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Details & Cataloguing

American Art

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William Trost Richards 1833 - 1905
OFF CONANICUT, NEWPORT
signed Wm.T. Richards and dated 04 (lower left)
oil on canvas
34 1/4 by 60 inches
(87 by 152.4 cm)
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Provenance

Wendell Endicott, Massachusetts
Harrison Keller, Massachusetts, 1949 (acquired from the above)
The New England Conservatory of Music, Boston, Massachusetts (acquired from the above; sold: Christie's, New York, May 31, 1985, lot 50, illustrated)
Alexander Gallery, New York 
Acquired by the present owner from the above, 1987

Description

A member of the Hudson River School, William Trost Richards distinguished himself as a painter of seascapes rather than landscapes. Other artists had attempted to paint the ocean, but none did it with such success. As opposed to many of his contemporaries, Richards’ remarkably realistic depictions of incandescent, crashing waves and the effects of light and mist came from firsthand observation. Painted in 1904, Off Conanicut, Newport is a superb example of the artist’s ability to portray the power of waves. He routinely painted at the water’s edge, in all weather and conditions, resulting in startlingly lifelike dpections; “Richards spent his days studying the breaking waves, habitually getting as close to the water as he could. The titanic pull of the tides and the spill of clouds across the sky were for him manifestations of spiritual significance—‘all the saddest and wildest noises of nature are reproduced by the surf’—and he worked hard to catch the revelatory light on surfaces” (Carol M. Osborne, William Trost Richards: True to Nature, Stanford, California 2010, p. 109).

Richards’ success in conveying nature’s raw power and splendor is clearly evident in the present work, which shows no shoreline, making the waves its sole subject.  With its spectacular light, color and details, Off Conanicut, Newport demonstrates Richards' skill as he successfully portrays the waves in a beautiful, harmonious and flawless composition. In a letter to a friend, Richards captures the picture perfectly, “I watch and watch it, try to disentangle its push and leap and recoil, make myself ready to catch the tricks of the big breakers and am always startled out of my self-possession by the thunder and the rush, jump backward up the loose shingle of the beach, sure this time I will be washed away; get soaked with spray, and am ashamed that I had missed getting the real drawing of such a splendid one, and this happens 20 times an hour and I have never got used to it” (Ibid., p. 94).

American Art

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New York