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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Wiggins, Wiggins & Wiggins: Three Generations of American Art

Wiggins, Wiggins & Wiggins: Three Generations of Art
by Anne Cohen DePietro

The Salmagundi Club in Manhattan, one of the oldest art clubs in America, is featuring an exhibition on one of the country’s great artist families. Wiggins, Wiggins & Wiggins brings together a selection of works by J. Carleton Wiggins (1848–1932), Guy C. Wiggins (1883–1962), and Guy A. Wiggins (b. 1920), all three of whom were—and Guy A. Wiggins remains—active members of the Salmagundi Club, with Carleton serving as President from 1911 to 1913.

“Each artist is an exemplar of his generation. Carleton’s bucolic and atmospheric landscapes reflect the influence of the French Barbizon painters on the Hudson River School. Guy C.’s urban images illustrate the spirit of American Impressionism and its movement into art reflective of city life in the twentieth century. Guy A.’s still lifes and urban scenes are expressions of the New Realism and provide current evidence of this talented family’s many achievements,” writes Claudia H. Seymour, president, Salmagundi Club.


J. Carleton Wiggins (1883–1932)

Fig. 1: J. Carleton Wiggins at his easel, ca. 1900. Courtesy, Guy A. Wiggins.

J. Carleton Wiggins (Fig. 1), born John Carleton Wiggins in 1848 in what is now Harriman, New York, moved with his family to Brooklyn in 1859. Working as a law clerk at the age of fifteen, he soon found a patron in Joseph Grafton, a client of the firm.

With Grafton’s assistance, Wiggins commenced studies in art in Brooklyn with Johann Hermann Carmiencke, and in drawing at the National Academy of Design (where in 1870 he would first exhibit his work). In the mid-1860s, Wiggins became a student of Barbizon painter George Inness in Eagleswood, New Jersey, where Inness was a participant in the utopian art community known as the Raritan Bay Union. Wiggins was profoundly affected by his period of study with Inness, and throughout his career he also produced numerous renditions of sheep or cattle grazing in verdant meadows (Fig. 2). Even in his mature phase, when he achieved renown as a painter of prize livestock, Wiggins retained an essentially Barbizon character when portraying the landscapes in which he posed the animals.

Fig. 2: J. Carleton Wiggins (1848–1932)
Landscape with Cattle, signed, n.d.
Oil on canvas, 19 x 33 inches.
Courtesy, private collection.

In 1880, Wiggins and his wife, Mary Clucas, traveled to France and Holland, where he was exposed to the work of Anton Mauve, Emile van Marcke, and Constant Troyon. The latter artist in particular was known for the atmospheric effects that enveloped his pastoral scenes and, like other Barbizon painters, focused on renderings of farm animals in their natural surroundings, evidently influencing Wiggins (Fig. 3). Returning to America in 1883, Wiggins took studio space back home in Brooklyn. Over the ensuing years he became celebrated for his distant views of grazing herds that include Inness-like signature green trees to the left and a strong vertical to the right.

Fig. 3: J. Carleton Wiggins (1848–1932), The Sheep Cove, signed and dated 1882.
Oil on canvas, 13 x 16 inches. Courtesy, private collection.

In 1904, Wiggins purchased Riverwood, a Victorian summer home near Halls Corner in Old Lyme, Connecticut. One of the original members of the Old Lyme Art Colony, he served as one of its most direct links to the French Barbizon painters even as it became a center for American Impressionism.

Elected an associate member of the National Academy of Design in 1892, Wiggins became a full academician in 1906. Traveling abroad to St. Ives, Cornwall with his family, he was invited to exhibit at the Royal Academy in London in 1896 and 1897. His paintings were reproduced as “Pictures of the Year” and “Royal Academy Pictures.” A bronze medalist at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, Wiggins served as a juror at the Louisiana Exposition in St. Louis in 1904. A life member of the Lotos Club, the American Water Color Society, the Society of American Artists, the Connecticut Academy of Fine Art, and the Brooklyn Art Club, he received many awards, and his paintings found their way into numerous museum collections.



Guy C. Wiggins (1883–1962)

Fig. 4: Guy C. Wiggins (1883–1962), painting the White House, ca. 1950. Courtesy, Guy A. Wiggins.

This photograph depicts Wiggins painting the White House during the Eisenhower administration.

Fig. 5: Guy C. Wiggins (1883–1962),
Silvery Days, November, dated 1931.
Oil on canvas, 25-1/2 x 30 inches.
Courtesy, private collection.

This image depicts a favorite subject, the Old Lyme estate with its rolling Connecticut hills.

Frequently called “the last great American impressionist,” Guy Carlton Wiggins (Fig. 4), like his father, made an essentially European mode of painting his own, basing his style on French Impressionism, distilled through the work of Childe Hassam and John Twachtman. Born in Brooklyn in 1883, Wiggins was taken as a child to St. Ives, Cornwall, by his parents (a location his father had visited with his family). He attended school in Truro, England, and at a young age painted watercolors in France and Holland that elicited praise in the press. The Wiggins family returned to America by 1892, living in Water Mill, Long Island, where he presumably received early instruction from his father.

At the turn of the century, Guy enrolled at the Polytechnic Institute in Brooklyn to study architecture and drafting. He soon abandoned this course of study, however, to pursue classes in painting at the National Academy of Design.

Wiggins became a member of the Salmagundi Club around 1907. By 1912, he was already a success, earning accolades when his painting The Metropolitan Tower, was purchased by The Metropolitan Museum of Art. His early architectural training served him in good stead as he confidently rendered the burgeoning façades of apartment buildings, brownstones, and churches.

Like his father, Wiggins assumed an active role in the Old Lyme colony, purchasing a farm in Lyme in 1920. Although he continued to maintain a base of operations in the city, he summered in Connecticut and produced numerous paintings of rural subjects (Fig. 5). Painted with his characteristic broken brushstroke, these light-filled canvases acknowledge the influence of John Twachtman in particular, as well as other American Impressionists working in the area.

Fig. 6: Guy C. Wiggins (1883–1962), Madison Avenue – Winter, signed, n.d.
Oil on canvas board, 12 x 9 inches. Courtesy, private collection.

As delightful as his Connecticut paintings are, Wiggins remains most beloved for his many renditions of snow-filled cityscapes, to which he turned sometime in the early 1920s and would continue to paint for the rest of his life. Unable to sell his paintings in the depths of the Depression, Wiggins and his family left New York around 1930 and sought the security of their home in Connecticut, where he established the Guy Wiggins Art School. He also continued to travel, giving lecture-demonstrations and conducting workshops, stopping to paint and sketch along the way. For the remainder of his days, he remained true to his origins, painting in a style that had become unfashionable. Ironically, within a few years after his death in 1962, interest in art of the 1920s and 1930s revived and still enjoys great popularity. His awards and appointments are numerous. Like his father, he was elected to full membership in the National Academy of Design.


Guy A. Wiggins (b. 1920)

Fig. 7: Guy A. Wiggins at his easel, 2011, age 91. Courtesy, Guy A. Wiggins.

When Guy A. Wiggins (Fig. 7) was growing up, his pragmatic father, Guy Carleton Wiggins, told him “painting is a wonderful hobby, but a damned difficult way to make a living.” Born in Lyme, Connecticut, Guy Arthur was taken abroad by his parents at a young age, in what by now almost seems to be a family tradition. Like his father, Guy Arthur Wiggins also showed great artistic promise early in life. At nine years of age, he won a first prize gold medal in a New York City school art competition that had attracted thousands of entrants, and the press once again forecast a great career in the Wiggins family tradition. And like his father, he grew up surrounded by the artists of the Old Lyme art colony as well as students at the Guy Wiggins Art School, where he met George Luks, John Sloan, and Ernest Lawson.

It seemed as if history was about to repeat itself, once again. Fate, however, intervened. He volunteered in 1942 and served in the Southwest Pacific front and was eventually posted to Douglas MacArthur’s headquarters in Tokyo after the Japanese surrender. He received his BA from UCLA in 1950, M.A. from Harvard and M.Sc (Econ) at the London School of Economics. Consequently, Guy A. Wiggins pursued a career in the Foreign Service, living in diplomatic posts around the world, painting when the opportunity presented itself.

While posted at the Department of State in Washington, D.C., Wiggin studied at the Corcoran School of Art in 1968 and 1969, and at The Sculptor’s Studio. Increasingly, he yearned to paint professionally and, in 1975, Wiggins took early retirement and enrolled at the Art Students League to study with Robert Beverly Hale, and took classes at the School of the National Academy of Design. Continuing in the Wiggins tradition, he later took his family abroad and spent a year painting in the south of France and in Italy, also having painted on extended visits to Morocco, Portugal, and Turkey.

Fig. 8: Guy A. Wiggins (b. 1920),
A Summer Still Life, 2010.
Oil on canvas, 24 x 20 inches.
Courtesy, the artist.

Fig. 9: Guy A. Wiggins (b. 1920),
St. Patrick’s in February, 2008.
Oil on canvas, 28 x 22 inches.
Courtesy, private collection.

Guy A. Wiggins has been termed a “painterly realist.” His subjects are diverse, ranging from bucolic landscapes, vignettes of Greenwich Village neighborhoods, and nostalgic views of urban New York (Fig. 9). His still lifes (Fig. 8), illustrating his lively, precise brushwork, fresh palette, and extraordinary colorism, are particularly desirable.

Since 1981, Guy A. Wiggins has been given several one-person exhibitions and has participated in group shows at numerous museums and galleries, with his work in the collections of a number of museums. Previous exhibitions featuring his art along with that of his father and grandfather have been mounted at the Loomis Chaffee School, the New Britain Museum of American Art, the Lyme Academy of Fine Arts, and Joan Whalen Fine Art, New York. For the past thirty years, he has also served as the recognized authority on his father’s work and preserves the family archives. He and his wife, Dorothy, divide their time between an 1865 brownstone in Greenwich Village, not far from his father’s Washington Square Studio, and a summer retreat in East Hampton, Long Island.


For nearly 140 years, the Salmagundi Club has served as a center for fine arts and artists, art exhibitions, classes and demonstrations, auctions, and events. The exhibition Wiggins, Wiggins, & Wiggins is organized and curated by Joan Whalen, director of Joan Whalen Fine Art, N.Y; she produced the original Wiggins, Wiggins & Wiggins exhibition in 1998. This essay was revised and adapted from the 1998 catalogue. The show will run through July 1, 2011 at the Salmagundi Club, 47 Fifth Avenue between 11th and 12th Streets, N.Y. For more information, please call the Salmagundi Club at (212) 225-7740, Joan Whalen at (212) 397-9700, or visit www.salmagundi.org. To visit the art on Facebook, search “Wiggins, Wiggins & Wiggins.”


Anne Cohen DePietro is former Chief Curator of the Heckscher Museum of Art, Huntington, New York, and is currently director of American Art at Doyle New York.


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