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William Trost Richards papers, 1848-1920

Biographical Note

William Trost Richards was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1833. From 1850 to 1858 he worked as a designer and illustrator of ornamental metalwork, and briefly studied draughtsmanship and painting with the German artist Paul Weber. Richards was also an active member of the Forensic and Literary Circle of Philadelphia during the early 1850s. In 1852 he had his first exhibition at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and a year later was elected a full Academician. He had great interest in landscapes and geological subjects, and spent summers sketching in the Catskills and Adirondacks. From 1855 to 1856 Richards toured Europe with William Stanley Haseltine and Alexander Lawrie, and was influenced by the Dusseldorf school of landscape painters.
Richards married aspiring poetess Anna Matlack in 1856, and they settled in Germantown, Pennsylvania, where they had eight children, five of which survived to adulthood. In 1858 he attended an exhibition of British art in Philadelphia, and was greatly influenced by the works of Pre-Raphaelite painters. He began painting outdoors, executing precise, naturalistic, yet atmospheric, landscapes. In 1862 he joined the National Academy of Design, and in 1863 joined the Society for the Advancement of Truth in Art, an American Pre-Raphaelite organization. From 1868 to 1874, Richards spent summers on the East Coast and began focusing on marine subjects painted in watercolor, exhibiting often with the American Watercolor Society. Richards also traveled to Europe several times, and lived there from 1879-1880 while trying to find a new direction for his artwork. In 1881 he built a summer house for his family in Newport, Rhode Island and moved there permanently in 1890. His wife Anna died in 1900, and he continued to paint landscapes and seascapes until his death in 1905.