William Trost Richards was one of the most accomplished American artists of the nineteenth century and enjoyed a long and successful career in both oils and watercolors. As Richards scholar Dr. Linda Ferber states, “For Richards, watercolor was not a secondary interest, but a medium whose expressive possibilities were as important as those of oil.” Born in Philadelphia in 1833, he began to study landscape painting under German artist Paul Weber in 1850. He quickly befriended several Hudson River School painters of the period, including John Frederick Kensett and Frederic Edwin Church, and his early training included extensive travels throughout Europe in their company. Upon his return to Philadelphia in 1856, he was introduced to the American Pre-Raphaelite movement while visiting exhibitions at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. He quickly mastered the style and his works from this period portray a Ruskin-influenced respect for nature. It was on summer trips to the coasts of New England and New Jersey, however, that Richards became infatuated with the sea. His precise method transferred perfectly from his Pre-Raphaelite landscapes to his luminous seascapes; in both oil and watercolor he was able to capture the fluidity and gentle motion of the water as well as the delicate atmosphere of the seaside. An 1877 article described his seascapes as having “a broad and masterly sweep given to the wave-forms; every movement of the waves, from those which break over the foreground sands to the great rollers in the distance, is drawn and painted with power and skill…”
Yet more traditional landscape painting always remained a part of his artistic practice. In 1853 Richards traveled up the Hudson River for the first time and, like many of his Hudson River School predecessors, was drawn to the area again and again; he made trips to the Adirondacks most summers between 1855 and 1870. Like Thomas Cole and Asher B. Durand before him, Richards saw the dramatic, rugged landscape as part of the national identity. As a Pre-Raphaelite, he used his hyper-realistic style to describe in detail the vastness of the scenery. At the end of his life, as a well-established luminist, he painted en-plein air at Lake Placid in 1905, focusing on the light and atmosphere of the area’s unique topography. This type of subject matter spanned throughout Richards’s career and a survey of his work from the Adirondacks exemplifies his progress as an artist through various styles. In 2002 the Adirondack Museum exhibited a body of works created in the Adirondacks between 1850 and 1870, bringing to light just how prolific Richards was outside of his famous coastal scenes. One of his masterpieces from this area was The Bouquet Valley, Adirondacks, 1866, purchased from him by the prominent Philadelphia collector George Whitney and now in the collection of the Biggs Museum of American Art. Richards continued to paint, travel, and exhibit up until the end of his life. He exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1873 and was awarded prizes from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the 1876 Centennial Exhibition, also in Philadelphia. His paintings convey a unique peace and serenity and are collected by every major institution of American art.