Born in Utica, New York, in 1861 the portraitist Irving Ramsey Wiles first studied art with his father, landscape painter Lemuel Maynard Wiles (1826-1905). In 1879 he followed his father's advice and moved to New York. He entered the Art Students League, where he spent two years studying with Thomas W. Dewing, J. Carroll Beckwith, and William Merritt Chase, who was to become his friend and mentor. He proceeded to Paris in 1882, and spent his first months there at the Academie Julian under the direction of Gustave Boulanger and Jules Joseph Lefebre, before being admitted to the private atelier of Emile Auguste Carolus-Duran.
After returning to America in 1884 he resumed study at the League, and began to exhibit at the National Academy of Design, the American Water Color Society, and, from 1886 until 1906, the Society of American Artists. Wiles supplemented his income by producing illustrations for Harper's Magazine, The Century Magazine, and Scribner's Monthly. From 1884 to 1894 he spent summers operating the Silver Lake Art School at Ingham, New York, with his father. Shortly after his return to America he won a number of prestigious awards, including a bronze medal at the 1893 Chicago World's Columbian Exposition. Wiles was elected an associate member of the National Academy of Design in 1889, and became a full member in 1897. Beginning in the early 1890s, Wiles achieved recognition for his fashionable interior genre scenes and society portraits of women and children. His professional reputation was assured after 1902, when his portrait of the actress Julia Marlowe (NGA 1951.6.1) was exhibited at the National Academy. From then until the late 1920s, when old age and ill health forced him to retire, Wiles received portrait commissions from America's most wealthy and socially prominent citizens. Highly competent in the field of male portraiture, he was one of eight American artists selected in 1919 by the National Art Committee to paint portraits for a pictorial history of World War I. Toward the end of his career Wiles was noted for the plein-air land and seascapes he painted at his home in Peconic, Long Island, where he died in 1948.
Along with John White Alexander and Cecilia Beaux, Wiles was one of the most popular American portraitists active during the first quarter of the twentieth century. He was an exponent of grand manner portraiture as it had been redefined during the late nineteenth century by John Singer Sargent, Giovanni Boldini, and James Whistler. Wiles produced convincing likenesses without detracting from them by placing undue emphasis on technical virtuosity. Like Sargent, he was influenced by the expressive painterly technique of Hals and Velasquez, and his style bears the strong imprint of Chase. Although he freely incorporated impressionist color and brushwork into his technique, Wiles remained a conservative artist who never became associated with any of the avant garde movements that developed during his lifetime. [This is an edited version of the artist's biography published, or to be published, in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]
Irving R. Wiles 1861-1948. Exh. cat. Chapellier Galleries, New York, 1967 (catalogue by Nelson C. White).
Reynolds, Gary A. Irving R. Wiles. Exh. cat. The National Academy of Design, New York, 1988.
Torchia, Robert Wilson, with Deborah Chotner and Ellen G. Miles. American Paintings of the Nineteenth Century, Part II. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1998: 264-265.