Published: August 1, 2000
Works by William Trost Richards at Vareika Fine Arts
NEWPORT, R.I. – The work of one of the most important American artists of the Nineteenth Century, William Trost Richards (1833-1905), is the subject of an exhibition at William Vareika Fine Arts Gallery.
The exhibition “: Landscapes and Seascapes By William Trost Richards” runs until October 15. A percentage of sales form the exhibition will be donated to The Aquidneck Island Land Trust to help to preserve the natural character and open spaces of the Aquidneck Island Landscape that inspired the most memorable art of William Trost Richards.
Born in Philadelphia, Richards was one of the most important of the many Nineteenth Century American artists who found special inspiration in the sublime natural environment of Newport and the Narragansett Bay region. Although he is probably best known for the work he created while visiting and living in Rhode Island, the artist also painted throughout many other parts of New England and in his native Pennsylvania, as well as Virginia, New Jersey, New York and the state of Washington. Other travels took him abroad to England, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Scotland, Switzerland and Wales.
The exhibition comprises nearly 100 oil paintings, watercolors and drawings that depict many of these American and foreign setting and span the full one-half century of his memorable career. Most of these artworks have descended in the family of the artist and many have never before been exhibited or offered for sale.
Richards memorabilia from the collection of the family of the artist is exhibited, including books, photographs, letters and the artist’s gold Medal of Honor awarded by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1905. Several Richards artworks from the collections of the Newport Art Museum and the Newport Historical Society are on loan, as well as Richards’ large working easel, which is from the collection of the museum.
As part of the program of the Vareika exhibition, the gallery is sponsoring a scholarly illustrated lecture on Richards life and art which will be given by Linda S. Ferber, Andrew W. Mellon curator of American Art, Brooklyn Museum of Art, and the foremost authority on the subject. Ferber is currently working on the definitive book on Richards and is curating two museum exhibits on Richards art to be held in the next two years. The lecture is free and open to the public and will be held at the Newport Art Museum, 76 Bellevue Avenue, on Saturday, September 9, at 4:30 pm.
The art of William Trost Richards has been the subject of a number of important museum exhibitions: St Louis Museum of Fine Arts (1907); Art Association of Newport (1954, 1976 [Bill Vareika helped to install the latter exhibition as a recent college graduate working at the Art Association]); Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (1956-1973); Brooklyn Museum (1973); The New Britain Museum of American Art (1973); Metropolitan Museum of Art (1982-83); Hudson River Museum (1986).
Richards first came to Newport in the early 1870s. At that time only a small fraction of the Aquidneck Island landscape had been developed. Unfortunately, under present day rates of development, it is expected that all buildable land on Aquidneck Island will be fully developed by the year 2025.
Ironically, Richards prefigured this crisis in an 1880 letter to a friend and patron, written upon returning to his Gibbs Avenue, Newport home after a trip to England: “the houses…have grown like mushrooms since we have been here…I grieve that I am no longer the last house (to the beach).” In an 1881 letter to the same friend, he continued on the subject: “The houses opposite seem to get bigger and bigger and…more and more fashionable and we don’t like it at all, all the charm of loneliness has gone out of our place, and it gives me an entirely different feeling…Our friend the agent for the estate of Conanicut, is trying desperately hard to get me to pioneer there…”
The artist did leave Newport and built a house on the cliffs of Conanicut Island in 1881-82. However, development followed the artist, as he commented in 1882: “building operations…(on) both sides of us…Soon we will be a new watering place!” A year later, he concluded his commentary on the subject, revealing this underlying love of nature: “The charm of solitude has gone forever, but the beauty of detail still remains, and nothing can destroy the deep satisfaction we have in our own little kingdom and the wide sea.”
William Vareika Fine Arts is at 212 Bellevue Avenue. Gallery hours are Monday through Saturday 10 am to 6 pm and Sunday 1 to 6 pm. Telephone, 401/849-6149.
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