View of Capitol, Washington D.C., Wells Sawyer, c. 1900


Oil on canvas measures 16: x 20″ unframed

Signed lower right, titled on stretcher

Victorian frame with damage to upper right, measures 22″ x 26″

Good restored condition with repair to reverse, scattered inpainting mainly in sky, right tree


Biography from Southold Historical Society


WELLS MOSES SAWYER (1863-March 21, 1960). Painter and photographer.

Wells Sawyer was born in Iowa, the son of Moses C. Sawyer (b. 1838) and Helen Sawyer (b. 1838).  His father became a well-to-do merchant, and by 1870 had moved his young family to Keithsburg, located in Mercer County, Illinois.  Young Sawyer studied with a number of important artists, including John O. Anderson, Howard Helmick (1845-1907), and John H. Vanderpoel (1857-1911).  By 1884 he had set himself up as an artist in his native Iowa, advertising in the Iowa Gazetteer and Business Directory that year.  In the 1890’s, with his career beginning to take off, he began work for the Federal Government as an illustrator with the United States Geological Survey and later with the Bureau of American Ethnology.  He was also an early contributor to the Chicago Tribune and many other notable publications from the mid-west.  Sawyer continued his studies at both the Corcoran Gallery School of Art (founded 1890) and the Art Students League of Washington, D.C.

In 1895 Wells was selected as the illustrator to travel with the Pepper-Hearst Expedition through the Florida Keys (Marco Island) where one of the greatest archaeological finds of the century was made by world renowned ethnologist, Frank Hamilton Cushing (1857-1900).  Sawyer also took photographs as part of his work for the government. Sawyer also traveled to study impressionism in Paris, France.

Extremely well exhibited during his long career, he first began showing in the early 1890’s with a variety of groups in Washington D. C.  This included showings at the Cosmos Club (the headquarters for Washington’s intellectual elite), the Society of Washington Artists, and the Washington Watercolor Club.  In 1892 he exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago and the National Academy of Design.  In 1893 his work was included in the World’s Columbian Exhibition held in Chicago and soon after, in 1894, his work was accepted for the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts Annual Exhibition.

Wells Sawyer’s exhibition schedule continued to mount throughout the first half of the 20th century and included shows at the following galleries:  Snedecor Gallery (1914), Babcock Gallery (1916), Ferargil Gallery (1916, 1919-20), Babcock Gallery (1921 – with daughter Helen Alton Sawyer, 1923), the Majestic Gallery (1924), “Days of Old New York” Exhibition (1924, City Hall, New York), The Studio Guild Gallery (1924), Babcock Gallery (1924), Milch Galleries (1929), Museo Nacional de Arts Moderno (1929), Yonkers Museum of Science & Art (1930), Corcoran Gallery, (October 1931), The Smithsonian Institution’s National Gallery of Art (1931), Sears Roebuck Galleries of Washington D.C. (1931), Gibbs Art Gallery (1931), Salon Belles Artes (1934), Ferargil Gallery (1935, 1936), The Studio Guild Gallery (1938), Yonkers Museum of Science & Art (1939), American Federation of Art Traveling Exhibition (1939-41), Allied Artists of America (c.1941), University Club of Mexico City (1941), American Watercolor Society (1941-46), Provincetown Art Association (c. 1940’s), Sarasota Art Association (c. 1940’s),  Traveling Exhibition of the Federal Art Project (1944), West Coast Group (1944-46), Ringling Museum of Art (1950), and the Sarasota Art Association (1955).
Wells Moses Sawyer died on March 21, 1960 at the age of 97.  He was a member of Allied Artists of America, American Federation of Arts, American Watercolor Society, American Artists Professional League, Art Students League of Washington D. C., Salmagundi Club, Sarasota Art Association, The Florida Art Group, The Studio Guild, The Washington Society of Artists, The Chicago Society of Artists, Washington Society of Fine Arts, and the Yonkers Art Association.

His works are held in many prestigious institutions, including the Smithsonian Institution’s: National Museum of Natural History, Washington D.C., and the Archives of America Art (sketchbooks); The National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.; Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas; The Benjamin West Society, Swarthmore College, PA; Museum of the City of New York, New York; IBM Corporate Collection, New York; Vanderpoel Gallery Collection, Chicago; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.; California State Capitol, Sacramento; Hudson River Museum, Yonkers; Yonkers Museum of Science & Art, Yonkers; and the Thomas J. Watson Collection (IBM).

Written and submitted by Geoffrey K. Fleming, Director