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Thomas W. Dewing
American, 1851 - 1938

Portrait in a Brown Dress, ca. 1908
American Painting
Oil on wood panel
20 in. x 15 1/2 in. (50.8 cm x 39.37 cm), without frame

Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Alexander Millar Lindsay III, in memory of Jesse Williams and Grace Curtice Lindsay and their daughter, Carolyn Lindsay White,  57.79

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About the Object

Around the same time that Thomas Dewing painted this portrait of a young woman reading a book, American art critic Charles Caffin wrote about Dewing's work:  

"Generations of repressed emotion have made [Dewing's women] incapable of passion; strenuousness survives only in supersensitive nerves; their sole religion is the worship of self…They are motionless in an atmosphere from which all human warmth has been sucked, in a vacuum drained of intellectual and emotional nourishment.  These bodily shapes are not of flesh and blood; they are the essence distilled from the withering of what is womanly, the mere fragrance of dead rose-leaves."

Thomas Dewing's depictions of genteel, ethereal young women engaged in contemplative and artistic pursuits stand in contrast to the bold and vigorous "New Woman," the feminist model of woman who emerged during this same period.  The "New Woman" earned a living and wanted the vote and was not content to be marginalized in gauzy environments like the ones created by Dewing.

This painting is in its original frame, which is similar to those designed by Stanford White, who created opulent and decorative environments for many of Dewing's Gilded Age patrons.  

(1). Charles H. Caffin, The Story of American Painting: The Evolution of American Painting from Colonial Times to the Present (New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1907) , 189.

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