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William John Wilgus

William John Wilgus
Portrait of a Gentleman, oil on canvas, 32" x 26", 37" x 31" (framed), signed “Wm J. Wilgus pinxt” verso.
William John Wilgus was born in Troy, New York, on 31 January 1819; son of Alfred W. Wilgus, a Buffalo bookseller and print dealer. The family moved from Troy to Albany during William's infancy, then to Buffalo about 1828. William showed an early talent for painting and studied first under his uncle, Nathaniel Wilgus, in Buffalo. He was then sent to New York City to study with Samuel F.B. Morse from 1834 to 1837. In 1835 Wilgus received favorable notice for his painting Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horsemen that was shown at the National Academy of Design.

Wilgus painted a few landscapes, but was known primarily as a portraitist and depicter of Indians of western New York. In 1840 he was made an honorary member of the National Academy of Design. He lived in New York City as a portrait painter around 1841-1842 and 1845-1847. Because of delicate health, much of Wilgus' adult life was passed in a southern climate, and after 1846 his winters were regularly spent in Savannah, Mobile, or Cuba. He died in Buffalo of consumption in 1853.

[Exerpted from the National Gallery of Art, Systematic Catalogue]

Wilgus, together with Thomas LeClear, William Holbrook Beard, and Lars Sellstedt, formed the core of a prominent, early arts community in Buffalo.

Work by William Wilgus can be found in the National Gallery of Art, the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society, the Connecticut Historical Society, and the Yale University Art Gallery.


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