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Saturday, 8 August 2009

John Carleton Wiggins (1848-1932)

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

By Alexandra A. Jopp

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.

Seaside Sheep Pastures
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.

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.


  1. “For years the village of Old Lyme, Connecticut, has had a summer art colony of much note. This season the colony has been augmented by Mr. Carleton Wiggins, who has acquired a very picturesque place overlooking the Connecticut River and with a combination of scenic qualities which has fairly entitled it to its name of ‘River Wood.”
    ~ Reported in Brooklyn Life, 1905

  2. Excellent blog, and thanks for writing an article about my great grandfather. You'll be interested, I think, to know that if you search the NY Times historic archives, you'll come across some articles about Carleton Wiggins, including a big sale of his works that he had from his studio in Brooklyn at one point. Amazingly, you can now buy paintings of his for close to the same price as he sold them for back in the 19th century, He was tremendously popular then and almost totally ignored now.

  3. I have a painting titled "Blessing the Harvest" by Carleton Wiggins dated 1890. I was researching the painting and found this website. I have been told that it is possibly a painting that he did while he was studying in France or Holland. Is anyone familar with this painting?

  4. A good friend of mine has what we think might be the painting he exhibited in Paris in 1881 - "Shepherd and His Flock", Picked up 40 years ago at an estate sale in NY. It is signed with his full name, which I understand he stopped doing in 1880 affirming that it is one of his earlier works and perhaps the one mentioned. Sothebys said they weren't interested and that there was no market for his works. Unfortunate.

  5. Dear Anonymous, What a terrible thing to say about an iconic American Artist. You should be ashamed!!

  6. I have a Painting by Carleton Wiggins. It was traded to my Great Great Grandfather for a medical fee. We also have a note from Carleton to my Great Great Grandmother date in 1890 describing the painting as being of The Barbizon region in France, near the home of Millet. I have had an art expert who opined that the piece in conjunction with the artist note regarding it is quite valuable. Who knows, and it does not matter to me, but he guessed in the low $400K's.