Thomas Seir Cummings

(26 August 1804 - 25 September 1894)

Thomas Seir Cummings, Born in Bath, England, August 26 1804 - Died in Hackensacky New Jersey, September 4 1894; Miniature painter. Thomas S. Cummings came to New York as a child. About 1818, after meeting Augustus Earl he decided upon art as a profession. From about 1821 to 1826, he studied under Henry Inman and at the end of that time he devoted himself entirely to miniature painting. He also studied at the American Academy and when S. F. B. Morse, a fellow student, called a meeting in 1821, of those dissatisfied with the policy of the director, John Trumbull, Cummings was one of the number. This led to the foundation of the New York Drawing Association which in January, 1826, became the National Academy of Design. Cummings was treasurer of the institution from 1827 to 1865, vice president from 1850 to 1859, and chairman of the committee that erected the present home of the academy. He was commissioned brigadier general of the New York State Militia in 1838. In 1865, he published The Historic Annals of the National Academy that stands with Dunlap's History of the Arts of Design in importance as a history of the early American artists. The year after the publication of his book, he moved to Mansfield, Connecticut, and finally settled in Hackensack in 1889.

[Early American Portrait Painters in Miniature, by Theodore Bolton]

Works of note:

Daniel Tylee. N. A. Exhibition, 1841 L. P. Clover. N. A. Exhibition, 1841 George W. Jenkins. N. A. Exhibition, 1841
Mrs. Johnson. N. A. Exhibition, 1841 Henry Clay. N. A. Exhibition, 1841 John Inman. N. A. Exhibition, 1841
Henry Inman. N. A. Exhibition, 1841 M. Yates. N. A. Exhibition, 1841 Erasmus Darwin Foote. Brooklyn Museum
Miss Anna Clark. Exhibition, Newport, R. I., 1890 Elizabeth Stirling, later Mrs. Foote. Brooklyn Museum


He was born in the early part of the century, and was one of the founders of the National Academy in 1836, being actively connected with it until his retirement in 1865. He was one of its early Vice-Presidents, its Treasurer from 1840 to '45, and the author of a valuable history of the Institution. He was a miniature-painter of the first rank, working steadily at that branch of the profession until the introduction of photography. He numbered among his sitters many distinguished people. He has instructed several prominent American artists.

[Artists of the Nineteenth Century & their Work; Biographical Sketches. By Clara Erskine Clement & Laurence Hutton, 1879.] div

Gen. Thomas Seir Cummings, the miniature painter and Dean of the Founders of the National Academy of Design, died in his home at Hackensack, N. J., quietly, Monday night.

He was born in England in 1804. He was brought to New-York by his parents when a child, trained for a business career in his father's counting room, and attracted to the profession of art by the studies of his leisure hours Henry Inmam was his best teacher. He made portraits in miniature of manu distinguished persons, attaining all the celebrity that he desired until Daguerre's invention made his skill unfashionable.

He founded, in 1826, with M. L. Danforth, William Dunlap, Asher B. Durand, John Frazee, Charles C. Ingham, Henry Inman, G. Marsiglia, Peter Maverick, S.F.B. Morse, Edward T. Potter, Hugh Reinagle, Ithiel Town, W. G. Wall, Charles C. Wright, and fifteen other artists that they selected, the National Academy of Design, which was unique, and has remained thus, in not being established by a national or municipal Government or by a syndicate of art patrons.

The National Academy of Design formed, in fact, an art club, managed its own exhibitions, elected its own officers, and determined the number and kind of its members. The institution was novel, but it was provoked as much as evoked by circumstances.

The record of New-York's past in art is meagre. Some fragments of it are in the collections of the Historical Society, Lenox Library, and the Metropolitan Museum, in paintings of Copley, John Trumbull, Charles Wilson and James Peale, Benjamin West, Gilbert Stuart, Washington Allston, and others. The American Academy of Fine Arts modeled after the Royal Academy of London, and differing from this only in not being subsidized by the State, was not distinctly confined to fine arts. Influental citizens managed it like a charitable institution. It had its room in the almshouse which then stood in the City Hall Park, and its rules and regulations discouraged students. "Beggars must not be choosers" to serious complaints.

Cummings inspired by his activity, if he did not originally suggest, the meetings which resulted in the formation of the Academy, which now occupies its own Venetian palace at Fourth Avenue and Twenty-third Street. The new Academy was ridiculed, attacked, and condemned by the old unremittingly for several years. Its task was not herculean, but it demanded patiencee. Cummings was patient -- in Clinton Hall, in the old New York Times Building, in the Society Library Building, at Broadway and Leonard Street; in the remodeled Bowery Stables, and wherever the Academy found a home.

The schools of the Academy owed much of their thoroughness to him. He was instructor, Vice President, and Treasurer. He accomplished prodigies of artistic labor and financial ingenuity. In the controversy with the old Academy, from which the latter died, Morse wrote and spoke, but Cummings patiently labored. He lacked imperious faith only when the propect (sic) was mooted to build the edifice which the Academy now occupies. The cost was $250,000. The money was to be raised by granting fellowships in perpetuity to all who subscribed $1,000. The possibility of the accomplishment seemedd remote to Cummings. The necessary funds were obtained in a year, however, Cummings was appointed Chairman of the Building Committee.

When the new building was in its glory, the Academy gave evidence that it was imperishable, in 1866, Cummings retired to a farm in Connecticut. He had attached his name inseparably to one of the most important institutions of the New World. He survived all the othe other original founders of the National Academy of Design.

He attained distinction in the militia also. In 1838, Gov. Seward commissioned him a Brigadier General. He has written the Historic Annals of the National Academy from its Foundation to 1865, published in Philadelphia in 1865. He was one of the men of the past to whom the New-York of the present is indebted.

The Obituary Record: [As Written]
Published: September 26, 1894
Copyright © The New York Times
Burial: Green-Wood Cemetery
Brooklyn, Kings County, New York, USA