William Trost Richards 1833-1905

On the New Jersey Shore

  • 31 3/4 x 57 3/4 inches (80.6 x 146.7 cm)
  • Oil on canvas
  • Signed and dated lower left: Wm T Richards 97
  • 1897

Why We Love It

We believe that Richards’s seascapes are some of the best portrayals of the American seascape extant. Throughout his career he painted the eastern seaboard from Maine to New Jersey. Standing knee deep in water, he would sketch furiously, trying to capture the constantly changing scene before him then race away so as not to be soaked by the in-rushing water. For anyone who has visited Newport or New Jersey, even today, the coastal plane, ocean water, and marine atmosphere he recorded are unmistakably true to nature.

The Value

Richards was a prolific painter and, remarkably, maintained a high level of quality throughout his life. Large, fully developed works, especially those that exhibit his hallmark magical, translucence in the peaks of the waves are always sought after. This large panoramic painting of the New Jersey shore is one of his best, and we are fortunate to have owned and offered it twice. It’s exceptional provenance, excellent condition and very fine period frame greatly add to its inherent value. Richards left an indelible mark on 19th century American art and he is an important addition to any serious collection.

Artist Background

1833: Born in Philadelphia; 1846-47: Attended Central High School for Boys, but had to leave to go to work; 1850: Studied art with Paul Weber. Probably worked at Archer, Warner and Miskey; 1851: Took first sketching trip on the Brandywine River; 1852: Exhibited for the first time at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA); 1855: Took sketching trip up the Hudson River to the Adirondacks; 1856-57: Traveled to Europe, where he visited France, Switzerland, and Italy; 1859: Began taking summer sketching trips to Atlantic City, New Jersey, the Adirondacks, and New England; 1863: Becomes a member of the Association for the Advancement of Truth in Art, a group of artists very much influenced by the aesthetic theory of John Ruskin; 1875: Purchased home in Newport, Rhode Island, where he resided in the summer. Lived in Germantown section of Philadelphia during the winter; 1876: Awarded bronze medal at Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia; 1878: Traveled to England. Visited Cornwall; 1882: Spent first summer at Grey Cliff; 1889: Awarded bronze medal at Paris Exposition; 1891-1905: Traveled to Europe almost annually. Resided in Newport full time; 1905: Awarded PAFA’s gold medal of honor. Died.

Over the course of several years, Avery Galleries has had the opportunity to exhibit a number of important paintings by William Trost Richards, and On the New Jersey Shore is no exception. Painted in 1897, the work is a spectacular example of Richards’s mature artistic style.  The impressive size of the painting not only displays the artist’s mastery of his subject and technical bravura but also captures the majesty and grandeur of nature itself.

Early in his career Richards was drawn to painting panoramic vistas of the sea, and he earned great renown as one of the finest and most successful American marine painters.  On the New Jersey Shore certainly stands as one of the artist’s great seascapes; however, the late date of the painting also makes it an interesting example of Richard’s mature work.

Richards began his artistic practice in the early 1850s and took the American landscape as his subject.  Like so many of his artistic forebears and peers, he traveled to the Adirondacks in search of a transcendent landscape vision.  During these trips, informed by the tenets of the Hudson River School, Richards joined the host of artists who were seeking to define an image of the national landscape.  For many of the formative years of his career, Richards looked to the Adirondacks as a site to work out and master his signature artistic style.

When the artist turned to painting marinescapes in the late 1860s, the works he exhibited combined his keen interest in the poetic drama of nature with an unfailing attention to detail.  Earlier in that decade, Richards became influenced by the theories of the English aesthetician John Ruskin, who held that is was the artist’s duty to strive for absolute truth to nature insofar that traces of the artist’s hand would be virtually effaced from the work.

In On the New Jersey Shore Richards creates the perfect Ruskinian balance between a loving transcription of nature and an evocation of the sensations it inspires. The painting’s large size offers the viewer a vista to behold nature’s wonder, a virtual window onto the sea and shore.  Richards masterfully records the variety of effects a distant storm has on the ocean and consequently builds the drama from the foreground to the background of the composition.  The light-dappled calm water in the immediate foreground gathers muster as it recedes into the breaking waves meticulously veined with periwinkle foam. Richards treats the sky with the same amount of skill and precision.  The exuberant play between sunlight and clouds, open space and dense cover, clear sky and heavy rain captures the multitude of weather conditions that so fascinated the artist.

William Trost Richards was born in Philadelphia and attended Central High School, where such men as Thomas Eakins and Peter A. B. Widener also went to school.   His formal education ended at the age of thirteen, as he had to help support his family. Richards trained as a designer of ornamental metalwork and while doing so he also studied draftsmanship and painting under Paul Weber.  He probably took art lessons at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he first exhibited in 1852.  The following year he was elected as a full academician there.  In 1855–56 he toured Europe and studied for several months in Düsseldorf, but he eventually grew tired of the contemporary European landscape and returned to Philadelphia.

Richards received a medal at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876, the Temple Medal from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1885 and a Bronze Medal at the Paris Exposition in 1889. Richards was a member of the American Water Color Society and an honorary member of the National Academy of Design, where he exhibited from 1861 to 1899. In 1883, the Corcoran Art Gallery in Washington, D.C. commissioned him to paint “On the Coast of New Jersey.” His work is represented in the collections of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Brooklyn Museum, the Newark Museum, Fogg Art Museum of Harvard University, St. Louis Art Museum, the Adirondack Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Cooper-Hewitt Museum, Cleveland Museum of Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Vassar College Art Gallery, Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.