Artist Biography

Virgil WILLIAMS
1830 - 1886

Virgil Macey Williams was born in Dixfield, Maine on October 29, 1830. He was raised in Taunton, Massachusetts and, after studying at Brown University, began his art training in New York City under Daniel Huntington. During 1853-60 he studied in Rome with renowned New York painter William Page and became a close friend of Page after marrying his daughter, Mary. Upon returning to the United States, he had a studio in Boston until 1862 when he was commissioned to come to San Francisco to design and install an art gallery at Woodward's Gardens. After returning to Boston in 1866, he taught drawing at Harvard University and the Boston School of Technology. Williams divorced Mary Page about 1870, married Dora Norton in 1871, and returned with his new wife to San Francisco. The San Francisco Art Ass'n hired him in 1874 as director of the newly formed School of Design, a position he held until his death 12 years later at his summer cottage at St Helena, CA on December 18, 1886. His pall bearers included artists William Keith, Thomas Hill, and Samuel Brookes. During his 12 years at the School of Design he taught many artists who later became some of the nation's most renowned painters. Williams was charismatic and well-loved by his pupils and the local art world; Thomas Hill and Chris Jorgensen named their sons for him. Most of his subject matter was derived from his years in Italy; however, he painted a few portraits and, on rare occasions, California landscapes. Member: San Francisco Art Ass'n (cofounder); Bohemian Club (cofounder and pres. 1875-76). Exhibited: Mechanics Institute Fair, 1864, 1875, 1876; California Art Union, 1865. Works held: Crocker Museum (Sacramento); National Museum of American Art; De Young Museum; Silverado Museum (St Helena, CA); Oakland Museum; California Historical Society; Bancroft Library (UC Berkeley).

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