Carleton Wiggins

Artist Biography

One of the early painters of the colony at Old Lyme best known for his bucolic landscapes

By Alexandra A. Jopp

A master of form, influenced by French and English patrons, Carleton Wiggins became famous for painting pastoral scenes of New England

I. Biography
II. Chronology
III. Collections
IV. Exhibitions
V. Memberships
VI. Notes
VII. Suggested Resources


I. Biography

John Carleton Wiggins (more commonly known as just Carleton Wiggins) was born to Guy and Adelaide Ludlum Wiggins on March 4, 1848, in Turners (now Harriman), N. Y., west of the Hudson River. Wiggins received his early education in Middletown N.Y., and later attended public schools in Brooklyn. As a youth, he took a job at an insurance company on Wall Street, but he worked there for only two years before realizing that he had neither the courage nor the talent to devote himself to the business world. Instead, he began to study art under Johann Carmiencke, a romantic landscape painter of the Hudson River School. Under Carmiencke, Carleton turned his attention primarily to the study of landscapes.

After dedicating some time to drawing at the National Academy, Wiggins followed the guidance and encouragement of his patron, Joseph Crafton of New York, and studied with the renowned landscape specialist George Inness (1825-94). In 1870, Wiggins first exhibited at the Academy. Two years later, he married Mary Clucas, with whom he had four children, the oldest of whom – Guy Carleton Wiggins – became an established painter who specialized in Winter cityscapes.

The elder Wiggins painted landscapes for several years but, having long admired works by Constant Troyon, a French animal painter, he turned to cattle painting. He realized immediate success by selling a large painting of a Holstein bull for $4,000 to Crafton, who presented it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.1 Soon after, Wiggins spent two years in Europe, primarily in Cornwall, England, where there was a large colony of young English painters. In the spring of 1881, Wiggins was admitted to the Paris Salon, where he exhibited Shepherd and his Flock (1866), which is now in a private collection. Among Wiggins’ principal paintings are The Wanderers (1887), Cattle in a Pool (1883), Plough Horse (1899) and Midsummer (1899). In 1894, Wiggins won a gold medal at the Paris Salon for his sheep-filled landscapes, and two years later, he exhibited at the Royal Academy of Art in London.

Wiggins became an associate member of the National Academy in 1890 and a full member in 1906. He exhibited at the National Academy, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the Boston Art Club, among others. In the early 1900s, he traveled to Nantucket, Mass., and Long Island, N.Y., but mostly, he painted in the artist colony of Old Lyme, Conn., where he gained a new reputation as a “Tonalist” painter. His Tonalism showed in his harmonious colors, fluidly defined forms and romantic appreciation of nature.

Wiggins sometimes took his cattle painting abroad, notably to the Netherlands. In his works, the cow, traditionally seen as “a slow-moving, mild-mannered creature whose milk and cheese provided nourishment for society, symbolized the beneficial attributes of rural life, and Holland’s old-fashioned windmills and picturesque canals afforded the ideal backdrop for therapeutic scenes of lowing cattle.”2 In other words, in his Dutch utopia, Carleton Wiggins captured a relaxed lifestyle that constituted a productive and spiritual part of everyday life in a way that brought its positive influence into the parlors of American homes.

Wiggins died on June 11, 1932, in Old Lyme, Conn., home to the famed artist’s colony.

II. Chronology

1848 : Born on March 4, in Turners (now Harriman), N.Y.
1863-65: Worked at an insurance company on Wall Street
1870: Began formal art studies at National Academy of Design under George Inness
1872: Married Mary Clucas on Oct. 19
1880: Studied plein air painting in France under the influence of the Barbizon School
1881: Admitted to Paris Salon
1890: Elected as associate member of National Academy
1894 Won gold medal for sheep-filled landscapes at Paris Salon
1911-12: Appointed president of New York City’s Salmagundi Club
1917-1932: Lived in Old Lyme, Conn.
1932: Died on June 11 in Old Lyme, Conn.

III. Collections

Art Institute of Chicago
Brooklyn Museum
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Lotos Club, New York, N.Y.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, N.Y.
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Newark Museum, Newark, N.J.
The Salmagundi Club, New York N.Y.

IV. Exhibitions

Boston Art Club
1870 National Academy of Design, New York, N.Y.
1880-81, 94 Paris Salon
1896-97 Royal Academy of Art, London
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

V. Memberships

American Federation of Arts
American Watercolor Society
Artist Fund Society
Brooklyn Art Club
Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts
Lotus Club
National Academy of Design
Salmagundi Club
Society of American Artists
Society of Landscape Painters

VI. Notes

1: “In the World of Art: Exhibitions of the Week and General Art Gossip.” The New York Times, April 28, 1895: 13.

2: Kahn, Annette. “Dutch Utopia: Paintings by Antimodern American Artists of the Nineteenth Century,” Smithsonian Studies in American Art, vol. 3, no. 2. (Spring 1989): 51.

VII. Suggested Resources

The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vol. XI. New York: James T. White & Company, 1901.

Shipp, Steve. A Historical Guide to America’s Original Art Colonies and Their Artists. Wesport, Conn., and London: Greenwood Press, 1996.

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