Robert Spear Dunning (1829-1905) American
Birthplace/Origin: Brunswick, Maine / Fall River Mass.
Robert Spear Dunning was a founder in Massachusetts of the Fall River School*, which emphasized still life paintings. He painted portraits and landscapes, but in 1865, his interest turned to still-life painting, which brought him notice and critical acclaim.
His highly realistic or “trompe l’oeil”* paintings usually had one or more prominent large objects such as a silver pitcher with luscious looking fruit on a highly polished table. His early work was dark in color and tone, and later ones were luminous*.
Born in 1829 in Brunswick, Maine, Dunning was brought to Fall River, a wealthy mill town, at age five and educated in the public schools. He became an art student of James Roberts, and then followed a well-trodden path to the National Academy of Design* in New York City. At the Academy, he studied under Daniel Huntington, focusing on figure and portrait painting.
Dunning’s pictures were exhibited at the National Academy of Design from 1850 to 1880, and at the American Art Union* in 1850, as well as the Boston Art Club* and in local exhibitions.
In 1870, Dunning and friend John E. Grouard founded The Fall River Evening Drawing School, which was quite remarkable in a town that had little formal cultural life. No other town in the late 19th century is so associated with still life painting. All of his students are painters of still lifes and include Bryant Chapin, Franklin H. Miller, Albert F. Monroe, Abbie Luella Zuill, and Herbert Cash.