Catalog Essay | September 17, 2020 | Lot 82
Alfred Thompson Bricher was one of America’s best-known seascape painters of the nineteenth century. Unlike the artists of the two generations preceding, who sought untamed wilderness in the Catskill Mountains, the White Mountains, and the Adirondacks, Bricher specialized in picturesque scenes of the New England seaboard. Today Bricher is widely appreciated by art historians for his mastery of Luminist realism. As a Luminist painter, he was predominantly interested in the pictorial effects of light and translucency. It is always possible to ascertain specifics such as the time of day, weather conditions, and geography in his work, yet his paintings manifest a spiritual quality that was an important component of Hudson River School.
In 1879 Bricher was elected an Associate member of the National Academy of Design. His work was seen regularly in the annual exhibitions of both the Academy and the American Watercolor Society. Bricher also exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Boston Art Club, and the gallery of James Gill in Springfield, Massachusetts. Following a second marriage in 1881, Bricher built a summer home and studio in Southampton, Long Island. “Here he interpreted the expansive coast and quaint village areas in paintings displayed at annual exhibitions from 1882 until 1894. He painted all along the south shore of Long Island. He exhibited views of rugged Montauk Point at the eastern tip between 1882 and 1885; Water Mills, adjacent to Southampton from 1882 to 1888; Patchogue and Blue Point on Great South Bay protected from the Atlantic by Fire Island from 1886-91; further west, Freeport and Far Rockaway from 1888 to 1891; and Wantagh in 1893.”
By the time he died in 1908, Bricher’s career had spanned a period of momentous evolution in American art, indeed from the era of the Hudson River School to the imminent appearance of Synchromism, or color abstraction. When Bricher died at New Dorp on September 30, 1908, his obituary commented, “[Bricher] did not receive the notice in the press that the artist’s ability and reputation deserved.”
The three lots offered in this auction are led by this example of Sailboats Along the Rocky Shore. In this composition, a lighthouse is visible along the horizon and a group of sailboats sail just out ahead of it. The moss covered rocks in greens and browns capture the effect of the changing tide. In Lot 90, Bricher instead chose a quiet inlet with flat calm water. Depicting a boathouse at the left of the composition, giving the scene a calm, quiet feeling. In Lot 126 the cloudy skies and rough water foreshadow inclement weather and the waves crash into the foreground capturing the viewer’s attention. These three paintings illustrate the differences in Bricher’s work and his constant curiosity in capturing the effects of the changing water, sky and atmosphere in different places and different times.
Today New England seascapes by Bricher are in the permanent collections of many of America’s most prestigious museums, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the White House, The Wadsworth Atheneum and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, to name only a few.
 Jeffrey R. Brown, assisted by Ellen W. Lee, Alfred Thompson Bricher, 1837-1908, (Indianapolis, Indiana: Indianapolis Museum of Art, 1973).