Mabel Dwight • American (1876-1955)
Fish C: 1928 • Lithograph on Paper 19-1/4" x 10-5/8"
Canton Museum of Art Permanent Collection • Purchased by the Canton Museum of Art, 2010.7
Mabel Dwight put her career on hold for a man. She was married for about 11 years to artist Eugene Patrick Higgins, but you’d never know it from Higgins’ biographies, where she is never mentioned. He preferred the pretense he first married at age 50 and lived a blissful life ever after. Well, two can play the “Found-Myself-Late-In-Life” game. Mabel restarted her artistic career after separating from Higgins. She became one of America’s “best living printmakers” according to Prints Magazine, although she didn’t return to lithographs until the age of 52.
Though never financially stable, she traveled to Paris in 1926 to study lithography at the Atelier Duchatel. Back in New York, she produced a steady stream of lithographic prints that, mostly, took a humorous look at ordinary life.
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We can only wonder how Dwight must have chafed in the role of housewife to an artist who shared her radical politics, but apparently not her wicked sense of humor. He portrayed the world in a dark, humorless style. Despite being deaf for most of her life, she became a keen “observer of the human comedy,” bringing sharp observation and wry humor to her work. She must have viewed their separation as a rebirth since she gave herself a new name, rather than revert to her maiden name (Williamson) or maintain her married name. She became a Dwight, a name not shared with anyone she knew. After the separation, she fell in love with a much younger fellow socialist, Roderick Seidenberg. They lived together, a scandalous arrangement in 1920s America, but he eventually married another woman. When Dwight was ill later in life, Seidenberg and his wife took her into their home to care for her.
In Fish, the wide-eyed fish appear to be as enthralled with the people as the people are with them. Virtually the same scene, from the New York City Aquarium in Battery Park, was repeated in Dwight’s best selling lithograph, Queer Fish, completed eight years later. With Mabel Dwight, you never knew who was the actor and who was the audience.
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“Although biographies vary, she was apparently quite deaf most of her life, giving her a profound sense of empathy for others. One door closes and another opens.”
“She is well-known for her lithographs of the ‘Comidie Humaire’, better known as the human condition. She had a sharp eye for human foibles and a soft heart when portraying them.”
“Her maiden name was Williamson, and her married name was Higgins. After divorcing her husband she took the name Dwight, for absolutely no good reason, cause ‘Why Not?’”
“Known as one of America’s great printmakers, she did not begin to produce professional lithographs until the age of 52. Better late than never.”