The Carnation

Artist: Thomas Wilmer Dewing (1851-1938)
Historical period(s)
Oil on wood panel
H x W: 50.7 x 39.7 cm (19 15/16 x 15 5/8 in)
United States
Credit Line
Gift of Charles Lang Freer
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
On View Location
Freer Gallery 10: A Perfect Harmony

Oil painting

flower, United States, woman

From 1894 to 1919
Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919), purchased from Thomas Wilmer Dewing during 1893 and 1894 [1]

From 1920
Freer Gallery of Art, gift of Charles Lang Freer in 1920 [2]


[1] According to Curatorial Remark 4, Linda Merrill, March 22, 1993, as well as information found in the Provenance field and object file.

[2] The original deed of Charles Lang Freer's gift was signed in 1906. The collection was received in 1920 upon the completion of the Freer Gallery.

Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)

Thomas Wilmer Dewing (C.L. Freer source) 1851-1938
Charles Lang Freer 1854-1919


Dewing employed Julia Baird as the model for The Carnation, painting her as one might render a still life. This detachment was not meant as an adverse commentary on the role of women. Instead, he intended the work to evoke a state of mind as well as present an attractive image. Dewing had earlier painted figures with blue, yellow, and pink dresses. Here he emulated the white girls of Whistler.  Another source for this pose was likely the recently discovered second-century terra-cotta statuettes found near the Greek town of Tanagra. Linear and elegant, they inspired Whistler, who kept photographs of them in an album for reference. These little sculptures inspired Dewing and Freer as well. Accordingly, a famous writer at the time called The Carnation "a modern Tanagra figure," thereby identifying a mere model with the classical past. 
The queenly woman, her slender neck echoing the long-stemmed carnation she holds, contemplates, perhaps, the passing of time and fading of beauty. Striking a similar attitude in front of his completed work, the artist seems immersed in the same sort of sad reverie.

Quotation from Sadakichi Hartmann, History of American Art, vol. 1 (Boston: L. C. Page and Co., 1902), 307

Published References
  • Susan Hobbs. Thomas Wilmer Dewing: Beauty into Art: A Catalogue Raisonné. New Haven, CT, November 13, 2018. pg 362, pl 167.
  • Susan Hobbs. The Art of Thomas Wilmer Dewing: Beauty Reconfigured. Exh. cat. Washington, 1996. p. 63, fig. 38.
  • Patricia Jobe Pierce, (Introduction) Richard Love. The Ten: Frank W. Benson, Joseph R. DeCamp, Thomas W. Dwing, Childe Hassam, Willard L. Metcalf, Robert Reid, Edward Simmons, Edmund C. Tarbell, John H. Twachtman, J. Alden Weir, and William Merritt Chase (who replaced Twachtman, 1902). Concord, New Hampshire and North Abington, Massachusetts. p. 76.
  • Susan Hobbs. A Connoisseur's Vision of America: The American Collection of Charles Lang Freer., August 1977. p. 80.
  • David R. Pesuit. Structure, Style,and Evolution: The Sack-back Windsor Armchair. Hanover, N.H., 2005. p.86, fig. 27.
  • Sarah Lea Burns. The Poetic Mode in American Paintings: George Fuller and Thomas Dewing. Ann Arbor, 1983. p. 229.
  • Charles Henry Caffin. The Art of Thomas W. Dewing. vol. 116, no. 695, April 1908. p. 722.
Collection Area(s)
American Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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