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Artist Biography

Thomas Waterman Wood was born in Montpelier, Vermont in 1823. As a boy he worked as an apprentice in his father’s cabinetmaking business, during which time he taught himself to draw from art manuals. He spent time in Boston living with relatives and while there is believed to have studied briefly with the portrait painter Chester Harding. Wood began his professional career as a portraitist, earning enough from commissions to open a studio in New York City in 1852 and to embark on a number of journeys at home and abroad. He traveled up the east coast to Quebec, and later to Paris, Rome, and London to study the Old Masters.

In 1859 Wood returned to the United States, living in Nashville, Tennessee then Louisville, Kentucky before returning to New York in 1866. After his experiences in the South during the Civil War, Wood made his sympathies clear with a controversial painting series depicting a freed slave enlisting and serving in, and then suffering wounds from the War. He is most likely the first American painter to consider daily scenes in the life of an African American worthy subject matter. Wood had painted African Americans before the War, in Baltimore in the 1850s, but his bold series won him an election to the prestigious National Academy of Design after it was first exhibited in 1867. Wood became famous for his genre paintings—scenes of everyday urban life, from the dismal to the playful—and spent the rest of his career as a successful artist and teacher.

The works of Thomas Waterman Wood can be found in the following prestigious collections: T. W. Wood Gallery and Arts Center, Montpelier, VT; De Young Museum, San Francisco, CA; George Walter Vincent Smith Museum, Springfield, MA; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA; Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, MN; Museum of Fine Arts-Springfield, Springfield, MA; National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC; New York Historical Society, New York, NY; New York State Historical Association/Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, NY; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC; The Filson Historical Society, Inc., Louisville, KY; and the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT.