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Description: FIDELIA BRIDGES
American, (1834-1923)
Portfolio of 96 Illustrations

31 sheets
mixed media on paper on board
some signed

OLIVER INGRAHAM LAY
(American, 1845-1890)
PORTRAIT OF FIDELIA BRIDGES
oil on canvas laid down on paper
unsigned
16 1/2 x 11 1/2 inches

  • Provenance: The artist; to her close friend and New York City portraitist, Oliver Ingraham Lay; descended in the family to the present owner.
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    Fidelia Bridges enjoyed a long and successful career as a painter of meticulous depictions of the natural world, particularly of birds and flowers. She spent her summers painting along the banks of the Housatonic River in Stratford, Connecticut and outdoors in Old Lyme, Connecticut.

    Attracted to Old Lyme by her friend and New York City portrait artist, Oliver Ingraham Lay, Bridges sketched wildlife in the shoreline town on numerous occasions. The New Haven Register reported in 1882 that "from the suggestion of O.I. Lay [Fidelia Bridges] took a house here a few years since and found abundant opportunities for her lovely foreground water-color drawings."

    Bridges and Lay met in Brooklyn in 1865. By this time, she had already made sketching trips with her friend, teacher and mentor William Trost Richards to Lake George and the Lehigh Valley. Bridges and Lay were close friends during this period and after her return from Europe in 1868. In 1872, Lay painted his first portrait of Bridges (now at the Smithsonian American Art Museum). In 1873, upon election as an Associate of the National Academy of Design, Bridges presented this portrait by her friend Lay as her official Academy portrait.

    That summer, Bridges boarded a train to Old Lyme, her "special resort for the prosecution of her beautiful art." Lay, whose family home was in Old Lyme, surely influenced her decision to first visit the area. Bridges visited Old Lyme in 1873 and 1874. She submitted paintings to the American Watercolor Society's exhibition in February 1875 earning critical acclaim, "Too much praise cannot be awarded Miss Fidelia Bridges for her beautiful studies…Miss Bridges apparently selects the most commonplace subjects, and yet, by her pleasant manner of treatment, transforms them into interesting pictures."

    In addition to the favorable critical reception at the 1875 exhibition, her watercolors commanded higher prices than those of her contemporaries, including Winslow Homer. A writer for the Brooklyn Eagle commented in 1874, "Miss Bridges is unquestionably one of the most successful of our local artists…Her pictures appear to have struck the popular fancy, and as a natural result, she has enjoyed a busy as well as profitable year."1

    Bridges sold her work regularly to Louis Prang, the publisher of cards, calendars, and other popular publications, establishing herself one of the most financially successful female artists of her time. In the present lot, many of the smaller sketches are annotated for Mr. Prang.

    In addition to her sketches from Old Lyme her illustrations 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.

    Works from the present lot are annotated with locations in New Jersey, Newport, Massachusetts, Old Lyme, Stratford and one sketch from Rome, Italy. Her patrons, listed in the sketchbook include L.A. Shattuck, Esqr., from Boston, Hon. Seth Low of Brooklyn, Miss Harriet Lee from Salem, Hon. John W. Cary from Milwaukee, Wis, Enoch Lewis from Philadelphia and Mr. Wheeler of London among others. She worked tirelessly and achieved success both at home and abroad.

    Bridges' colors were vibrant, and attention to detail was her hallmark. Luminist artist John Frederick Kensett said of her work, "Her works are like little lyric poems, and she dwells with loving touches on each of her buds, ‘like blossoms atilt' among the leaves."2

    In 1883, Lay painted a second portrait of Bridges that was exhibited at the National Academy in the fall of 1884 and is now in the Smithsonian collection. A small study for this large portrait is included with the present lot.

    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. She 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.
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    1 Carolyn Wakeman, "Exhibition Note: Fidelia Bridges' Forgotten Summers," from Florence Griswold Museum, August 30, 2017, https://florencegriswoldmuseum.org/exhibition-note-fidelia-bridges-forgotten-summers/, date accessed September 1, 2021.
    2 Ibid.
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    Tags: woman artist, female artist, Connecticut artist, works on paper, listed artist, 19th century
  • Dimensions: 18 x 22 inches (each sheet, overall)
  • Artist Name: FIDELIA BRIDGES

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Milford, CT, US

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$20,000 $49,999 $2,000
$50,000 $99,999 $5,000
$100,000 + $10,000