William Trost Richards

william trost richards

William Trost Richards studied in his native Philadelphia with the German born landscape painter Paul Weber (1823-1916), as well as in Florence, Rome, and Paris. Upon his return to the United States in 1856, he painted almost exclusively landscapes of Pennsylvania and New York State, developing a style that integrated the delicacy and fidelity to truth in nature of the Pre-Raphaelites, whose work he had seen in Philadelphia in 1857, with the Realist tradition in which he was trained. After returning from his second trip to Europe in 1867, Richards began painting the seascapes and coast views of New Jersey and Rhode Island that would occupy him for much of his career. In 1875 he purchased a summer home in Newport, Rhode Island, and in 1882 he built a house, “Gray Cliff,” overlooking Narragansett Bay and the ocean beyond. Richards now increasingly chose New England subjects, displaying a particular fondness for views of the open sea with just a faint indication of the coastline in the foreground.

Richards’s sea views impressed the critic Earl Shinn, who wrote about his Atlantic Coast (private collection), then in the collection of Fairman Rogers, a director of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia and also a patron of Richards’s friend Thomas Eakins (1844-1916).

It reaches an accuracy and perfection which painters of no other country have dreamed of; it applies to the difficult, moving model-the billow-all the scrupulous and photographic finish with which [Jean-Leon] Gerome or [James] Tissot would treat a model of which he had absolute control, and whose repose he could ensure. It must be seen to be appreciated, for no description will carry away the impression of its implacable truthfulness. (Lippincott’s Magazine, Nov 1872, p.593)

Richards was a member of the American Water Color Society and the National Art Club, both in New York. He exhibited at various museums and art associations throughout the United States as well as at the Royal Academy in London, and won numerous prizes. The majority of his paintings were shown at the Pennsylvania Academy from 1852 until the final year of his life. He also exhibited at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876, where he won a medal. Today his paintings are in museums and private collections throughout the United States. William Trost Richards (1833-1905): American Landscape and Marine Painter, by Linda S. Ferber (New York: Garland Publishing, 1980) is the most complete reference on the artist.

Source: American Paintings. A Schwarz Gallery Publication. January 2001.

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