William Bradford

American, 1823 - 1892
William Bradford, a marine painter of the nineteenth century, was celebrated on both sides of the Atlantic for his arctic scenes. In several trips to Labrador, including exploratory polar expeditions, Bradford photographed and made original studies of this frozen world.

He saw remarkable colors in icebergs-blue, green, purple and gray, shot through with saffron. He painted sailing vessels fishing in the icy waters. He is also known for his remarkably accurate representations of coastal scenes in New England, Nova Scotia and Labrador.

On at least one occasion, Bradford was stranded for two weeks on an ice-locked ship, surrounded by a field of frozen water for 500 miles in all directions. Wearing a sealskin coat, he spent the time drawing and photographing icebergs.

Born a Quaker in Fairhaven, Massachusetts in 1823, Bradford liked art from an early age, but was educated more practically in business. Fight years after his start in commerce, he was bankrupt-a fortunate circumstance for the young artist-to-be, because he permanently turned his back on business and took up painting as a career. Since he lived in a seaport town, ships were available subjects. Bradford painted many of them, selling the portraits for a good income.

Bradford was primarily self-taught, but he also trained with Albert Van Beest; they shared a studio and collaborated on some paintings. Van Beest, however, had a more passionate style than Bradford, who could spend days painting a single group of rocks, making sure that they were faithfully drawn and colored. After two years, the duo separated.

Bradford extended his studies of ships to views of shore and sea, visiting picturesque regions along the North Atlantic coastline. So accurate are his representations that anyone familiar with it can immediately identify the scene of a Bradford painting.

Art Institute of Chicago
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

Biography courtesy of Roughton Galleries, www.antiquesandfineart.com/roughton
In the nineteenth century, no artist was more coolly heroic than William Bradford. Known as "The Painter of the Polar World," Bradford traveled throughout the Arctic in search of its sprawling glaciers and sublime icebergs. Born in the whaling town of New Bedford, Massachusetts, the artist was exposed to boats and seamen from a young age. The central themes of his oeuvre -odyssey and exploration- seem to have been preordained: before his birth, his father entered the whaling business with a schooner called the Telemachus, named for the young hero of Homer's epic Odyssey. Years later, another young explorer named Herman Melville left Bradford's father's ship to become a writer, turning his experience into the most iconic American novel of the nineteenth century: Moby Dick. It was in this environment that William Bradford developed his view of whaling life, combining profound technical knowledge with the Romantic lure of seafaring adventure. Bradford began painting detailed portraits of whalers and clippers in 1852, acquiring his Romantic polish from the Dutch marine painter Albert Van Beest. Van Beest introduced the young artist to the techniques of the Dutch tradition and steered his pictorial ambitions toward the drama of man and sea. In the following years, Bradford charted his instructor's craft into a "crosscurrent" of influence, absorbing further inspiration from the wide perspectives of Canaletto, the precision of Robert Salmon, and the Luminism of Fitz Hugh Lane. By 1855, he had made enough of a name for himself to have Henry David Thoreau visit his Fairhaven studio. Bradford made his first journey to the Arctic in 1861, returning six times over the next seven years. It was there, in the perilous North, that he found his subject, awed by the stark beauty of the icy frontier. As his fame grew, people paid for the "privilege of accompanying him" on his voyages to Newfoundland, Greenland, and the Labrador Coast. Bradford also brought photographers, writers, and geologists on his expeditions to document everything from the quality of Northern light to the fossils beneath its shores. The power of his work lies in its seamless blend of empirical truth and romantic fiction -through his art, Bradord experienced and staged the classic themes of mythological adventure, transforming himself into a modern day Ulysses. Bradford exhibited at venues including the National Academy of Design, the Boston Athenaeum, the Brooklyn Art Association, and the Royal Academy in London. The New Bedford Whaling Museum organized a major retrospective of his life and work in 2003. His paintings are also in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid.

Biography courtesy of Questroyal Fine Art LLC, www.antiquesandfineart.com/questroyal
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