Arts Everyday Living: Have You Heard Of…..Thomas Wilmer Dewing? An American Vermeer?





Thomas Wilmer Dewing, Lady with a Lute, 1886, oil on wood, Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Walker Timme, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Title: Lady with a Lute

Artist: American Thomas Wilmer Dewing (1851-1938)


NOT REALLY AN IMPRESSIONIST: Thomas Wilmer Dewing was a founder of the Ten American Painters formed in New York in 1898, a group often identified with Impressionism practiced  by fellow members William Merritt Chase, Childe Hassam among others. However, Dewing was influenced more by the works of artists like James McNeill Whistler and what is called the Tonalist style, often dominated by one or two prominent colors—in the case of LADY WITH A LUTE, a harmonious and  subtle blending of  green and brown tones.

THE POETRY OF VERMEER: “To see beautifully” was Dewing’s guiding principle, the foundation of his artistic vision. Like his idol Johannes Vermeer, Dewing placed women at the center of his creative universe. His interiors, reminding us of Vermeer’s magical rooms: often quiet, calm and sparsely furnished spaces, occupied by a solitary female figure, sometimes with a companion. While their attire may differ–Vermeer’s  17th century contemporary costumes of  full skirts with fur jackets compared to the elegant, diaphanous gowns of Dewing’s 19th century fashion ideal–the models are generally engaged in a specific activity, from reading to looking in a mirror to  playing stringed or keyboard instruments.

THE GARDEN IN SPRING AND SUMMER: Although Dewing was accustomed to an urban environment—born and raised in Boston, then later living in New York City– he spent spring and summer for years in the artists’ colony of Cornish, New Hampshire. There he painted lyrical gatherings of three or four women, either dancing or listening to music, set in the ethereal, dream-like environment of of his garden and surrounding countryside.

MARIA OAKEY DEWING, PARTNER IN ART: In 1881, Dewing married Maria Oakey Dewing (1845-1927). From New York City, she was already an established artist, schooled at the National Academy of Fine Arts and other art institutions. Her flower paintings are best known, exquisite expressions of her passionate love for nature, often overflowing with a bounty of  blossoms.

A CAPITAL CITY OF DEWINGS: Looking for a Dewing? Washington, D.C. holds an unusually high number of his works in two of the Smithsonian’s museums: National Museum of American Art has over 20 works of art, plus a piano with the motif, America Receiving the Nine Muses painted on its top, (commissioned for the White House by President Theodore Roosevelt), while the Freer Gallery, part of the National Museum of Asian Art, contains an extensive collection, donated by Charles Lang Freer who was one of Dewing’s major patrons. In addition, Dewing also decorated Freer’s mansion in Detroit, Michigan.

THE PERFECT PROFILE: However, the National Gallery may have fewer Dewings, but LADY WITH A LUTE, is often recognized as one of the artist’s masterpieces. Is it because of its composition, the mysterious subject turned sideways to the viewer, in a striking profile of perfection? Her playing a combination of  skill and meditation, as she gracefully strokes the  strings, conjuring the melodious sounds that have reverberated throughout the centuries. The lute itself  solid, almost three dimensional in appearance, carved from the finest wood, richly textured, and  superbly designed. 


In the Garden, 1892-1894, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.

Spring, 1890, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.

A Reading, 1897, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.

The Lute, 1904, National Museum of Asian Art, Freer Gallery, Washington, D.C.


Garden in May, 1895, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.




In the public domain, courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

The National Gallery of Art does not endorse or approve use of the above image or any of the material on this website. Nor has the National Gallery of Art participated in any projects utilizing the said image.



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