Fidelia Bridges enjoyed a long and successful career as a painter of meticulous depictions of the natural world, particularly of birds and flowers. One of her favorite sites was along the banks of the Housatonic River in Stratford, Connecticut.
Bridges was steeped in the Pre-Raphaelite tradition and spent time under the tutelage of William Trost Richards. In her mature work the influence of Japanese Ukiyo-e prints, 'prints of the floating world,' became evident in her work. The tendency towards asymmetrical compositions emerged during this period as well as a departure from the 'all-over' technique present in her early works.
Bridges was born in Salem, Massachusetts in 1834 to a sea captain working in the China shipping trade. She and her three siblings were orphaned in the years of 1849-1850 when they lost both parents within a few months of each other. The two oldest sisters took over the main responsibilities of supporting and guiding the family, and the family remained close-knit for their entire lives. While in Salem, the Bridges were Unitarian church members. This likely influenced the sense of nature as being infused with divinity apparent in her work.
The family left Salem for Brooklyn and Bridges became a governess for the family of William Augustus Brown, a relationship that she maintained for the rest of her life. Bridges became aware of trends in the work of her contemporaries, including the British Pre-Raphaelites and the writings of John Ruskin. In 1860, she moved to Philadelphia to train at the urging of Anne Whitney, a budding sculptress teaching at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA). She became closely associated with Richards at that time and formed a long-lasting relationship with the Richards family. She was inspired by Richards to begin painting in the Pre-Raphaelite tradition of close and meticulous work highlighting the details of the natural word, particularly botanicals.
May Brawley Hill notes the effect of the Pre-Raphaelite school of thought on Bridges, "the idea that through faithful depiction the essence of the thing could be revealed.". In the 19th century journal "The New Path" a writer notes the difference in painting the natural world in this new tradition versus the existing 'still life' tradition as "…one man paints a free, wild, vigorous plant as it grows, and another paints a vase of cut flowers…" and argues that this new tradition, though not yet the fashionable one, will ultimately raise the standard.
After early successes throughout the 60s, and exhibitions at PAFA in 1862, 1865 and 1866, Bridges spent time traveling in Europe, including time in Rome with Anne Whitney and the Richards family in Lake Geneva. After returning to the States, Bridges began painting regularly in watercolor, her preferred medium for the rest of her career. Bridges continued to focus on nature and as Hill notes, "…the actual presence of growing things in the open, suffused with sunlight… microcosms of Nature, embodying the Transcendental idea that divinity is manifest in the smallest part of the created world."
In 1873, Bridges became an Associate of the National Academy and in 1875 a member of the American Society of Painters in Watercolor. She sold her work regularly to Louis Prang, the publisher of cards, calendars, and other popular publications, this would establish her one of the most financially successful female artists of her time. Her most prolific and popular works of birds and botanicals were inspired by locations in the Catskills, the New Hampshire mountains, the New Jersey coast and especially the salt marshes of the New England coast - particularly Stratford, Connecticut. Bridges' colors were vibrant, and attention to detail was her hallmark. In 1879, her very successful exhibition at a Fifth Avenue gallery brought in an increasing number of patrons, including the famous author Mark Twain.
Bridges eventually settled in Canaan, Connecticut in her later years, becoming a beloved fixture in the town, associating regularly with other local women of literary and artistic backgrounds. The children of the Richards and the Browns all remained in close contact with her, visiting her there regularly. Bridges died in Canaan on May 14, 1923. Her paintings are held by the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, as well as many others.
[1,3] May Brawley Hill. Fidelia Bridges: American Pre-Raphaelite, New Britain Museum of Art, November 15, 1981 - January 3, 1982, Berry-Hill Galleries, 1981. (p. 15)
 The New Path, Vol. I, No.4 August 1863 (p. 7.43)
Condition: Canvas: Unlined Condition: Very Good Restoration: Very Minor Frame: Period Comments: Period Foster Brothers frame
Framed dimensions - 20 1/2 x 17 1/2 x 1 5/8 inches
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