Wayman Adams was born on a farm near Muncie Indiana to a Quaker father who was a livestock breeder and amateur artist. Adams’ father encouraged his interest in art. The first portrait commission the young boy received was a picture of a heifer named “Gypsy Girl III” for which he was paid five dollars. In 1904 Adams began his art education at the John Herron Art Institute in Indianapolis, where he spent four years studying under William Forsyth. In 1910 Adams traveled with William Merritt Chase and his students to study art in Italy. A few years later he made a similar trip to Spain with Robert Henri. Adams’ developed a style of “alla-prima” painting, which means “all at once,” is a method of painting in which the work is completed in one sitting, usually without the use of glazing or underpainting. These rapidly painted works contain energetic brushwork and bold, expressive images. Adams was an extremely prolific painter whose subjects included U. S. presidents, university leaders, authors, artists, society ladies, actors and actresses, military heroes, sports personalities, musicians, royalty, and governors. “At one point in his career, Adams had studios in Indianapolis New York City and Philadelphia. During the winter he traveled extensively, looking for exotic areas and interesting subjects.
In terms of awards and honors, Adams may be Herron’s most successful alumnus, winning prizes in most of the major national competitions during his 60-year career. This portrait of the conductor of the Indianapolis Orchestra, Alexander Ernestinoff, won the Proctor Prize at the National Academy of Design in 1914 and vaulted Adams into the ranks of the country’s leading portraitists. The flowing brushwork reveals the influence of Adams’ principal teacher at Herron, William Forsyth, as well as his instruction in New York with the American masters of bravura painting, Robert Henri and William Merritt Chase. In keeping with Chase and Henri’s method of rapid execution, Adams is reported to have completed the Ernestinoff likeness in just three hours. According to Adams’ account of the sitting, Ernestinoff came into the studio and casually dropped into a chair, still wearing his hat and overcoat. The relaxed pose so appealed to Adams’ love of the spontaneous that it became the basis for the portrait.
Judith Newton. A Grand Tradition: The Hoosier Salon Art and Artists 1925-1990, Indianapolis: Hoosier Salon Patrons Association, Incorporated, 1993. ISBN-13: 978-0963836007