Maria Oakey Dewing

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Maria Oakey Dewing
Maria Oakey Dewing by Thomas Wilmer Dewing (1851-1938).jpg
Thomas Dewing, Woman in Black: Portrait of Maria Oakey Dewing, oil on panel, 1887.
Born Maria Oakey
(1845-10-27)October 27, 1845
New York
Died December 13, 1927(1927-12-13) (aged 82)
New York
Nationality American
Education Cooper Union, Antique School of National Academy of Fine Arts, John La Farge
Spouse(s) Thomas Dewing
Patron(s) Charles Lang Freer, Whitelaw Reid, John Gellatly

Maria Oakey Dewing (October 27, 1845 – December 13, 1927) was an American painter known for her depiction of flowers.[1] Her work was inspired by John La Farge and her love of gardening. She also made figure drawings and was a founding member of the Art Students League of New York. Dewing won bronze medals for two of her works at world expositions. She was married to the artist Thomas Dewing.

Personal life[edit]

Maria Richards Oakey was born in New York City, the fifth child of William Frances Oakey and Sally Sullivan Oakey, who had ten children together. William was an importer and Sally was a cultured woman.[2] Her younger brother, Alexander F. Oakey, was an architect with, like his sister, an interest in textiles. He wrote The Art of Life and Life of Art in 1884.[3]

She decided at age seventeen to paint.[1][3] In 1881 Maria Oakey married Thomas Dewing.[4][5] They had a son who died while an infant. In 1885 their daughter Elizabeth was born.[4]


Maria Richards Oakey, The Philosopher's Corner, 1873, High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia
Maria Oakey Dewing, A Bed of Poppies, 1909, Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, Massachusetts
Maria Oakey Dewing, Portrait of Dr. Charles Carroll Lee, 1914

She first attended the Cooper Union School of Design in 1866, studying there until 1870[4] with William Rimmer, Edwin Forbes, Robert Swain Gifford and George Edmund Butler. There, she took classes with her friend Helena de Kay.[3] From 1871 to 1875 she studied at the Antique School of National Academy of Fine Arts,[4] during which time she shared an apartment with de Kay[3] and took painting lessons from the painter John La Farge. He specialized in Japanese aesthetics and was said by Dewing to have created paintings that were "the most beautiful in all the world" and greatly influenced her own work.[4] As a student she had already begun to gain a reputation as a capable painter, her works attracted "much attention for its broad, vigorous brush work, and rich, glowing color" and were exhibited at the National Academy of Design.[3] In 1875, Oakey and other students from the academy left to establish the now renowned Art Students League of New York.[3] The same year her works were exhibited at a show organized in New York by La Farge and she studied with landscape artist William Morris Hunt and in 1876 with Thomas Couture.[3][4]



Dewing made portrait and figure paintings and was well established as a painter by the time she married in 1881.[4] Metropolitan Museum of Art said in their book, In Pursuit of Beauty, "During the 1870s she was at the forefront of progressive art activity in New York, and the development of her art career, which included decorative as well as fine arts, suggests the impact of the Aesthetic movement on painters of her generation, particularly women."[3] She was one of the early members of the Society of American Artists formed in 1877.[3] After her marriage and motherhood, Dewing made more still life paintings, which might have been to avoid competition with her husband who was a younger, successful figure painter; because it was easier to manage painting still lifes with her family responsibilities;[4] or due to the influence of one of her teachers, John La Farge.[3]

Maria and her husband spent the summers from 1885 to 1905[6] at the Cornish Art Colony in New Hampshire. There both of the Dewings were avid gardeners,[3] an activity that Maria believed was important to paint nature and inspired her floral paintings. She said, "The flower offers a removed beauty that exists only for beauty, more abstract than it can be in a human being, even more exquisite." Garden in May made in 1895, Bed of Poppies made in 1909 and Iris at Dawn are among her most well-known paintings.[4] In 1921 art critic Edwin Bye said her flower paintings were "absolutely unique" and William H. Gerdts said in 1942 that her "flower paintings combine a poetic sensibility derived from her teacher, John La Farge, with a thorough knowledge of botany nourished and enhanced by the cultivation of her own garden."[4]

Dewing created embroidered applique pieces that were like tapestries in the early 1880s.[3] In 1886 Dewing and her husband worked together on the painting Hyman, which was signed by both of them, and she also painted floral portions of other paintings for him, but without her signature.[4]

At the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago and 1901 Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, Dewing won bronze medals.[3][4] In 1907 a solo exhibition of 22 of her flower and figure paintings was held at The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.[2] She began making figure paintings again later in life.[4]

Her patrons during her career included Charles Lang Freer, Whitelaw Reid and John Gellatly. In her lifetime, her works were compared to French painters Antoine Vollon, Henri Fantin-Latour and John La Farge.[3]

Wistful that as a wife of a successful figure painter she had not realized her full potential, Dewing said in the later years of her career, "I have hardly touched any achievement... I dreamed of groups and figures in big landscapes and I still see them."[6]


Dewing wrote books and articles about keeping house, etiquette and painting, the articles about art were published in Art and Progress[6] and the American Magazine of Art.[3]

Her works included the following, written from the perspective of an artist:[3]

  • Beauty in Dress. New York, Harper & Brothers, 1881. LCCN 10-1025
  • Beauty in the Household. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1882. LCCN 12-4027
  • From attic to cellar. New York, G. P. Putman's sons, 1879. LCCN 07-26540


Maria Oakey Dewing died on December 13, 1927 in the same city where her life began.[6] She died at her home on 12 West 8th Street (near Washington Square Park) in New York City. At that time her daughter was Elizabeth Dewing Bender.[7] Her husband, Thomas, died in 1938.[1]


Her work is included in the collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, National Gallery of Art, Detroit Institute of Arts, The Hood Museum of Art,[6] and the Addison Gallery of American Art.[4]


  1. ^ a b c Joan Marter (20 January 2011). The Grove Encyclopedia of American Art. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-533579-8. Retrieved 28 January 2012. 
  2. ^ a b An Exhibition of Paintings by Maria Oakey Dewing: The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. March 2 to March 23 1907. The Academy; 1907. p. 1–3.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Metropolitan Museum of Art. In Pursuit of Beauty: Americans and the Aesthetic Movement. Metropolitan Museum of Art; 1 January 1986. ISBN 978-0-87099-468-5. pp. 419–420.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Carol Kort; Liz Sonneborn. A to Z of American Women in the Visual Arts. Infobase Publishing; 1 January 2002. ISBN 978-1-4381-0791-2. p. 54.
  5. ^ "Hood Museum of Art Acquires Rare Outdoor Still Life by Maria Oakey Dewing". Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc. 2010. Retrieved 2012-01-28. 
  6. ^ a b c d e "Search Artists / American Art". Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 2012-01-28. 
  7. ^ Deaths. New York Times. December 14, 1927.

External links[edit]