(1850-1925) The idiosyncratic work of Thomas Willis falls into the categories of marine art, folk art, and needlework. Most references cite his birthplace as Connecticut, though one source lists it as Denmark, with a variant of his name as "Willes." While his death date is commonly listed as 1912, works by him well after that date have appeared, and his descendants list his date of death as 1925. Willis lived and worked in New York and is known for his unique portraits of American and European sailing ships, steamers, and yachts, featuring oil painted backgrounds and vessels constructed of silk, velvet, and embroidery floss. Willis worked for a manufacturer of embroidery thread, which may have inspired his choice of medium; eventually he advertised himself as the "inventor and sole maker of silk ware pictures." He is said to have frequently received commissions from members of the New York Yacht Club. He sometimes collaborated with Antonio Jacobsen, who is said to have painted sections of water in some of Willis' paintings. Willis' creations are highly skilled, and his understanding and portrayal of ships' rigging is particularly accomplished. His works are frequently, though not always, signed with a cipher consisting of the initial "T" surmounting a larger letter "W", giving the impression of a stylized anchor. His works in their original state are under glass and frequently framed in oak frames.
Biography courtesy of Roger King Gallery of Fine Art, www.antiquesandfineart.com/rking