William Trost Richards was born in Philadelphia on November 14, 1833 and he died in Newport, RI on November 9, 1905. He studied in Philadelphia with Paul Weber in 1850 before studying in Florence, Rome and Paris from 1853-1856.
In 1855 Richards sailed for Dusseldorf where he studied with Leutze and Albert Bierstadt, the latter of whom inspired Richards. After painting landscapes in France and Italy, Richards married and returned to Germantown, PA.
By 1856, Richards was enthused by the work of Frederick Edwin Church and John Kensett. They painted majestic landscapes and seascapes bathed in the mystical light of a pristine sky with an emphasis on natures grand scale. Capturing this light and atmosphere is an American art movement of the 19th century called luminism, an outgrowth of the Hudson River School. It was Church’s use of luminism that Richards began to imitate and two years later he was painting outdoors.
In 1866, Richards traveled to England and his focus turned from landscapes to marine painting. A year later a storm at sea caught the painter’s attention and he began to study the structure of waves and how weather affects the sea and shore.
Few artists are able to paint the sea and beach as well as Richards. His wet sandy beaches are often littered with portions of shipwrecks or seaweed to show that a tide has come and gone or that a storm’s fury has past and left its mark. The artist was adept at painting light coming through steep, lifting waves, the foam created when they slap to the ground and the reflective qualities surrounding them.
At the end of the Hudson River School era, Richards purchased the first of his many properties in and around Newport, Rhode Island (1874). Richards loosened his palette years later in the British Isles and the Channel Islands, where oftentimes he lightened his palette to an almost green-gold overall tonality. adorning the charm of solitude and the breadth of the sea, Richards peacefully painted on the island of Conanicut at Mackerel Cove, Jamestown, Rhode Island until 1899.
In the late 1860s two notable art collectors gravitated to William Trost Richards’s work: the Reverend Elias Lyman Magoon, who in 1864 sold his collection to Matthew Vassar for the newly constructed Vassar College Art Gallery and George Whitney, who gave William Trost Richards financial security.