William T. Richards (1833-1905)

William T. Richards (1833-1905)

Born in Philadelphia in 1833, William Trost Richards studied drawing and painting with German artist Paul Weber and while still a teenager, worked as a designer of ornamental metal work for the firm Arthur, Warner and Miskey. In 1852, he first exhibited his work at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and a year later, after showing three landscapes at the Academy, Richards resigned his design position to commit himself fully to painting.  He made a pilgrimage to Thomas Cole’s house in Catskill, New York, and by 1854 had met both John F. Kensett and Frederic E. Church, the leading landscape painters of his day; the latter’s influence upon the young artist would clearly manifest in his work. Richards spent the summer of 1855 sketching along the Hudson River up to the Adirondacks, and soon after embarked for France on his first European excursion, where he could absorb the grandness and rich history the continent offered in its landscape, architecture and museums.  Beyond Paris, Richards traveled to Switzerland, Italy and Germany, finally returning to Philadelphia by the summer of 1856 where he married Anna Matlack. 

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By 1874, the Richards family began spending their summers in Newport, Rhode Island, wintering in Germantown, Pennsylvania. Richards continued painting both seascapes and landscapes, and in 1878, traveled again to England in search of subjects, filling numerous sketchbooks during stays all along the southern coast. He exhibited at the Royal Academy and with London galleries, delighted that his work was so well received by a foreign audience. After two years abroad, the Richards family returned to Rhode Island and upon finding the views around his home lost to development during his absence, the artist designed and built a house on Conanicut Island, across Narragansett Bay from Newport, where Seth Vose also had a summer home. He wrote to Seth Vose, who had been handling his work since 1879:

“I hope to see you next summer, regret that I missed you last season — will be in my new house on Conanicut Island, where I hope even if it is four miles apart you may also have a home. There is no lovelier place in the world.” [1]

Richards continued to paint landscapes, but spent most of the latter half of his career focused on American and European coastal scenes. The demand for his work prompted him to seek out additional subjects during several return trips to more remote corners of the British coastline in the 1890s, and even the West Coast in 1885.  He continued to exhibit at the National Academy, the Boston Art Club, the Brooklyn Art Association and the Pennsylvania Academy, where in early 1905 he was awarded the Gold Medal of Honor. In November of that year, Richards died in Newport at the age of seventy-two.

[1] Vose Galleries archives.

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