About the Artist
Maria Oakey Dewing was an American flower painter, and an important role model for women in the arts at the turn of the twentieth century.
Early Life and Education
Maria Oakey was born in New York City in 1845. She was the fifth of ten children born to Sally and William Oakey. William Oakey was in the importing business, interested in the arts, and able to provide his children with quality educations. Sally Oakey was a writer, who came from an upscale Boston family, and had friends in both the worlds of art and literature.
Oakey was more interested in writing than in painting when she was young, and during her lifetime she wrote books about etiquette, housekeeping and painting. She chose, instead, a career in painting and began her formal training at the Cooper Union School of Design for Women in 1866 and the continued her studies at the Antique School of National Academy of Fine Arts from 1871 to 1875. Her greatest influence was John La Farge, who passed on to her his love of flower painting and Japanese aesthetics. Two of her other teachers were American painter, William Morris, and French painter Thomas Couture, who also taught Edouard Manet and La Farge.
Career and Family
Oakey was a successful portrait and figure painter during the early part of her career, and her works were shown at the National Academy of Design. She was very much a part of the New York art scene, and helped to establish the Art Students League in 1875.
In 1881, she married portrait painter, Thomas Dewing. They had a son, who died in infancy, and a daughter, Elizabeth, who was born in 1885. Oakey began doing more flower paintings after the birth of her daughter and there is some speculation that she didn’t want to compete with her husband, who was one of the finest figure painters of his time.
She and her husband were both avid gardeners. Oakey sometimes painted flowers in her husband’s portraits. Hymen, a work currently in the Cincinnati Art Museum, is the only painting that bears both of their signatures. Oakey died in New York in 1927.
At a time when women were not allowed to attend figure drawing classes with men and few were able to sustain a career in the art world, Oakey managed to establish herself as an artist whose work equaled, and often surpassed, that of her male contemporaries. Her works are part of the permanent collections of the Smithsonian, the National Gallery of Art and other fine museums around the country.