Wagner, Maria Louisa – American Artist

A paint on ivory portrait by Mary Wagner. image courtesy of C. Wesley Cowan's Historic Americana Auction.

p4A ItemID B170231

Maria Louisa Wagner (1815-1888)

Maria Louisa Wagner was a miniature, portrait, landscape, still life, and genre painter. She and her crippled brother, Daniel, both self-taught artists, worked in the Chenango Valley of New York in the late 1830s. The generous patronage of William H. Seward, later Governor of New York, prompted them to move to Albany in 1842, where they worked until about 1860. While living in the state capital, the pair painted many contemporary prominent figures, including Erastus Corning, Silas Wright, Daniel Webster, and Presidents Martin Van Buren and Millard Fillmore. A portrait of Fillmore’s family, done in Washington at his invitation in 1852, is attributed to them. From 1862 until their semi-retirement in 1868, Maria and Daniel operated a studio in New York City. There, Maria began focusing on landscapes and still lifes. Upon leaving New York, Maria and her brother returned to their native Norwich. Maria maintained studios there and in Rochester, continuing to paint landscapes and floral still lifes. Daniel died in January 1888; Maria, devastated by the loss of her brother, partner, and life-long friend, died later that year. They are buried side by side in a Norwich cemetery.

Maria seems to have had an interest in anthropology and ethnology. In 1840, she executed a portrait of another antiquarian, Ephraim George Squier (miniature on ivory, now in the collection of the Henry Luce III Center for the Study of American Culture at the New York Historical Society). Squier (1821-1888) served as editor of the Chillicothe, Ohio Gazette in the 1840s, and he took an interest in the local Indian mounds. In 1847, he co-authored Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley with physician Edwin H. Davis, and in 1851, he published Aboriginal Monuments of the State of New York.

Other surviving paintings by Wagner include portraits on ivory of Amos and Eliza Joanna Davis Dean (ca. 1845, now at the Albany Institute of History and Art), Susan Gansevoort (1855, also at the Albany Institute), and Helen Smith (1839, at the Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute Museum of Art). During her thirty-year career, Maria Louisa Wagner exhibited at the National Academy, Boston Athenaeum, the American Art-Union, and the Pennsylvania Academy.

Information courtesy of Cowan’s Historic American Auctions

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