Thomas Wilmer Dewing, American (1851-1938)
Lady With A Fan
1911, Oil on Canvas
Purchase (1948), MSA SC 4680-10-0223
Thomas Wilmer Dewing grew up in Boston, but became one of many American artists who studied abroad. In 1876, Dewing studied under Jules-Joseph Lefebvre and Gustave Boulanger at the Academie Julian in Paris, and by 1880 had moved to New York where he joined other young artists in challenging the conservative old guard at the National Academy of Design.
Like many of his contemporaries, Dewing occasionally used contorted poses for expressive purposes. In Lady with a Fan, Dewing employed a much more exaggerated pose than in previous works. Here, he smoothed and elongated the contours on one side of the sitter with a dramatic sweep of fabric. On the opposite side, he broke the silhouette with an angular placement of outstretched arm and knee. Dewing used Gertrude McNeill as his model, whose audacious gaze echoes the bold design of the canvas. She occupies a precarious position high on a perch, one that allows her long train to cascade into a wedge that mimics the shape of the fan she holds.
Dewing conveyed a "big feeling" through this sense of structure, thereby saving his work from the preciosity that might otherwise be associated with his exquisite paint surfaces and rarified color modulations.
One of Dewing's rare blue-toned works, this canvas is a shimmering study in silver warmed with occasional flashes of gold. The artist molded the face with supreme delicacy in tiny dashes of red, green, and pink, which unite visually in an iridescent pearl-like hue. Thin, dark, quill-like strokes define the beaded embroidery of the lacy bodice, while passages in the skirt range from azure to gray to turquoise. The floor itself is worthy of comment for in it Dewing used a vibrant purple, adeptly blending blue into lilac and iris tones.
Primary Source: Susan A. Hobbs, The Art of Thomas Wilmer Dewing, 1996, The Brooklyn Museum.
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