Sunday, November 6, 2016

1845-1927: Maria Oakey Dewing, American

Maria Oakey Dewing was an American painter who specialized in the depiction of flowers. She was widely recognized and praised during her lifetime, when gardens and gardening were all the rage.

Background: The fifth of ten children, Maria Oakey grew up in a cultured environment in New York City. Her father was an importer.

Training: She studied in two schools of design and with the celebrated stained-glass designer John La Farge, whose work greatly influenced her own. She traveled to Europe when she was 31 and studied under a famous figure painter.

Career: By 1875, Dewing had established herself as an artist, and she was one of the primary motivators behind the formation of the Art Student's League in New York. She was a well-established artist of portraits and figurative works when she married Thomas Wilmer Dewing, an artist who was less known. After that she began to specialize in flower paintings, perhaps to avoid competing directly with her husband.

Private life: Maria married Thomas in 1881, when she was 35. They had one daughter. They had an elaborate and abundant gardens in Cornish, New Hampshire, where they spent the summers. They are often credited with having inspired the horticulture and gardening fashions that swept through Cornish in the 1890s.

Artwork: Most of her works present a gardener’s-eye view into a thicket of transparent petals and leathery leaves that extend beyond the borders of the canvas, giving the viewer a sensation of being immersed among the flowers. She created a middle ground between purely decorative flatness that resembled Japanese art and the illusion of depth found in Western art. Later in life she was wistful that as a wife of a successful figure painter she had not realized her full potential: "I have hardly touched any achievement... I dreamed of groups and figures in big landscapes and I still see them."

Example of Thomas Dewing's work:

Thomas Dewing
The Days,  1884-86
Wadsworth Atheneum

Our photos of Maria's work:

Poppies and Italian Mignonette, 1891
MFA, Boston / Jan's photo, 2012

Garden in May, 1895
Smithsonian American Art
Photo by Dan L. Smith, 2006

Rose Garden, 1901
Crystal Bridges / Jan's photo, 2012

Irises and Calla Lilies, c. 1905
Detroit / Jan's photo, 2010