Robert Spear Dunning

American, 1829 - 1905
Robert S. Dunning (1829-1905) was born in Brunswick, Maine, but is associated with the mill city of Fall River, Massachusetts, where he spent nearly all his career. As a boy he worked in the textile mills that made Fall River a prosperous and famous manufacturing city. He studied art with James Roberts in Maine and with Daniel Huntington in New York, where he became a member of the National Academy. In 1859 he and artist John Grouard founded the firm of Grouard and Dunning. That same year, the two co-founded the Fall River Evening Drawing School, where Dunning taught along with artists who had studied with him, including Bryant Chapin, Herbert Fish, and Franklin Miller. While little is known of Grouard and few of his paintings survive, Dunning became almost synonymous with the style of painting known as the Fall River School. This style, which flourished from 1865 to about 1925, was conservative even in its day and was closely allied to mid-century tastes, in contrast to the trompe-l'oeil and harder-edged still lifes of the late 19th-century by painters like Peto and Harnett. Dunning's works embody the opulent spirit of the mid-Victorian era. His lush depiction of fruit and flowers are often combined with a variety of textural elements such as patterned napkins, table coverings, or highly-reflective carved table tops. He sometimes incorporated unusual or exotic elements such as a honeycomb or a box of figs. His work is meticulously detailed, elegant, and bright, though his earliest works are sometimes simpler and starker. Best known for his still life paintings, Dunning also painted landscapes, especially in New Hampshire. Generally smaller sized, these gem-like works are earning increasing interest among collectors.

Biography courtesy of Roger King Gallery of Fine Art,
Robert Dunning was born in 1829. He studied with two artists in Maine before attending the National Academy of Design, where he focused on figure and portraiture painting. Dunning was employed at a mill and in costal shipping to support his studies. In 1859 he formed an artist's firm "Grouard & Dunning" but six years later, 1865, Dunning found himself more attracted to still life painting than landscapes.

Dunning is noted as a cofounder and leader of the Fall River School of still-life. His palette consisted of bright colors and his need for perfection in detail forced Dunning to spend extensive amounts of time on one painting. He exhibited his work at the NAD from 1850-80. Dunning also opened the Fall River Evening Drawing School, whose students were predecessors of the Fall River School. Dunning died in 1905.

Biography courtesy of The Caldwell Gallery,
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