Thomas Waterman Wood


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Painter and etcher. Known particularly for genre scenes, he painted portraits as well. The detailed settings of some portraits give these the air of independent genre subjects. Wood played a conspicuous part in the institutional art life of New York. He belonged to several important organizations and served as president of the American Water Color Society (1878–87) and of the National Academy of Design (1891–99). In addition, in 1895 he founded a museum in Montpelier, Vermont, his birthplace and longtime summer home. His donation to what is now the T. W. Wood Gallery at Vermont College included several dozen of his own paintings, as well his copies of European specimens and works by contemporary American artists. Largely self-taught as an artist, while living in Boston during the mid-1840s Wood profited from the example of Chester Harding's work and may have received instruction from him. By 1852 Wood had established a portrait studio in New York, but he also worked itinerantly during the next several years. He had begun to produce genre works by 1858, before he departed to travel and study in Europe. There he may have spent some time at the Düsseldorf Academy, but he traveled widely, investigating contemporary art and copying old masters. Following his return to the United States in 1859, he lived in Nashville, Tennessee, and Louisville, Kentucky, before settling permanently in New York in 1866. Wood employed a hard, detailed realism that enhanced the clarity of his anecdotal dramas of middle-class life. In a departure from conventional genre subjects of the period, Wood sympathetically recorded African Americans and their circumstances in a number of paintings. He generally offered a sweetened, unproblematic view of a vanishing way of life, which, together with his conservative style, gave his work an old-fashioned tone before the end of his career.

Subjects: Art.

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