Editor's note: The Staten Island Museum provided source material to Resource Library for the following article. If you have questions or comments regarding the source material, please contact the Staten Island Museum directly through either this phone number or web address:



 

Beauty Rediscovered: Paintings by Adeline Albright Wigand & Otto Charles Wigand

June 24, 2010 - January 17, 2011

 

The following works and their corresponding texts appeared in the exhibition Beauty Rediscovered: Paintings by Adeline Albright Wigand & Otto Charles Wigand, organized by the Staten Island Museum, New York; on view from June 24, 2010 through January 17, 2011. Bartholomew F. Bland, Director of Curatorial Affairs at The Hudson River Museum was Guest Curator for the exhibition.

The paintings of Adeline Albright Wigand and Otto Charles Wigand are imbued with clues to another era. Filled with the qualities of charm, grace, and modest elegance, they depict a seemingly gentle world of small domestic moments, contemplative portraits, ornamental still life, and highly romanticized farmers -- a vision that did not hold up a mirror to the societal growing pains of French or American life at the turn of the twentieth century. Toward the end of their lives in the years before World War II, the reputations of these well-regarded artists waned -- their work was pretty, even beautiful, at the precise moment when the art world decided these were not hallmark qualities of serious artists. Although the couple made tentative steps toward more modern styles, their adherence to traditional training meant that their work grew unfashionable over time.

Although the Wigands' art is representative of the Gilded Age, their relationship places them decidedly outside the artistic mainstream. Married late in life, this childless couple worked together comfortably side by side as artists for decades, first in Paris, then in Manhattan, and eventually on Staten Island. This exhibition, their first since the memorial exhibition held at the Staten Island Museum in 1945, proved an opportunity to reevaluate the work of two artists whose academic training reflected many of the highest ideals of nineteenth-century art, carried over into the rapidly changing modern world.

Object labels / checklist from the exhibition

 

Adeline Albright Wigand

 
Adeline Albright Wigand (1855-1944)
Portrait of Henry Julian Mullin, c. early 1880s
Oil on canvas, 10_ x 9 in.
Collection of the Staten Island Museum
 
To the modern eye, this painting may appear to be a charming study of young feminine beauty with long curls and blooming pink cheeks, but, in fact, in keeping with conventions of nineteenth-century childhood, this is a portrait of a young boy -- two-year-old Henry Julian Mullin. Mullin's was an American Minnesota family, busily touring Europe, and they commissioned this portrait from Adeline, perhaps sympathetic to her because of their shared Midwest background. Scholars have theorized that the small size of this painting indicates that it is a study for a larger, now lost work. However, the high degree of refinement in the execution, the fact that Adeline is known to have used the smaller format for other pictures of children, and the fact that the painting is signed indicate that Adeline regarded this as a finished work in its own right.
 
This portrait was donated to the Staten Island Museum by the Vaughan family, who at the time also donated one of Adeline's few other known full-length canvases. Showing a statuesque woman wearing clothes fashionable just before World War I alongside a large collie, the painting was unfortunately deaccessioned from the museum in the late 1960s, indicative that the interest in this style of painting was at its nadir.
 

Adeline Albright Wigand (1855-1944)
Portrait of Mademoiselle X, c. 1886
Oil on canvas, 21_ x 19_ in.
On Loan from the Collection of Mr. Timothy Simonson
 
This highly polished example of portraiture was likely Adeline's entry into the Paris Salon of 1886, when she was studying as an art student at the Académie Julian. This painting would have served as a kind of advertisement for Adeline's increasing mastery of the figure as she sought additional portrait commissions.
 
The solitary illuminated figure posed against a dramatic dark background is a stylistic convention borrowed from seventeenth-century Old Master paintings, and it is not surprising that an American artist studying in Paris produced such a work. At the time the United States was swept up in "Hollandmania" -- a vogue for all thing Dutch, inspired by Holland's Golden Age. While American robber barons gobbled up Rembrandt's portraits, working American artists such as Adeline's teacher William Merritt Chase took notice and consciously adapted these historical styles into their contemporary work.
 
Technical examination indicates that the painting has had the bottom several inches of canvas folded under, and the original signature, her maiden name, Adeline Albright, is still visible on the back of the canvas. Both of the Wigands' known oeuvres contain canvases that were enlarged by several inches or reduced in size, most likely to fit available frames later in life when their income was limited.

 
Adeline Albright Wigand (1855-1944)
Portrait of My Mother, c. 1890
Oil on canvas, 37 x 30 in.
Collection of the Staten Island Museum
 
One of Adeline's most accomplished canvases, this portrait reveals both the surety of her salon training and her embrace of the (at the time) more modern aesthetic of portraiture popularized by James MacNeill Whistler. Shown at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, the portrait highlights Adeline's ability to expertly convey the varied textures of fur, paper, hair, metal, and silk. The painting was likely completed away from New York, when Adeline was on a family visit in Iowa.
 
Although Adeline never studied with Whistler, this work bears a debt to Whistler's 1871 painting Arrangement in Grey and Black: The Artist's Mother. Adeline's work is softer in color and in the figure's conception. Whistler's mother is solemn and formal, the embodiment of a nineteenth-century puritan, but Wigand's interpretation of her own mother is less formidable and draws the viewer into her psychological world. The mother wears an expression of thoughtful, almost scholarly reflection. The cool blue-grays and black of Whistler's formal experimental composition create in Adeline's work a warmer harmony.
 
Adeline herself felt this portrait was one of her most successful works, exhibiting it frequently. In 1941, nearly fifty years after she created the painting, she chose it to represent her in a group show reviewed by the Staten Island Advance:
 
Mrs. Wigand succeeded in portraying herself as well as her mother in the same picture; for only a loving, a revering daughter could do such a masterpiece. . . . The subject has just read some passage from Emerson. She has now closed the book and is deeply immersed in thought, the head very slightly tilted to her left side. Her communing through her meditation with the entire universe imparts to her something divine.
 

Adeline Albright Wigand (?) (1856-1944)
Mother Reading with Polly, c. 1890-1900
Oil on canvas, 16_ x 13_ in.
On Loan from the Collection of Mr. Robert C. Wigand
 
The authorship of this painting, simply signed "Wigand," has been a matter of intense debate within both the museum and the Wigand family. Oral history in the family has traditionally ascribed the painting to Otto, as a portrait of his own mother. However, the facility, bulk, and positioning of the figure seem to point to Adeline as the painter. Otto, though exceptionally skilled in drawing the academic figure, seems to have been less comfortable rendering the figure in oil paint. Additionally, the deep coloration shows a clear debt to Adeline's studies with William Merritt Chase during this period. From a purely psychological standpoint, the sitter here appears disagreeable. This seems to be a woman the painter had to endure rather than embrace, and gives some indication of Adeline's relationship with her mother-in-law. With the cast-down eyes seen in many of Adeline's canvases, the figure's less than charming expression expresses the ambivalence shown in many of Adeline's female figures during this period, a quality rarely, if ever present in Otto's portrayals of women.
 

Adeline Albright Wigand (1855-1944)
Portrait of a Young Girl (Eleanor Wigand?), c. 1890
Oil on canvas, 62 x 34 in.
Collection of Mr. James R. Wigand
 
Adeline's largest known portrait epitomizes the Gilded Age in its grandeur. Most likely a painting of her niece Eleanor Wigand, who can also be seen as a girl in a painting nearby, the work was likely kept within the family, as it has no known exhibition history before resurfacing at auction in 2009. The painting bears the strong influence of Adeline's teacher William Merritt Chase, John Singer Sargent's children painted in grand interiors, and most directly, in its quotation of the bearskin rug, James MacNeill Whistler's Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl.
 
Painting a much younger girl than shown in Whistler's portrait, Adeline rose to the technical challenges of portraying white on white in the girl's dress and the bear rug, and the painting shows bravura technique in the fur and taffeta. From the gleam on the pin head securing the flowers to the glint in the bear's eye, Adeline proved herself a masterful painter, but for all that, the painting is not fully satisfying. The girl looks uncertain in her surroundings, and her face is a mask for her emotions, beyond the intense demureness considered fashionable in girls of the time.
 

Adeline Albright Wigand (1855-1944)
Portrait of Otto Wigand (small version), c. 1895
Oil on artist board mounted to wood, 11_ x 9 in.
Collection of Mr. Robert C. Wigand
 
This small portrait of Otto is likely a study for the larger finished work Portrait of Otto Wigand. His downcast eyes make this work touchingly intimate, and Otto appears vulnerable under the gaze of his artist wife. The male under the scrutinizing gaze of the female is an unusual reversal of the sexes' roles. It is indicative of Adeline's modesty and perhaps of her aversion to having her likeness taken that no significant portrait of Adeline by Otto has come to light. Neither has a satisfactory photographic portrait of Adeline been found, although there are a number of images of Otto.
 
In the dark color of this work, Adeline reveals the influence of her teacher, the painter William Merritt Chase, along with fellow American painter John Singer Sargent, both of whom were deeply influenced by the luxuriant deep colors of Spanish painter Velasquez. With his handsome beard, Otto appears as a more demure variant of Sargent's glamorous Dr. Pozzi at Home. Adeline would have been familiar with Sargent's painting, which had created something of a scandal in Europe during the time Otto and Adeline were studying in Paris
 

Adeline Albright Wigand (1855-1944)
Portrait of Otto Wigand, c. 1895
Oil on canvas, 30_ x 25 in.
Collection of the Staten Island Museum
 
Adeline's handsome portrait of her husband is a tribute to her affection for him. Otto appears as a thinking, gentle person with a poetic air. Notably, Adeline does not portray Otto in the guise of a fellow artist -- there are no palettes or easels to signal his successful, considerable output in an array of artistic media. Instead this is a domestic but atmospheric work. The art on the wall behind Otto remains indistinct, and it is unclear if it is one of Otto's or Adeline's own creations.
 
Although she has reversed the composition, Adeline's use of a restricted color palette was likely inspired by Whistler's Portrait of Thomas Carlyle. However, the atmosphere conveyed is different from the Whistler inspiration. Adeline has softened Otto's gaze, and something of Otto's creative nature appears in his look, as if he is a bit of a dreamer, gazing off into the distance, whereas Carlyle appears alert and bolt upright with anticipation.
 

Adeline Albright Wigand (1855-1944)
Portrait of Eleanor Wigand, c. 1897
Oil on canvas, 33 x 20_ in.
Collection of Mr. Robert C. Wigand
 
Adeline Albright Wigand (1855-1944)
Portrait of Robert Wigand, c. 1897
Oil on canvas, 33 x 20_ in.
Collection of Mr. Robert C. Wigand
 
Herself without children, Adeline had a clear affection for her niece and nephew by marriage, here portrayed as elegant, well brought-up children who seem as though they would be as comfortable in Paris as in what was then rural Staten Island. Robert's costume in particular is archaic and mimics the clothing in the grand-manner portraiture of children employed so successfully by John Singer Sargent. In Robert's portrait, Adeline even outdoes Sargent, showing the boy in a huge lace collar, which would not look out of place in a painting by Anthony Van Dyke. Eleanor's gaze is unnervingly direct and in its intensity is reminiscent of Sargent's dramatic Marie-Louise Pailleron. Taken together, these children conjure thoughts of the staring children in Henry James' novella The Turn of the Screw.
 

Adeline Albright Wigand (1855-1944)
The Brown Cape, c. 1902
Oil on canvas, 13_ x 16_ in.
Collection of Mr. Robert C. Wigand
 
Comparing The Brown Cape with Portrait of Mademoiselle X, it is clear how much Adeline's style evolved over the years. Shortly after painting the latter, her work began to express less of the influence of Chase as she adopted tonalism, a style that had been popularized by Thomas Wilmer Dewing in the 1890s. Many of Dewing's paintings, similar to Adeline's The Brown Cape, featured the female figure alone or in an artistically arranged grouping, often seated, playing instruments, writing letters, or lost in contemplation and situated in gauzy, vaguely defined interiors. The woman in this painting, like many of Adeline's female figures, remains remote, refusing to engage the viewer. The Brown Cape and Adeline's other important tonalist work, Woman in Blue, are infused with subtle color harmonies that pervade the picture, setting a wistful mood and tone. Adeline showed this painting at both the Art Institute of Chicago and the Pennylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1905.
 

Adeline Albright Wigand (1855-1944)
Woman Reading a Letter (The Letter), c. 1910
Oil on canvas, 29_ x 23_ in.
Collection of Mr. Robert C. Wigand
 
Woman Reading a Letter is a far cry from the staid and sentimental portraits of children that Adeline executed with technical ease. The daring atmosphere of this work, illuminated by shaded candlelight, has many historic precedents, dating back to the works of Caravaggio and George de la Tour and the British artist Joseph Wright of Derby, famous for his candlelit subjects, as well as lamplit scenes like Edgar Degas' Interior. Adeline's daring use of blue flesh tones conveys a chilly interior and associations with death, at odds with the portrayal of beauty. Erotic and mysterious, the faded flowers on the table suggest some disappointment in the missive she is reading, perhaps the aftershock of some disturbing event. Adeline clearly realized that this work was a breakthrough for her: the painting won the National Arts Club Prize of $100 in 1912, and it appeared at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the City Art Museum of St. Louis, and the National Academy of Design, all in 1911.
 

Adeline Albright Wigand (1855-1944)
At the Table (The Wigands), c. 1900­1910
Oil on canvas, 21_ x 17_ in.
Collection of Mr. Robert C. Wigand
 
Oral history in the Wigand family suggests that the unsigned At the Table was a creation of both Adeline and Otto Wigand, in which each artist painted the other's portrait. Although this is a romantic notion, sole authorship of the painting likely belongs to Adeline. Certainly Otto's profile, so similar to Adeline's signed paintings of him, is by Adeline, and technical examinations of the painting indicate that it is likely the work of a single hand. Additionally, the existence of a preliminary drawing for this painting indicates that the composition was worked out by a single artist. The atmospheric background with a lack of pronounced detail (common to artists such as Whistler) and the fact that Adeline makes her own profile much less distinct and engaging in a domestic wifely chore of drying lettuce point to her authorship, and to an internalized conflict about her art. Recently a photographic study for this work and another emerged in a private collection, which confirms that both Wigands, like Thomas Eakins, eventually broke with their traditional academic training and adapted photography as a source of material and technical aid for producing their paintings.
 

Adeline Albright Wigand? (1855-1944)
Tea Time, c. 1912
Oil on canvas, 29_ x 24_ in.
Collection of Walter and Judy Wiedmann
 
Family tradition has long described this unsigned work to Otto. It is clearly a finished piece. The face of the young woman is similar to Otto and Adeline's niece Eleanor Wigand. If the painting is taken to be by Otto, the woman in the cap may possibly be Adeline, with the obscured profile similar to At the Table.
 
Recently a second version of Tea Time emerged, sketchier in its brushstrokes and convincingly from Adeline's hand. The somewhat rehearsed nature of the figures in this version may be attributed to the fact that it was copied and "scaled up" into a more finished work. The distinct coloration -- the vibrant dabs of orange -- are reminiscent of Woman Reading a Letter, and point to Adeline's authorship. However, much of the brushwork and the detail of the background would seem to argue in favor of Otto. Since the couple worked from photographs to prepare compositions, it is tempting to consider that each artist prepared a version of the subject, although it is unlikely that the color palette in both would be so similar. It has also been proposed that one version was painted by Eleanor Wigand, but it is not thought she was capable of such sophisticated technique. Kirsten Jensen has made a compelling argument that this painting may be a work Adeline showed at the Woman's Art Club in 1920 called Convalescence, but the lack of a signature in that case remains problematic.
 

Adeline Albright Wigand (1856-1944)
Picking Daisies, c. 1915.
Oil on board, 16_ x 14_ in.
Collection of Dr. Gwendolyn Bolling
 
Until recently, this painting was thought to be a painting by Otto Wigand of Adeline. Although it would be easy to see a romantic cast to the beautiful young woman with parasol stepping across the meadows, and then assume this was a painting of a wife by a devoted artist-husband, the person in this picture is almost certainly Otto and Adeline's niece Eleanor. The picture bears a strong resemblance to known photographs of Eleanor from that period, although Adeline has softened her strong profile, and the style of the dress places the creation of the picture well after the time when Adeline would have been portrayed as such a young woman. The beautiful coloration that has emerged since the piece was recently cleaned matches the palette that Adeline began to work with around World War I, and the painting of the figure can be securely ascribed to her hand.
 
 

Adeline Albright Wigand (1855-1944)
Polly, c. 1915-1920
Oil on canvas, 20 x 24 in.
Collection of the Staten Island Museum
 
Polly highlights Adeline's gift for painting animals, which can also be glimpsed in the bear head in the rug in Portrait of a Young Girl. Polly was a beloved family pet in the Wigand household. There is some evidence that the gilt mirror in this picture was of special significance to the artist, as it is probably the mirror mentioned in her will along with several other pieces of antique furniture.
 
The picture is something of a visual puzzle. The viewer of the painting is placed in the position where he or she would naturally see his or her reflection, only to be replaced by a female figure (probably the artist) whose features are less distinct and animated than the bird on the table in front of her. A number of the women portrayed in Adeline's pictures from the early decades of the twentieth century are infused with subtle tension and obscured features, and despite the bright colors and highly decorative aspects of Polly, the artist makes a subtle analogy between the gilded cage of the bird and the woman caught within the borders of the gilt mirror frame.
 
 

Otto Charles Wigand (1856-1944)
Still Life with Bowl, c. 1920
Oil on canvas, 23_ x 26 in.
Collection of Mr. Robert C. Wigand
 
Otto must have found this particular composition pleasing, as he painted several variations, each highlighting the settee, distinctively upholstered with a single asymmetrical blackbird that suggests a modern style to some of the Wigands' furnishings. While this still life features the flattened spatial plane seen in the works of Cézanne and in Japanese painting, the form here is essentially more conventional. The beautifully rendered, glowing coloration owes a debt to the distinctive softer pink undertones seen in the work of Pierre Bonnard.
 

Adeline Albright Wigand (1855-1944)
Zinnias, c. 1920s
Oil on canvas, 19_ x 15_ in.
Collection of Mr. James R. Wigand
 
More thinly painted than Roses in a Vase, but glorious in its coloration, which recalls French painters such as Pierre Bonnard and even Henri Matisse, the subject of this work is as much tactile fabric as it is simple still life. Unlike the images of poetic grandeur and deep romantic historical association of roses, Adeline here chooses to portray simple sunny flowers, just pulled from the couple's garden at their Staten Island home. Adeline and Otto both utilized the decorative elements they happened to have on hand in their domestic setting, and the green glazed pottery vessel in this painting can be seen in the case in the museum's lobby.
 
 
 
Adeline Albright Wigand (1855-1944)
Roses in a Pitcher, c. 1920s
Oil on canvas, 23_ x 19_ in.
Collection of Mr. James R. Wigand
 
Roses in a Pitcher is an exceptional example of Adeline's brighter color palette in the 1920s. The roses here are lushly painted, employing impasto: painting that applies the pigment thickly so that brush or palette knife marks are visible. Like Wayne Thiebaud's contemporary frosted cakes, these flowers are intensely tactile in their richness. They are shown with a string of coral beads, which may have had some special personal significance, and several metal objects, likely chosen to highlight her skill at painting a range of materials.
 

Adeline Albright Wigand (1855-1944)
Phlox Bouquet in Vase, c. 1925
Oil on canvas, 15_ x 12 in.
Collection of Walter and Judy Wiedmann
 
Adeline Albright Wigand (1855-1944)
Roses in Vase, c. 1925
Oil on canvas, 14_ x 11_ in.
Collection of Mr. Robert C. Wigand
 
These beautiful small-scale still life paintings showcase Adeline's talents in depicting flowers. Passages of the work, particularly in the distinctive blue-and-white delftware, are thickly painted and yet capture the highlights on the glazing of the pottery. The scattering of dropped petals acts as a kind of memento mori, symbolizing the peak of the flowers passing, encouraging the viewer to contemplate and savor the beauty before the inevitable wasting of the blossoms. These paintings also highlight Adeline's skills in depicting cloth textures and patterns, which she may have observed as domestic works of art for the home.
 

Adeline Albright Wigand (1855-1944)
Woman with Parasol in Garden, c. 1925
Oil on canvas, 20 x 24_ in.
Collection of Walter and Judy Wiedmann
 
One of Adeline's few known outdoor garden scenes, probably painted en plein air, this work is painted with thick, sketchy impasto, capturing a decidedly modern feeling, not only in the 1920s dress of the female figure but also in the vibrant hues and abstracted flowers, which suggest Adeline had considerably loosened her style. The evolution of Adeline's work from Picking Daisies, painted approximately a decade earlier yet rooted in the nineteenth century, to this new working style promised a new direction for her painting, which was never fully realized.
 

Albright Wigand (1855-1944)
Portrait of Bobby, c. 1927
Oil on canvas, 7_ x 9_ in.
Collection of Mr. Robert C. Wigand
 
Adeline Albright Wigand (1855-1944)
Portrait of Helen, c. 1927
Oil on canvas, 7_ x 9_ in.
Collection of Ms. Helen Bolton Adeline
 
Compared to the formality and dark, Spanish-inspired palette of her larger children's portraits of the 1890s, Adeline painted Robert's children (her great-niece and -nephew) a generation later in lighter pastel styles. Adeline returns to the distinct smaller format she found conducive when painting Henry Julian Mullin. Here, she employs the brighter color palette she adopted through the 1920s that can be seen in works like Polly. Although their expressions are a bit "candy box," Bobby (Robert Jr.) and Helen epitomize the idealized children of the 1920s at the start of the modern era, in simpler, less restrictive clothing. These are among Adeline's last known portraits, as she increasingly became interested in still life in the 1920s and her pace of painting slowed.

 

Otto Charles Wigand

Otto Charles Wigand (1856-1944)
At a Churchyard, Brittany, c. 1886
Watercolor on paper, 13_ x 18_ in.
Collection of Mr. Robert C. Wigand
 
Otto clearly found the way of life around Pont-Aven invigorating for his art, and the lives of the rural folk who lived there appealed to his aesthetics. In his work there is no sign of the rapidly encroaching industrialization of the twentieth century. This watercolor rendition of a churchyard full of worshippers in Brittan is only one of a number of studies he made of buildings in the area. Otto chose another traditional Breton subject for his large-scale oil painting Réflexion après le Pardon, which he showed at the Paris Salon in 1887. The painting shows a calm moment after a form of pilgrimage in which sins are forgiven, a centuries-old demonstration of Catholicism particular to the region. The Salon was considered the high point of the art year in Paris, and after its acceptance there, Otto had the piece sent to New York in anticipation of attracting future clients. Reviews for the painting were mixed, with some critics commenting on the conventional rendering and sentimental subject matter. Nevertheless, it was one of Otto's most important canvases and was donated by the Robert C. Wigand family to Wagner College in 1932.
 
 
 
Otto Charles Wigand (1856-1944)
Woman Sewing, c. 1888
Oil on canvas, 13_ x 10_ in.
Collection of Ms. Charlotte Durkee Maeck
 
Although Otto began his studies in France at the Académie Julian in Paris in 1884, he spent his summers during the mid 1880s in the northwestern region known as Brittany, at the town of Pont-Aven along with a colony of other artists, most notably his friend, the American artist Arthur Wesley Dow, and the French artist Paul Gauguin, whose avant-garde ideas about art Otto found not to his liking. Otto's sketchbook is filled with scenes from the region -- ideas and notes, scenery and faces -- that could be quickly taken down as source material for eventual finished pictures. Brittany was especially attractive to artists because the people lived "picturesque" lives, still dressing in traditional costumes, like the girl shown here, wearing the distinctive collar of the region. In his sketchbook, Otto identified the girl as "Marie," and she may, in fact, be the model for Woman Sewing.
 

Otto Charles Wigand (1856-1944)
Engraved block, 5 x 3_ in.
Engraving from block, 7 x 5_ in.
 
Sketchbook from French studies, c. 1880s
6_ x 4_ in.
 
Leaf from sketchbook: Breton Woman, 9 x 5_ in.
 
Collection of Mr. James R. Wigand
 
These works are a sampling of Otto's range on paper. From the quickly penciled sketch used to create the finished beauty of Breton Woman to the carved compositions from which he created engravings, Otto was always a skilled draftsman, capable of highly refined work.
 
Otto's few extant sketchbooks provide a glimpse into the environs of France that captured his imagination during his studies there in the 1880s. These "notations" could be executed quickly, as in his illustration of the church stained-glass window_accumulated inspiration that would later inform his own stained-glass designs. However, many of his sketches, like Breton Woman, are more finished, independent works of art.
 
The unidentified engraving here reflects Otto's earliest training in the 1870s as an engraver, likely because of his father's own bookbinding business, Otto Wigand & Son. Throughout his career, Otto regularly supplemented his income by engraving works for other artists, and most of these remain unidentified. Otto also created many melodramatic illustrations for popular fiction in grisaille (paintings executed entirely in monochrome shades of grey), often for luridly titled stories such as A Daughter's Holocaust, The Black Finger, and The Darkest Hour.
 

Otto Charles Wigand (1856-1944)
Untitled (Jesus at the Sea of Galilee), c. 1895
Watercolor on board, 18 x 8_ in.
Collection of Mrs. Tina Kaasmann-Dunn
 
This is Otto's only known existing example of a preparatory work for stained glass. This design for a church window with a gothic pointed arch depicts Jesus at the Sea of Galilee. Otto would not have produced the glass himself; his design would have been elaborated and adapted by craftsmen skilled in glassmaking. Family history and obituaries indicate that Otto did some work in the studio of Louis Comfort Tiffany, but this has never been satisfactorily documented. It is doubtful this work would have been designed under Tiffany's auspices, as it is signed with Otto's studio address, 96 5th Avenue. Although little is known of Otto's glass production, one newspaper account suggests he may have been involved in the creation of a window entitled "Baptism of the Saviour of St. John," donated by Mrs. Russell Sage to the First Presbyterian Church of Syracuse, New York.
 
The biblical scene shown here depicts Jesus speaking to a great throng of fishermen and their families along the Sea of Galilee. Otto ably captures their distress from hunger and despair in the moments before Jesus performs the miracle of piling the two boats belonging to Simon and Andrew, James and John, with fish and filling their empty nets. When the four men repented, declaring themselves not worthy of such bounty, Jesus replied, "Fear not; but follow me, and I will make you from this time fishers of men," after which the four men became his disciples.

 
Otto Charles Wigand (1856-1944)
Still Life with Apples, c. 1900
Oil on canvas, 17_ x 23_ in.
Collection of Mr. James R. Wigand
 
Paul Cézanne, often described as the "father of modern art," had a huge influence on American artists and on the modernist movement in the early decades of the twentieth century. The exquisitely painted apples, peaches, and pears in his still lifes, and his experiments with perspective and a flattened spatial plane, later proved key inspirations to artists like Charles Demuth and Marsden Hartley. Although Otto never totally embraced the avant-garde that led from Cézanne's postimpressionism to early American modernism, works like Still Life with Apples, with their wonderfully rendered volume, highlight Otto's ability to shift his style. Here, he demonstrates his ample skill in painting still life and beautifully evokes the tactile sensuality of the fruit before him.

 
Otto Charles Wigand (1856-1944)
Untitled, c. 1904
Oil on canvas, 17_ x 23_ in.
Collection of Ms. Marion Wigand
 
Otto's skills at rendering the figure in pencil and charcoal were superlative, although his renderings of the figure in oil could sometimes be more tentative. However, there is no evidence of hesitation in the figures he completed in the years around 1904. The woman in this work, who is unidentified, seems to embody the independent "New Woman," much written about in the first decade of the twentieth century. One cultural commentator stated:
 
They are all social workers, or magazine writers in a small way. They are decidedly emancipated and advanced, and so thoroughly healthy and zestful, or at least it seems so to my unsophisticated masculine sense. They have an amazing combination of wisdom and youthfulness, of humor and ability, and innocence and self-reliance, which absolutely belies everything you will read in the story-books or any other description of womankind. . . . They enjoy the adventure of life; the full, reliant, audacious way in which they go about makes you wonder if the new woman isn't to be a very splendid sort of person.
 
Although Otto has not yet fully embraced the bright coloration and light effects of impressionist Frank Benson, who specialized in painting the idealized and patrician New England "New Woman" at about this time, over the next two decades Otto would gradually move toward a late American impressionism, shedding the grey undertones of his French period.
 
 
Otto Charles Wigand (1856-1944)
Woman with Baby by the Sea, c. 1904
Oil on canvas, 17_ x 25_ in.
Collection of Ms. Charlotte Durkee Maeck
 
Otto Charles Wigand (1856-1944)
Ocean at Newport, c. 1904
Oil on canvas, 19_ x 29_ in.
Collection of Ms. Helen Bolton
 
Around 1904, Otto's life underwent a marked shift. During a summer trip with Adeline to Maine, he stopped in to visit his old friend from France, Arthur Dow. Whether or not this particular visit influenced his painting, Otto's figures became markedly more sculptural on the canvas. As much as by Dow, it is highly likely that Otto was influenced by Winslow Homer's great seascapes of the period, which were getting much attention in the art world and with which Otto would have been familiar. Works like Homer's A Light on the Sea featured monumental women posed against dramatic backdrops of rocky coastline, and these have interesting parallels with Woman with Baby by the Sea. Otto uses a series of strong turquoises, greens, and lavenders in these paintings that make them a cohesive subset of his work.
 
 

Otto Charles Wigand (1856-1944)
Still Life with Apples, c. 1920
Watercolor, 17_ x 23_ in.
Collection of Dr. Gwendolyn Bolling
 
Throughout his career, Otto's varied output included stained glass, murals, bronze figurines, wood carvings, and experiments with photography. This piece demonstrates that Otto was also comfortable working in watercolor, a difficult medium not forgiving of mistakes. When working within the confines of still life, which could be comfortably set up in the couple's dining room or studio space, he would create variants on his compositions. The same studio props appear repeatedly in both Otto's and Adeline's work. The pitcher here is the same one in Adeline's Roses in a Pitcher.
 

Otto Charles Wigand (1856-1944)
The Wilson House, c. 1920-1930
Oil on canvas, 17_ x 21_ in.
Collection of Mrs. George A Forsythe
 
The historic Staten Island Wilson House (also known as the Decker House) was built before 1800 and originally located in New Springville. It held obvious architectural interest for Otto, who painted it at least twice, from different angles. The somewhat somber depiction of the house, which appears in period photographs in a rather decrepit state of repair, is set off by the intensely colored buds of early spring in Otto's painting. In the 1960s the house was dismantled, but portions of it were moved to Historic Richmondtown, where the kitchen now serves as the carpenter's shop.
Because of their work as artists, Otto and Adeline likely had a keen appreciation of architectural aesthetics for old buildings. Their home at 55 Woodside Avenue in Stapleton was designed by noted Staten Island architect Robert W. Gardner, who was also the architect of the Staten Island Museum building.
 

Otto Charles Wigand (1856-1944)
Adirondack Forest, c. 1925
Oil on canvas, 20 x 24_ in.
Collection of Mr. Richard Shannon
 
Otto Charles Wigand (1856-1944)
Adirondack Birches, c. 1928
Oil on canvas, 23_ x 39_ in.
On Loan from the Collection of Mr. James R. Wigand
 
Both of these works, completed during late summer trips to the family's Adirondacks vacation home, showcase Otto's ability in capturing filtered light on canvas. Otto was a strong painter of landscape and beautifully rendered the play of shadow and variegated color through the depths of the forest. Depicting the landscape in a new, more colorful key than he had done when studying in France, these Adirondack works signal the change in style that would become more fully developed in his Staten Island cityscapes just a few years later.
 

Otto Charles Wigand (1856-1944)
Untitled, c. 1925
Oil on canvas, 24_ x 29_ in.
Collection of Ms. Helen Bolton
 
Otto Charles Wigand (1856-1944)
Returning from the Garden, c. 1925
Oil on canvas, 25 x 30 in.
Collection of Mr. James R. Wigand
 
Although the brightness of his impressionist color palette was a new development for Otto in the 1920s, these works, although extremely beautiful, would have been considered a fairly conservative throwback to nineteenth-century French impressionism in the Manhattan art world. A play of color and light, the open window of the couple's Grymes Hill home conveys a genteel way of living from an earlier era. Although her features here are somewhat indistinct, Returning from the Garden is likely the closest that Otto came to producing a portrait of Adeline.
 

Otto Charles Wigand (1856-1944)
View of Stapleton, c. 1930
Oil on canvas, 19_ x 23_
Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth Smith
 
Otto obviously found Staten Island's dramatic vistas of New York Harbor and the hills around the Wigand family home to be inspiring, and he returned to the scene in and around his home in a string of large canvases in the 1930s. Yet, Staten Island does not begin to appear in his work as a distinct location until more than a decade after the couple's move there. It is clear that many of these late landscapes represent a creative renewal for Otto. It is unknown if he was taking classes or studying with a new teacher, although he was active with the museum's Art Section, which must have given him an outlet to discuss art and evaluate new developments, even as his professional career waned. Undoubtedly familiar with much of the urban realism inspired by the Ashcan painters and the developments of modernism, Otto took this new interest in the urban landscape and imbued it with the vibrant coloration and exploration of light of late impressionism, creating an extremely attractive hybrid.
 

Otto Charles Wigand (1856-1944)
Snow Covered Hills, c. 1930
Oil on canvas, 17_ x 23_ in.
Collection of John T. Wigand
 
Painting the views of Staten Island hills through the seasons gave Otto the opportunity to experiment with different lighting effects. Here, the cold blue light lends a chill to the scene, in contrast to the brilliant summer sunshine seen in View of Stapleton.
 
 
 
Otto Charles Wigand (1856-1944)
Moon and Venus 5a.m., c. 1930
Oil on canvas, 26_ x 29_ in.
Collection of Dr. Jonathan D. Wall
 
A study in dawn light, sparkling in a beautiful display of violet, yellow, and pink, Otto's view across the Verrazano Narrows is filled with the romantic possibility of a new day, even as the moon fades. The framing device of a window is one to which Otto repeatedly returned throughout his career, using it as a way to position the viewer within the picture frame. During his time in France, nearly a half century before completing this work, he drew A View from My Window, Paris in one of his sketchbooks. Here in Moon and Venus 5 a.m., Otto creates a contrast between the modest floral arrangement on the window ledge and the cozy chair with the epic landscape and endless possibilities of New York, framed by charmingly incongruous lace curtains. The appreciation of a small home against the backdrop of the larger city makes this one of Otto's most appealing canvases. Otto exhibited it at the 115th National Academy Exhibition.
 

Otto Charles Wigand (1856-1944)
The Morning News, c. 1930
Oil on board, 12_ x 9_ in.
Collection of Mrs. Tina Kaasmann-Dunn
 
This sketch, which has a striking graphic modernity, was only recently discovered and is indicative of the changes in Otto's style as he began experimenting with different techniques and bolder colors in the 1930s. A woman (who may well be Adeline) with her face obscured is seen reading a newspaper. The illustration, with its flat color and strong lines that give a distinct S curve and coiled energy to the woman, may have been created for commercial reproduction. Otto frequently signed his commercial work with the initials O.C.W. instead of with his full signature. This work shows a looseness and fluidity with the painted figure not evident in many of Otto's earlier, more academic works.

Selected images from the exhibition

 

(above: Adeline Albright Wigand (1855-1944), Portrait of Henry Julian Mullin, c. early 1880s, Oil on canvas, 10_ x 9 inches. Collection of the Staten Island Museum)

 


(above: Adeline Albright Wigand (1855-1944), Portrait of My Mother, c. 1890, Oil on canvas, 37 x 30 inches. Collection of the Staten Island Museum)

 

(above: Adeline Albright Wigand (1855-1944), Portrait of Otto Wigand, c. 1895, Oil on canvas, 30_ x 25 inches. Collection of the Staten Island Museum)

 

(above: Adeline Albright Wigand (1855-1944), Polly, c. 1915-1920, Oil on canvas, 20 x 24 inches. Collection of the Staten Island Museum)

 

Exhibition brochure

Please click here to access a page in the Staten Island Museum's website which provides for a download of the Beauty Rediscovered: Paintings by Adeline Albright Wigand & Otto Charles Wigand brochure.

 

About the Staten Island Museum

The mission statement of the Staten Island Museum is:

"Founded in 1881, the Staten Island Museum, New York City's only general interest museum, engages visitors with interdisciplinary exhibitions and educational programs that explore the dynamic connections between natural science, art and history based on its diverse collections.  The Museum is dedicated to making its current and future collections broadly accessible for educators, students, researchers and the general public by providing authentic experiences in the field and at the Museum."

The museum is located at 75 Stuyvesant Place, Staten Island, New York 10301. For hours and admission fees please see the museum's website.

Editor's note: readers may also enjoy:

Resource Library wishes to extend special thanks to Bartholomew F. Bland, Director of Curatorial Affairs at The Hudson River Museum and Guest Curator for Beauty Rediscovered: Paintings by Adeline Albright Wigand & Otto Charles Wigand, for bringing the exhibition to our attention. Resource Library also wishes to express appreciation to Diane Matyas, Director of Exhibits and Programs and Michael Dressler, Senior Registrar & Collections Manager at the Staten Island Museum for their help concerning permission for publication of materials presented in this article.

For further biographical information please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

Links to sources of information outside of our web site are provided only as referrals for your further consideration. Please use due diligence in judging the quality of information contained in these and all other web sites. Information from linked sources may be inaccurate or out of date. TFAO neither recommends or endorses these referenced organizations. Although TFAO includes links to other web sites, it takes no responsibility for the content or information contained on those other sites, nor exerts any editorial or other control over them. For more information on evaluating web pages see TFAO's General Resources section in Online Resources for Collectors and Students of Art History.


Search Resource Library for thousands of articles and essays on American art.

Copyright 2011 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.