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Alfred Thompson Bricher
Master marine painter of realistic and sublime New England coastal scenes By William Tylee Ranney Abbott The seascapes of Alfred Thompson Bricher embrace both realism and sublimity. While his works are masterpieces of beauty in great detail, they are also mesmerizing in their commitment to conveying atmospheric serenity. The widespread popularity that Bricher experience during his time, proven by his significant exhibition history, is testament to his ability to capture both literal excellence in nature as well as its figural beauty. I. Biography II. Chronology III. Collections IV. Exhibitions V. Memberships VI. Notes VII. Suggested Resources I. Biography The well-known 19th century marine painter, Alfred Thompson Bricher, was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire on April 10, 1837. Soon after, the Bricher family moved to Newburyport, Massachusetts where the young Alfred attended the local schools. Upon his completion of school Bricher moved to Boston, where he was employed in a dry goods store in 1851 and possibly studied at the Lowell Institute.1 Seven years later, at the age of twenty-one, the largely self-taught artist opened a studio in Newburyport, MA and began his artistic career. In the years to follow, Bricher traveled on sketching tours throughout New England. In the same year that he opened his studio, 1858, he traveled to Mt. Desert Island, Maine with his friend William Stanley Haseltine.2 By the next year, Bricher has abandoned his studio in Newburyport for a new studio in Boston. At the time, it was recorded that he had completed some twenty paintings of Long Island, New York, the Catskills, and the White Mountains. By 1864 the precocious young man was exhibiting at the Boston Athenaeum and sketching on the lower Hudson River as well as in the mountains of New Hampshire. In the mid 1860s, Bricher began to work closely with L. Prang & Company, a Boston company responsible for inventing the chromolithograph, and offered chromolithographs of his paintings through their catalogue. In 1866 the adventurous Bricher, likely encouraged by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Song of Hiawatha”, traveled up the Mississippi river to Minnesota.4 At the time, this location represented a fresh, natural, and untamed wilderness which served as inspirational subject matter for visiting painters like John Frederick Kensett, Eastman Johnson, Albert Bierstadt, Robert S. Duncanson, and Bricher. This are proved especially attractive for these artists because of its similarities to the previously unspoiled Tappan Zee in the Catskill Mountains of New York.5 By 1868, Bricher had moved his studio to 40 West 30th Street in New York City, NY. This move soon paid off with the artist’s first exhibition at the National Academy of Design and at the American Society of Painters in Water Colors. Bricher would continue a close relationship with both these organizations throughout his career, exhibiting at both until his death. In 1870, he also exhibited at the Brooklyn Art Association before travelling on sketching trips up and down the Hudson River and throughout New Hampshire. The following year, Bricher embraced the subject for which he would be most recognized, sketching seascapes along the Atlantic coast, on Long Island and at Narragansett, Rhode Island. The artist’s style of this period is represented in Time and Tide (1873, Private Collection), which was exhibited at the National Academy the same year of its completion, and exhibits the meticulous, luminous, accuracy employed to convey intense tranquility.6 The 1870s continued to be productive and Bricher received favorable criticism in publications, donated works to the Artists Fund Society, was elected an Active Member of the American Society of Painters in Water Colors, illustrated for Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, and experienced considerable commercial success through Gill’s Art Galleries of Springfield, MA. During this surge in his early career, Bricher, who was especially well read, embraced European ideals of aesthetics and transferred them into images of Esopus Creek, Gloucester, Narragansett, and New Hampshire.7 This resulted in stunning paintings such as Morning at Grand Manan (1878, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis) which capture both the transcendent and serene. Furthermore, in 1879, Bricher was elected an Associate Member of the National Academy of Design. In the 1880s, Bricher continued to travel extensively throughout New England and New Brunswick, sketching both landscapes and seascapes. In 1880, the now firmly established artist was asked to join the New York Artists’ Fund Society on a drawing tour up the Erie Canal and ending at Niagara Falls. Interestingly, possibly due to the economic hardships of the late 1870s, it was in the early 1880s that Bricher experimented, for a short time, with genre painting. Paintings like Baby is King (1880, Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, San Francisco) were both popular and cost effective, and likely filled the emotional void that Bricher may have been feeling following his first, brief, marriage.8 Fortunately, in 1881, the year after completing this work, , Bricher married Alice L. Robinson of Southampton, Long Island and began to spend much of his time in this area. 1884 was very eventful for Bricher as he joined the Art Union, exhibited at the Southern Exhibition, sold works at the American Art Association, and welcomed his daughter, Florence Boker Bricher. Although the artists registered a studio at 2 West 14th Street in New York City in 1886, he continued to sketch at places like Salisbury Beach, MA and eventually built his family home in New Drop on Staten Island. In the same year that he moved to Staten Island, 1890, Bricher also executed a lengthy sketching trip to New Jersey, visiting Beach Haven, Toms River, and Monmouth Beach. It was during the last decade of the 1800s that Bricher began to experience considerable commercial success. Now exhibiting with the Schenck Art Gallery, in 1892 he sold some seventy-one watercolors and four oils for a total of $1,818.50. His reputation would continue to be greatly supported when he exhibited at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago the next year. It is important to note that although Bricher continued to experience popularity among the masses, he remained focused on natural scenic content, employing his skilled draftsmanship to realistically capture these scenes. His approach grew less popular as realism was beginning to be challenged by onset of Impressionist painting in France.9 For the remainder of the 1890s, Bricher exhibited works at National Academy of Design and the American Water Color Society, illustrated for The Quarterly Illustrator, and traveled on sketching trips to White Rocks and Monhegan Island, ME. In 1898, his work was carried by the Fifth Avenue Art Galleries. Although the 20th century was short lived for Bricher, he continued to travel, paint, and exhibit extensively. In 1905, he exhibited with the American Water Color Society at the Cincinnati Museum and sketched near Casco Bay, ME. In 1908, although Bricher’s studio was located at 32 Union Square in New York, the revered seascape painter passed away at his home in New Dorp, Staten Island on September 30th. The elegant marine seascapes of Alfred Thompson Bricher have been praised for both their attention to detail and commitment to portraying the serenity of nature. While his waves, cliffs, and sandy beaches are near-scientific renditions of nature, the culmination of these elements along with Bricher’s sunsets and luminous highlights result in an overall effect of great sublimity. The impressive resume of exhibitions in which Bricher participated during his lifetime is supplemented posthumously by the national museums that continue to collect his works, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Smithsonian Institution. Additionally, while impressively prolific, Bricher’s paintings remain highly coveted among private collectors throughout America. II. Chronology 1837 Born on April 10 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire 1840 Family moves to Newburyport, Massachusetts, attends local schools 1851 Employed in a dry goods store in Boston 1858 Opens a studio at Newburyport, MA, draws near Mt. Desert Island, Maine with William Stanley Haseltine 1859 Studio in Boston 1861 Sketches at Lovells Pond, Nameless Brook, and Saco River, NH, as well as Catskill, NY 1864 First exhibit at Boston Athenaeum, sketches on the lower Hudson River 1865 Sketching throughout New England; Newburyport, MA, Byfield, MA, Hudson River and Kingston, NY, Mt. Chocorua, NH, and Bald Mountain, NY 1866 Travels up the Mississippi through Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota 1868 Marries Susan A. Wildes of Boston, moves to 40 West 30th Street, New York City, NY, exhibits for the first time at the National Academy of Design, also at American Society of Painters in Water Colors, 1870 Exhibits at the Brooklyn Art Association, sketches in New Hampshire and on the Hudson River 1871 Sketches on Long Island, NY, in Narragansett, Rhode Island, and at Niagara Falls, NY 1873 Receives favorable reviews, donates work to the Artists’ Fund Society, elected Active Member of American Society of Painters in Water Colors 1878 First exhibits with Gill’s Art Galleries of Springfield, MA, continues to exhibit here throughout his life, illustrates for Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, 1879 Included in G.W. Sheldon’s American Painters, Associate Member of the National Academy of Design 1880 Travels with New York Artists’ Fund Society on the Erie Canal to Niagara Falls, sketches near New Rochelle, NY 1881 Marries Alice L. Robinson of Southampton, Long Island, NY 1883 Spends summer in Southampton, NY, sketches on Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick and Narragansett, RI 1884 Exhibits at the Sothern Exhibition and becomes member of the Art Union, daughter Florence Boker Bricher born, sells with the American Art Association 1886 Has studio at 2 West 14th Street, New York City, sketches at Salisbury Beach, MA 1890 Builds his family home in New Drop, Staten Island, sketches at Beach Haven, Toms River, and Monmouth Beach, New Jersey, 1892 Sells 8 oils for about $37, Sells 71 watercolors and 4 oils at Schenck Art Gallery for $1,818.50 1893 Exhibits at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago 1894 Illustrates for The Quarterly Illustrator 1895 Sketches near White Rocks, ME, Seal Cove, Grand Manan, and Monhegan Island, ME 1898 Sells 5 oils at the Fifth Avenue Art Galleries 1905 Exhibits with the American Water Color Society at the Cincinnati Museum, sketches around Casco Bay, ME 1908 Studio is located at 32 Union Square, New York City, continues to sell with Fifth Avenue Art Galleries, dies at home in New Dorp, Staten Island III. Collections Butler Institute of American Art, OH Brandywine River Museum, Chadds Ford, PA Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburg, PA Dallas Museum of Art, TX Farnsworth Art Museum, Rockland, ME Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, CA George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum, Springfield, MA Indianapolis Museum of Art, IN Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, NY Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT IV. Exhibitions 1864 Boston Athenaeum 1866 Boston Athenaeum 1868-69 Boston Athenaeum, 1868-71 American Society of Painters in Water Colors 1868-1905, 07 National Academy of Design 1870 Brooklyn Art Association 1871-72 Boston Athenaeum 1873 Brooklyn Art Association 1873-77 American Society of Painters in Water Colors 1874-81 Inter-State Industrial Exposition of Chicago 1874-86 Brooklyn Art Association 1875, 79, 81-83 Cincinnati Industrial Exposition 1878 Paris Exposition Universelle 1878-1902 American Water Color Society 1881 Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts 1882 Salmagundi Sketch Club 1884 Art Union, Sothern Exposition 1885-89 American Art Association 1890 Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago 1898 St. Louis Exposition and Music Hall Association, Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition, Omaha 1899 Art Club of Philadelphia 1905-08 American Water Color Society 1909, 13 National Academy of Design 1948 Brooklyn Museum 1957 Staten Island Institute of Arts and Sciences 1972 The Holyoke Museum of Natural History and Art 1973 Indianapolis Museum of Art 1974 George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum 1976 National Academy of Design V. Memberships 1873 Active Member of American Society of Painters in Water Colors 1874 Board of Control, American Society of Painters in Water Colors 1879 Associate Member, National Academy of Design 1884 Art Union VI. Notes 1 Jeffrey R Brown. Alfred Thompson Bricher 1837-1908. (Indianapolis: Speedway Press, 1973), p. 13 2 Ibid. p.14 3 Ibid. p. 15 4 Rena Neumann Coen. “Alfred Thompson Bricher’s Early Minnesota Scenes.” Minnesota History 46, no. 6 (1979): p. 233 5 Ibid. p. 234 6 Jeffrey R Brown. Alfred Thompson Bricher 1837-1908. (Indianapolis: Speedway Press, 1973), p. 19-20 7 Ibid. p. 22 8 Ibid. p. 25 9 Ibid. p. 27-28 VII. Suggested Resources Brown, Jeffrey R. Alfred Thompson Bricher 1837-1908. Indianapolis: Speedway Press, 1973.