Thomas Dewing was born on May 4, 1851, in Newton Lower Falls, Massachusetts. As a child he was interested in both drawing and in playing the violin; this early interest in music would later reappear in the themes of many of his paintings. By 1872, after a period of apprenticeship in a lithography shop, Dewing was listing his profession as "artist." He studied paintings in the collection of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, especially the works of Jean Baptiste Siméon Chardin (1699-1779). He attended student-organized life classes at the Boston Art Club and may have been present at the lectures on anatomy given in Boston by the artist William Rimmer (1816-1879) in 1874-1875. He worked briefly in Albany, New York, during 1875-1876 and in July 1876 went to Europe. Dewing entered the Académie Julian, where the course of instruction, under Gustave Boulanger (1824-1888) and Jules-Joseph Lefebvre (1836-1911), centered on anatomical drawing and modeling. While in Paris, Dewing became acquainted with the American painter William Merritt Chase (1849-1916) and, like Chase, developed a particular interest in Spanish painting.
Dewing returned to America early in 1878, stopping first in New York and then going to Boston, where he became an assistant at the newly founded School of the Museum of Fine Arts. In the late 1870s he participated in several Boston exhibitions, showing paintings that recalled the fashionable academic works of French artists such as Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904) and Jean-Louis Hamon (1821-1874). Deciding that New York provided greater opportunities for an aspiring artist, Dewing moved there in 1880 and took a studio on 57th Street. He soon came into contact with many of the young artists who had formed the Society of American Artists out of dissatisfaction with the National Academy of Design. Dewing was elected a member of the Society in 1880 and in 1881 began teaching at the Art Students League, where he renewed his friendship with Chase. In 1881 he married the artist Maria Oakey, through whom he had been introduced to an active cultural circle including the painters Abbott H. Thayer (1849-1921) and John La Farge (1835-1910). In 1886, the Dewings moved to the famous Studio Building at 3 North Washington Circle; by this time his works were exhibited regularly in New York shows and elsewhere.
By the late 1880s Dewing had formed his basic style and subject matter--elegant, refined women portrayed with an extremely limited range of colors and placed in sparse interiors or outdoors in soft green fields. He drew inspiration from the paintings of the Dutch artist Vermeer (1632-1675) and from the aesthetics of James A. M. Whistler (1834-1903) and the English artist Albert Moore (1841-1893). His brushwork became increasingly soft and blurred.
In December 1897, Dewing resigned from the Society of American Artists and joined a group of Boston and New York painters in forming The Ten. Most of The Ten worked in Impressionist styles that had little in common with Dewing's more subdued technique. Dewing continued to paint actively in the early years of the twentieth century, receiving several awards and enjoying the patronage of such noted collectors as Charles L. Freer and John Gellatly. He did little work during the last decade of his life, and died at the age of eighty-seven in New York on November 5, 1938. [This is an edited version of the artist's biography published, or to be published, in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]
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Kelly, Franklin, with Nicolai Cikovsky, Jr., Deborah Chotner, and John Davis. American Paintings of the Nineteenth Century, Part I. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1996: 127.