In 2018, the Smithsonian launched the American Women’s History Initiative, to record the compelling, often untold, stories of women who have shaped history and to record their accomplishments. The initiative, called Because of Her Story looks at notable figures in American history whose achievements have not always received the full appreciation they deserve.
Maria Oakey Dewing is one of the women included in the Smithsonian’s archives, and whose works are part of the permanent collection of the Smithsonian’s art collection. Dewing began her career around the turn of the twentieth century. Her abstract, impressionist style was considered avant-garde, and way ahead of other artists of her generation.
She attended Cooper Union, had her works shown at the National Academy of Design and was one of the founders of the Art Students League of New York in 1875. In an article in Smithsonian Magazine, titled Consider This Maverick of the Aesthetic Movement, Smithsonian Provost John Davis explains why the career of Maria Oakey Dewing was not as fulfilling as it should have been.
“The small number of paintings by Dewing that have come down to us hovers around two dozen.” Davis wrote. “Why so few? Many have been lost, but many more were simply never painted. In her 20s as an art student, Dewing was known as a maverick of the aesthetic movement, an avant-garde thinker and progressive author, one of the most promising painters of her generation. However, upon her marriage to fellow artist Thomas Wilmer Dewing in 1881, her artistic production more or less ceased for decades while she took on the domestic duties that her period expected of a wife and mother. This unequal, gender-based distribution of professional roles is common to a number of artistic couples in the nineteenth century. Still, while her oeuvre may be small, it is undeniably fervent. As Dewing is reported to have said to the writer Oscar Wilde, “I must paint pictures or die.”
Dewing painted portraits and figures early in her career, and then focused on painting flowers, a move attributed to her not wanting to overshadow the career of her husband, who was a figurative painter.
An avid gardener, Dewing may have painted flowers just for the sheer joy of painting flowers. “The flower offers a removed beauty that exists only for beauty,” she wrote in 1915, “more abstract than it can be in the human being, even more exquisite. One may begin with the human figure at the logical and realistic, but in painting the flower one must even begin at the exquisite and distinguished.”
The Work of Maria Oakey Dewing at Surovek Gallery
Please contact us if you would like more information about Spring Flowers with Roses, Daffodils and Larkspur or any other fine art for sale at Surovek Gallery.
John Davis. Consider This Maverick of the Aesthetic Movement. Smithsonian Magazine. October 24, 2019.
Laura Beach. Thomas Wilmer Dewing: Beauty Into Art. Antiques and the Arts Weekly. August 27, 2019.
Linda DeBerry. Maria Oakey Dewing. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. October 27, 2014.