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WILLIAM THON, NA (1906-2000)


36 x 22 Oil on masonite

45 x 31 gilt frame, with linen and gilt liners

Provenance: Midtown Galleries, New York Cit


William Thon was an American artist noted for highly abstracted landscape paintings. He was born in New York City in 1906, and spent his childhood summers camping on Staten Island. He also developed a great love of travel, and in 1933 made an eight-month voyage to the Cocos Islands in the Pacific. He debuted as a professional artist in 1939 at the Corcoran Gallery Biennial exhibition.

He joined the Navy during World War II, and shortly after the war won the Prix de Rome, a fellowship in Rome to the American Academy, which he later served as trustee. Recognition for him continued with his participation in the 1942 "Artists for Victory" exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and in 1944, Midtown Galleries in New York held his first one-person show. This gallery then continued to be his representative throughout his career.  He had subsequent solo exhibitions at Smith College Art Museum, Fort Wayne Museum and Farnsworth Museum in Rockland, Maine.  He earned an honorary Doctor of Arts from Bates College in Lewiston, Maine in 1957, and was a member of The American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, as well as the National Academy of Design.

In 1947, the year-long study at the American Academy proved highly influential on his career, especially with him beginning to paint as much with watercolor as oil. Returning to America, he submitted a watercolor into the 1949 exhibition of the National Academy of Design, and that year was voted into Academy membership. From thereon, he exhibited frequently at the Academy and won prizes including the Benjamin Altman Prize in 1951, 1954, 1961, 1967 and 1969. In 1951, Thon received a grant from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He returned often to Italy, and in 1955 served in Rome as Artist-in-Residence at the American Academy. However, especially influential was his beloved home countryside at Port Clyde, Maine, where he had made his home just after World War II.

Thon chose to live in the relative isolation of Maine on a peninsula overlooking the sea, a quiet place, especially in winter. He chose the company of sailors, craftsmen, lobstermen, a few fellow artists, and his beloved wife Helen. This area is credited as providing a major breakthrough stylistically because of his discovery of an abandoned quarry near his property. Here he did numerous and increasingly abstract paintings of spidery trees with rectilinear slabs of interspersed granite. While still based in nature, these were by far the most abstract of any of his paintings.

Each season, William Thon would send his paintings off to the prestigious Midtown Galleries in New York City as though sending them on a journey to a strange and distant land. Each bore the imprint of his intense connection to raw and wild things, beautifully contained within the artist's capable and generous temperament. Thon's paintings of Maine had little to do with rural nostalgia or American historical values or the pathos of human relationships. His was a living Maine, a timeless and vital place reflecting his own passion for its rough, beautiful forests, intemperate seas, and the scatter of wooden buildings along its rugged shoreline.

He died at his home in Port Clyde on December 6, 2000 at age 94. He had continued to work after macular degeneration had left him legally blind. From his estate gift of four million dollars, the Portland Museum of Art, Maine, received the biggest cash gift to that time. William Thon was awarded innumerable prizes and is represented in over 60 museum collections including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Brooklyn Museum, The Hirshhorn Museum, The Butler Institute of American Art, The Columbus Museum of Art, and in Maine, The Farnsworth Art Museum, The Portland Museum of Art, and The Ogunquit Museum of Art.


David Dearinger, Paintings and Sculpture in the Collection of the National Academy of Design, 1826-1925, Volume One.

The New York Times obituary of the artist, December 18, 2000


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