American, 1830–1923


“Yewell was born in Harve de Grace, Maryland, in 1830. At the age of eleven he and his widowed mother moved to Iowa City, where as a youth he earned a local reputation as a clever caricaturist. Inspired by prints of Thomas Cole (1801–1848) series of paintings The Voyage of Life (Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute, Utica, N.Y.), Yewell turned to traditional subjects and methods. On the advice of Judge Charles Mason, an early patron who had been attracted by his caricatures in 1848, Yewell went to New York in 1851. There he studied with Thomas Hicks (1823–1890) and at the National Academy of Design. Yewell spent five years with Hicks who gave him a firm foundation in drawing and prepared him for study in Paris in 1856 at the famous atelier of Thomas Couture (1815–1879), where Hicks himself had been a student. Yewell spent much of his time in Paris in the galleries of the Louvre and the Luxembourg Palace, copying paintings by the old masters. The great success of Yewell’s copy of a painting by the contemporary artist Rosa Bonheur earned him the respect of his fellow artists. He returned to New York in 1861, and at the end of that year was elected an associate of the National Academy of Design. He became an academician in 1880. In the 1870s Yewell was also exhibiting now and then at the Paris Salon.

“Yewell went back to Europe in 1867 with his wife, the former Mary Elizabeth (Mollie) Coast, and her young brother Oscar Regan Coast (1851–1931), who was studying with him. They stayed in Venice for several months and then settled in Rome, where they soon formed close friendships with a number of other young American artists, including Elihu Vedder (1836–1923) and Charles C. Coleman (1840–1928), who had also recently arrived in New York. Yewell spent his summers and autumns near Vedder in the countryside outside Perugia. Also among Yewell’s friends was the famed writer, traveler, and lecturer Bayard Taylor, whom he had met in Venice in 1867. When Taylor visited Rome in 1868, eh became Yewell’s eager student, and in subsequent years the two corresponded. Yewell went to Cairo in 1875 enticed by Taylor’s letters praising the “wonderful interiors to paint” (Hansen-Taylor and Scudder, eds., p. 647).

“In 1878 Yewell returned to New York, where he worked in the popular Tenth Street Studio Building and spent his summers at Lake George. His departure from Italy may have been precipitated by his wife’s behavior, which had shocked the American community in Rome. The couple were divorced the following year, and Mollie Coast Yewell married the British artist Edwin Ellis, with whom she had been romantically involved with for years.

“Yewell died at Lake George in 1923 at the age of ninety-three. Throughout his career he had maintained his connections with Iowa City, sent paintings there for exhibition, and returned in his later years to paint portraits of local celebrities. Nine of these portraits belong to the Iowa Historical Society in Des Moines. The University of Iowa holds the largest and most representative collection of paintings from all periods of Yewell’s long career.”

(Burke, Doreen Bolger, American Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Vol. III, A Catalogue of Works by Art and Artists Born between 1846 and 1864, 1980).

Museum Collections:
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA
Louisville Art Gallery, Louisville, KT
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, WI
National Academy of Design Museum, New York, NY
St. Johnsbury Athenaeum, St. Johnsbury, VT
University of Iowa Museum of Art, Iowa City, IA
Wadsworth Athenaeum, Hartford, CT

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