WILLIAM TROST RICHARDS 
American (1833-1905) 
Off Conanicut 
oil on canvas, signed "WM. T. Richards" and dated "98" lower right. 
20 x 32 inches

 

William Trost Richards’ paintings of the New England coastline have set the standard for excellence in American seascape painting. His luminist views from Rhode Island, New Jersey and Massachusetts dramatically capture waves crashing against rocks or a calm rolling sea. He often visited his favorite beaches painting Cape Ann, Newport, New Jersey and Conanicut Island.

 

In 1882 William Trost Richards built a summer cottage on the southernmost heights of Conanicut Island, which looks across Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay towards Newport.  He called his cottage “Gray Cliff”, reflecting both the spectacular geological formations of the sea-washed coast and the predominant hue of summer fog and haze. For the next twenty years, Conanicut, with its alternating views of rocky cliffs and gentle harbors, became Richards’ most important subject, in both oil and watercolor.

 

The present lot is a stunning example from Richards’ Conanicut period. The sun parting the clouds shines down over the crashing waves. The entire composition is bathed in a warm glow and the viewer can feel the sea mist coming off the water as it splashes against the rocks.

 

Richards was born in Philadelphia in 1833. He abandoned his formal education at age 13 to work and help support his family. He pursued painting privately studying under William Stanley Haseltine and Paul Weber in Philadelphia. Wealthy patrons supported his continued study in Europe where he, Hiram Powers, Emanuel Leutz, Frederick Church, John Kensett and Albert Bierstadt had traveled. By the 1850s, Richards was an established landscape artist exhibiting at Knoedler galleries and supported mainly by private commissions from his friend and patron, Asa Whitney.

 

In the later part of his career, Richards became a devoted seascape painter. His best paintings, as in the present lot, capture the light and atmosphere of the scene. He accomplished this by making numerous watercolor studies painted on-site en plein air.

 

Richards was a member of the National Academy of Design. His works are represented in many public institutions including the Brooklyn Museum, the Cooper-Hewitt Museum of Decorative Arts and Design, The Corcoran Gallery, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Newark Museum among others.

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