Thomas Seir Cummings
(26 August 1804 - 25 September 1894)
[Early American Portrait Painters in Miniature, by Theodore Bolton]
Works of note:
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]