J. Ottis Adams was born in Amity, Indiana and settled with his family in Shelbyville, Indiana. The young Adams was fascinated with art and spent much of his time drawing. He enrolled in Wabash College but left a year later to study art at the South Kensington School in London where he came under the influence of John Constable and Joseph Mallord William Turner, whose landscapes were of particular interest to Adams. He returned to Indiana and settled in Muncie. In 1880, Adams traveled to Munich to study at the Royal Academy with fellow Indiana artists Theodore Clement Steele and Samuel Richards. Adams studied drawing and painting at the Academy and then set up his own studio in Munich. When he returned to Indiana in 1887, Adams set up a studio in Muncie and began teaching art classes. In 1889, he and fellow artist William Forsyth opened the Muncie Art School, which lasted two years. Adams participated in a group show of Hoosier artists that traveled from Indianapolis to Chicago. A critic dubbed the artists in the exhibition The Hoosier Group. Two years later, Adams, Forsyth and Steele along with other artists in the area, formed the Society of Western Artists, the first organization dedicated to promoting the work of the region’s artists. In 1898, Adams and T. C. Steele purchased a house in Brookville, Indiana later known as the Hermitage. In 1901, Adams became one of the first teachers at the newly built John Herron Art Institute where he taught from 1902 to 1906. During the latter part of his life, Adams worked in Florida and Michigan as well as Brookville.
Portraits from the Munich school are usually described in terms such as dark and solemn. This description does not fit The Widow, Munich, even though the title invokes a sober image. Adams chooses bright tonalities, such as the white bow and hat framing the sitter’s face. Posed in front of a warm green background, the woman looks directly at the viewer with an almost cheerful expression that belies her grievous situation. The large bow echoes the red curve of the sitter’s lips, accentuating her smile. This attractive portrait was probably executed outside the Academy, since it bears little resemblance to the somber study heads produced in the Technical Painting Class.
Wilbur David Peat. Pioneer Painters of Indiana, Indianapolis: Art Association of Indianapolis, Indiana, 1954. ASIN: B0007DFBR2