Dwight William Tryon (1849-1925)

Dwight William Tryon (1849-1925)

Dwight William Tryon was born in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1849, and was drawn to both art and nature at an early age, often sketching the ships gliding along the Connecticut River and the meadows and fields around his childhood home. In 1864, he took a clerk position at a bookstore to help support his widowed mother and the job offered access to countless volumes of art history texts and instructional books. Thus Tryon continued his self-education, painting and sketching on his own, and eventually exhibited his work locally in Hartford and in New York. Often he found ready buyers, and in 1873, two paintings were included in the National Academy’s annual exhibition. Tryon eventually left the bookstore to pursue his painting fulltime, supplementing his income by taking on private students. He also made sketching trips along the Maine coast and to the White Mountains, and by 1876, having ended what he considered his American education, he auctioned his work to fund a voyage to France. 

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In Paris, Tryon joined the atelier of Jacquesson de la Chevreuse and attended lectures at the École des Beaux Arts. He also fell under the influence of the plein-air Barbizon painters, befriending Charles-Francois Daubigny and receiving significant criticism and support from renowned landscapist Jean-Baptiste Antoine Guillemet: “Guillemet gave me much wise advice and was well fitted to direct me out of certain academic paths into which I had fallen from study in the schools.” [1] During summer breaks, he explored the Normandy coast, Holland and Venice, and in 1881 submitted a scene of the River Maas to the Paris Salon. That same year, Tryon returned home, establishing a studio in New York at the Rembrandt Building among fellow painters R. Swain Gifford and Will H. Low, and began exhibiting with the Society of American Artists. While searching for the ideal painting location to adapt his Barbizon sensibilities, he was referred by his neighbor Gifford to South Dartmouth, Massachusetts, where seaside cottages and low terrain reminded Tryon of the French villages he had come to appreciate.  He began spending summers there in 1883 and built a permanent home by 1887. The waterfront community afforded him access to the ships he enjoyed from his youth and he soon purchased a boat, spending hours sailing along the coast, sometimes sketching and more often making mental notes from which he would later produce his studio paintings.

In 1889, Tryon became acquainted with the Detroit industrialist Charles Lang Freer when he purchased his painting The Rising Moon: Autumn, thus establishing a lifelong professional connection and sincere friendship. Freer acquired over seventy paintings in the course of their thirty year association, and sought the artist’s advice for the decoration of his newly constructed Michigan home.  His vast collection was eventually bequeathed to the Smithsonian, establishing the Freer Gallery of Art, where only a fraction of Tryon’s numerous paintings can be shown at a time.

Beginning in the 1890s, Tryon’s somber palette transitioned into the subtle tonalism for which he is best known, capturing atmospheric elements with a delicate brushwork, and thus invoking an emotional response to the landscape.  He stayed in New York for the winters, but the seasonal transformation of South Dartmouth and the New England landscape offered a wealth of his favorite subjects from early spring through late autumn. Tryon was elected a full member of the National Academy in 1891 and also exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy, the Boston Art Club, the Brooklyn Art Association, the Corcoran Gallery and with Montross Gallery of New York, and was the recipient of numerous prizes and honors.  He taught at Smith College for almost forty years beginning in 1886, serving as Director of the art school by 1889, and also advised them on acquisitions for their growing collection. Towards the end of his life, he bequeathed significant funds to the school for the construction of the Tryon Gallery to display these works as well as paintings and objects gifted from his own collection. Tryon passed away in South Dartmouth in July of 1925. In addition to the extensive collections at the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, and Smith College Museum of Art in Northampton, Massachusetts, his work can be found in the Metropolitan Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Detroit Institute of Arts. 

References: Falk, Who Was Who in American Art, (1999); Merrill, Linda, An Ideal Country: Paintings by Dwight William Tryon in the Freer Gallery of Art (Smithsonian Institution, 1990); White, Henry C., The Life and Art of Dwight William Tryon (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1930); Caffin, Charles H., The Art of Dwight W. Tryon, An Appreciation (Self-published by the Author, 1909); National Museum of American Art and the National Portrait Gallery, Revisiting the White City: American Art at the 1893 World’s Fair (Smithsonian Institution, 1993). 

[1] White, Henry C., The Life and Art of Dwight William Tryon (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1930), p. 46

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