William Trost Richards

American, 1833 - 1905
Early in his career Richards was drawn to painting panoramic vistas of the sea, and he earned great renown as one of the finest and most successful American marine painters. On the New Jersey Shore certainly stands as one of the artist’s great seascapes; however, the late date of the painting also makes it an interesting example of Richard’s mature work. Richards began his artistic practice in the early 1850s and took the American landscape as his subject. Like so many of his artistic forebears and peers, he traveled to the Adirondacks in search of a transcendent landscape vision. During these trips, informed by the tenets of the Hudson River School, Richards joined the host of artists who were seeking to define an image of the national landscape. For many of the formative years of his career, Richards looked to the Adirondacks as a site to work out and master his signature artistic style. When the artist turned to painting marinescapes in the late 1860s, the works he exhibited combines his keen interest in the poetic drama of nature with an unfailing attention to detail. Earlier in that decade, Richards became influenced by the theories of the English aesthetician John Ruskin, who held that it was the artist’s duty to strive for absolute truth to nature insofar that traces of the artist’s and would be virtually effaced from the work. In On the New Jersey Shore Richards creates the perfect Ruskinian balance between a loving transcription of nature and an evocation of the sensations it inspires. The painting’s large size offers the viewer a vista to behold nature’s wonder, a virtual window onto the sea and shore. Richards masterfully records the variety of effects a distant storm has on the ocean and consequently builds the drama from the foreground to the background of the composition. The light-dappled calm water in the immediate foreground gathers muster as it recedes into the breaking waves meticulously veined with periwinkle foam. Richards treats the sky with the same amount of skill and precision. The exuberant play between sunlight and clouds, open space and dense cover, clear sky and heavy rain captures the multitude of weather conditions that so fascinated the artist. William Trost Richards was born in Philadelphia and attended Central High School, where such men as Thomas Eakins and Peter A.B. Widener also went to school. His formal education ended at the age of thirteen, as he had to help support his family. Richards trained as a designer of ornamental metalwork and while doing so he also studied draftsmanship and painting under Paul Weber. He probably took art lessons at the Pennsylvania academy of the Fine Arts, where he first exhibited in 1852. The following year he was elected as a full academician there. In 1855-56 he toured Europe and studied for several months in Düsseldorf, but he eventually grew tired of the contemporary European landscape and returned to Philadelphia. Richards received a medal at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876, the Temple Medal from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1885 and a Bronze Medal at the Paris Exposition in 1889. Richards was a member of the American Water Color Society and an honorary member of the National Academy of Design, where he exhibited from 1861 to 1899. In 1883, the Corcoran Art Gallery in Washington D.C. commissioned him to paint “On the Coast of New Jersey.” His work is represented in the collections of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Brooklyn Museum, the Newark Museum, Fogg Art Museum of Harvard University, St. Louis Art Museum, the Adirondack Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Cooper-Hewitt Museum, Cleveland Museum of Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Vassar College Art Gallery, Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
William Trost Richards paintings
(1833-1905) Richards was born in Philadelphia, the son of Quaker parents. His formal academic education ended in 1847 following his father's death, when he worked as a designer of chandeliers and gas fixtures to help support his family. From 1850 to 1858 he was an illustrator for a lamp-manufacturing firm. He studied drawing with William Stanley Haseltine and Paul Weber. Richards married writer Anna Matlack in 1856 and settled in German-town, Pennsylvania until 1881. He admired the aesthetic theories of John Ruskin, and followed the writer's dictum of "selecting nothing and rejecting nothing," striving to record the minutest detail of nature in his work. Richards traveled widely and was often accompanied on painting trips by his daughter, painter Anna Richards (later Brewster). He settled permanently in Newport after 1890, becoming increasingly fascinated by the effects of light, atmosphere, and ocean. By the late 19th-century he was one of the best-known watercolorists in America.

Biography courtesy of Roger King Gallery of Fine Art, www.antiquesandfineart.com/rking
William Trost Richards combined in his works the grandeur, atmosphere and light of the American painter, the interest in the minutiae of nature of the pre-raphaelites, and the precision and technique of the Dusseldorf School. He was a landscape artist for much of his life and is most remembered for his coastal seascapes.

Born in Philadelphia in 1833, Richards began to draw when very young. Despite circumstances that forced him at age 13 to drop out of school and support his family by designing chandeliers and gas fixtures, he studied privately, along with William Stanley Haseltine, under German artist Paul Weber. He may also have attended classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

By 1853, Richards felt ready to devote all his time to art. He set out for Europe, probably in the company of his studio-mate, painter Alexander Lawrie, and Haseltine. Traveling through Florence, Rome and Paris, he encountered American artists Hiram Powers, Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze and Albert Bierstadt. He returned from Europe in 1856 with high regard for the uplifting works of Native American landscape artists, such as John F. Kensett and Frederic Edwin Church.

In 1856, he married Anna Mattock and honeymooned and sketched at Niagara Falls. They later settled in Germantown, Pennsylvania, on the outskirts of Philadelphia. Richards devoted his attention from then through the Civil War to meticulous, naturalistic landscapes, many with literary themes. He was particularly influenced by an exhibition of the works of pre-Raphaelites painters in Philadelphia in 1858.

His paintings of this period are charming; they combine, oddly, an obsessive camera-like precision with grand atmospheric effects. He worked out-of-doors as much as possible, in Pennsylvania, the Adirondacks and the Catskills.

At the end of the Civil War, from 1866 to 1867, Richards traveled with his family in Europe. After that, he began to paint his masterful coastal seascapes, which ideally reconcile his love of sharp detail with the larger scale.

He began in the 1870s to spend the summers and paint in Newport, Rhode Island. He also traveled frequently to England for further subjects and rnarkets. In 1890, he moved permanently to Newport, where he died in 1905.

Forensic and Literary Circle of Philadelphia
National Academy Of Design

Public Collections:
Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine
Brooklyn Museum
Cooper-Hewitt Museum of Decorative Arts and Design, New York City
Corcoran Gallery, Washington, D.C.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City
Newark Museum, New Jersey
University Of Washington, Seattle

Biography courtesy of Roughton Galleries, www.antiquesandfineart.com/roughton
William T. Richards was forced at the young age of 13 to drop out of school to help financially support his family. He worked as a design illustrator for a gas lamp company. However, Richards was able to return to his studies later and worked privately with Paul Weber in 1850. From 1853-56 he traveled through Florence, Rome and Paris with his mentor and friends Weber, Williams and Haseltine. When he returned to America he settled in Germantown and married. For many years Richards was preoccupied with literary themes in landscapes and painted true to nature with accurate detail that reveals the influence of the Pre-Raphaelites. After a brief visit to Britain, Richards became increasingly more interested in marine paintings, for which he is best known. In 1874 he bought one of several homes around the Newport area. He painted around the Aquidneck and Conanicut area until his death in 1905. Richards worked outdoors as much as possible and incorporated grandeur, light and atmosphere in all of his painting.

Biography courtesy of The Caldwell Gallery, www.antiquesandfineart.com/caldwell
Moving between landscapes and seascapes, oils and watercolors, rigorous precision and luminous fluidity, William Trost Richards embraced and mastered each phase of nineteenth-century painting. His extraordinary career began in Philadelphia, where he developed his exacting technique under the German artist Paul Weber and was active in a "Forensic and Literary Circle" devoted to the study of poetry and prose. Linda Ferber, the acknowledged authority on Richards, claims that his "early perceptions of nature were largely shaped by his activities as a litterateur" who cultivated "a Wordsworthian reverence toward nature." Thus, the foundations of Richards's work -a firm grounding in the nature of technique and a poetic love of nature's technicalities -were established at the very beginning of his career.

As Richards's landscapes began to attract public notice, he drew the admiration of the American Pre-Raphaelites, who elected him to their Association for the Advancement of Truth in Art in 1863. In his Book of the Artists, Henry Tuckerman praised Richards's literalist, hyperclear woodlands as "miracles of special study" that qualified him as the "most remarkable" of the Ruskinian Pre-Raphaelites. Yet Tuckerman was a bit late in his assessment: in 1867, the year that Book of the Artists was published, Richards had already shifted his focus to marine painting. Legend has it that the artist was so moved by his seaward journey home from Europe that he changed his artistic course on the spot. The rest of his oeuvre was dedicated to the study of the sea, featuring panoramic coastal scenes and luminous seascapes. By 1873, Richards was regarded among "the best-known watercolor painters of America" -with his fluid handling of the medium effortlessly evoking the liquidity of the sea.

Richards won bronze medals from the Centennial Exposition of 1876 and the Paris Exposition of 1889, as well as a gold medal from the Pennsylvania Academy Centennial of 1905. The Brooklyn Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts mounted a major retrospective of his landscapes and seascapes in 1973. His paintings are also in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection in Madrid.

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