farge we have had no one who could work with flowers the magic that was hers" ("Portraits of Flowers: The Out-of-Door Still-Life Paintings of Maria Oakey Dewing," pp. 55, 114-16).

"Iris at dawn" 1899

Though Dewing's work was largely unknown in this century until Martin began to write of her rediscovery in 1976, she was widely recognized and praised during her own lifetime. On the occasion of the exhibition of the present work at the National Academy of Design in 1923, Mr. Cortissoz wrote in the New York Herald Tribune, "Mrs. Dewing's 'Rose Garden' leads the paintings of flowers through the beauty of design it possesses, its delicacy in the detachment of white and pink blossoms against a background of heavenly green, and its distinguished style. It is painted in a singularly reticent and haunting key" (Royal Cortissoz and Maria Oakey Dewing's 'Rose Garden,' The Yale University Library Gazette, October 1977, p. 87). [biography by Susan A. Hobbs]

- Still life by Maria Oakey Dewing acquired
Maria Oakey Dewing's flowers and figures

1 comment:

Jane Librizzi said...

There is something unutterably sad about the career of Maria Oakey Dewing. Better known than Thomas when they met, she collaborated on a number of "his" most famous paintings, including "Days", a larger than life and beautiful work now at the Wadworth Atheneum in Hartford, CT.
Often while Maria tended their home at Cornish, Thomas was in New York with "friends", including the notorious architect Stanford White.
Thank you for unearthing Maria Oakey Dewing's solo works.