Artist Biography

Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait

(1819 - 1905)

Table of Contents

    An English-born painter and lithographer, Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait was a skilled American landscape artist, as well as an esteemed sporting painter best known for his precisely detailed depictions of game, fowl, and wildlife animals.

    By Chelsea DeLay

    I. Biography

    Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait was born in a small suburb of Liverpool, England on August 5, 1819. Tait spent several years of his childhood in the care of his relatives on a farm, where he was sent to live after the failure of his father’s business. At the age of twelve, Tait was hired as a clerk at Agnew & Zanetti’s Repository of Arts in Manchester, England, where he began to develop an avid interest in art.[1] The young artist spent his off-hours at the Royal Manchester Institution, where he spent time making drawings from plaster casts of Greek and Roman statuary in an effort to develop his artistic approach. Tait decided to quit his clerical job at Agnew & Zanetti’s in 1839 after he decided to formally pursue a career in drawing and lithography.

    Recognizing the potential profitability and professional exposure that commercial lithography had to offer, Tait dedicated himself to the trade and became quite skilled at producing lithographs from his own drawings and paintings by the 1840s. In 1843, Tait became friends with the American artist George Catlin—his impressive depictions of the American West influenced Tait’s decision to move to the United States, and also piqued his interest in the American frontier.[2] Tait’s early works demonstrate a blossoming interest in landscape painting and wildlife animals, likely stemming from his childhood years spent on his family farm, and emerged as characteristic themes seen in Tait’s paintings after he moved to New York City in 1850. Two years after his stateside arrival, Tait was invited to exhibit at both the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the National Academy of Design.

    Tait’s arrival to New York in 1850 could not have taken place at a better time for the artist. The popularity of American landscape painting was on the rise and audiences were craving art that synthesized the relationship between mankind and nature—an art market well-matched to Tait’s penchant for producing Adirondack landscapes and wildlife paintings. By 1852, his work was garnering positive attention from important dealers, critics, and collectors, as well as the lithography firm Currier and Ives; the firm made its first purchase of Tait’s work that year, which established a business relationship that continued for the next thirteen years. After spending nearly ten years in the country, Tait became a naturalized citizen of the United States of America on April 12, 1859; that spring he was also invited to exhibit at the Washington Art Association, and additionally accepted the honor of being elected one of the six members of the Council of the National Academy of Design.

    The influence of Catlin resurfaced in Tait’s Western landscapes; although he never visited the American West, critics and audiences were impressed with the meticulous, realistic detail with which these were painted.[3] His Western scenes captured the natural grandeur of the American landscape and were infused with an inspiring sense of sublimity. Tait painted the last of his Western works before 1861, after which he resumed his attention on the Adirondack Mountains and forest animals, the most popular of which were deer.

    Tait found inspiration in the rugged terrain of the Adirondacks well into the later years of his life, and spent repeated summers painting and sketching along Loon Lake, Raquette Lake, Rainbow Lake, and Long Lake, the latter of which he lived on from 1874 to 1877. After his final visit to the area in 1888, the last years of Tait’s artistic focus shifted to farm animals—specifically chickens and sheep—inhabiting the countryside of New York’s Orange and Putnam counties. Examples of his works are included in the permanent collections of prestigious institutions including The Adirondack Museum, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Museum of Wildlife Art of the United States, and London’s Tate Gallery.

    II. Chronology

    • 1819 Born August 5 in a suburb of Liverpool, England
    • 1838 Marries Marian Cardwell on December 20
    • 1831–39 Holds a clerical position at Agnew & Zanetti’s Repository of Arts in Manchester, England; spend off-hours practicing sketching and drawing at the Royal Manchester Institution
    • 1839 Takes part in his first public exhibition, Manchester Royal Institution Exhibition of Modern Artists
    • 1840–41 Travels to Scotland
    • 1842 Moves to Liverpool, England
    • 1843 Befriends American artist George Catlin
    • 1850 Moves to the United States, settles in New York City
    • 1852 Exhibits work for the first time at the Pennsylvania Academy of this Fine Arts and the National Academy of Design; Currier & Ives makes its first purchase of his paintings for lithographic reproduction; meets John Osborn, who becomes a lifelong friend and patron
    • 1854 Elected Associate member of the National Academy of Design
    • 1855 Invited to join the Sketch Club
    • 1856–57 Spends the summer in the Adirondacks on Loon Lake
    • 1858 Elected Academician of the National Academy of Design
    • 1858–59 Spends the summer in the Adirondacks on Rainbow Lake
    • 1859 Becomes a naturalized citizen of the United States of America on April 12; exhibits at the Washington Art Association; elected a member of the Council of the National Academy of Design
    • 1860s Boston’s Louis Prang firm reproduces many of the artist’s work as chromolithographs
    • 1865 Ends business relationship with Currier & Ives
    • 1872 Travels to England
    • 1873 Marries second wife Mary Jane Bartoft, the niece of his first wife Marian
    • 1874–77 Resides with wife on the west shore of Long Lake in New York
    • 1876 First son Arthur Blossom Tait is born
    • 1880 Second son Francis Osborn Tait is born, wife Mary Jane Bartoft passes away shortly after his birth
    • 1882 Sells Long Lake house
    • 1888 Last visit to the Adirondack Mountains
    • 1905 Passes away at the age of eighty-five in New York City

    III. Collections

    • Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts
    • The Adirondack Museum, Blue Mountain Lake, New York
    • Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas
    • The Autry National Center of the American West, Los Angeles, California
    • The Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio
    • The Baltimore Museum of Art, Maryland
    • Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, Texas
    • Brooklyn Museum, New York
    • Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
    • The Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio
    • Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Arkansas
    • Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa, Oklahoma
    • The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York
    • Michele and Donald D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, Massachusetts
    • Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute, Museum of Art, Utica, New York
    • National Museum of Wildlife Art of the United States, Jackson, Wyoming
    • National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
    • The R.W. Norton Art Foundation, Shreveport, Louisiana
    • The San Diego Museum of Art, Balboa Park, California
    • Shelburne Museum, Vermont
    • St. Johnsbury Athenæum, Vermont
    • Tate Gallery, London
    • The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland
    • Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut

    IV. Exhibitions

    • The Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois
    • 1839 The Royal Manchester Institution, England
    • 1852–69 Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
    • 1852–1900 National Academy of Design, New York, New York
    • 1859 Washington Art Association, Washington, D.C.
    • 1891 Boston Art Club, Massachusetts
    • 1898 Philadelphia Art Club, Pennsylvania
    • 1863–86 Brooklyn Art Association, New York
    • 2011–12 The Adirondack Museum, Blue Mountain Lake, New York, solo exhibitions

    V. Memberships

    • National Academy of Design, Associate, 1854; Academician, 1858
    • Sketch Club, 1855

    VI. Notes

    1. Warder D. Cadbury, Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait: Artist in the Adirondacks (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1986), 13.
    2. Patricia C.F. Mandel, A.F. Tait Artist in the Adirondacks (Blue Mountain Lake, New York: Adirondack Museum, 1974), 15.
    3. Edward Lucie-Smith, American Realism (London: Thames and Hudson LTD, 1994), 11.

    VII. Suggested Resources

    • Cadbury, Warder D. Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait: Artist in the Adirondacks. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1986.
    • Falk, Peter Hastings, ed. Who Was Who in American Art, 1564–1975: 400 Years of Artists in America. Vol. 3, P–Z. Madison, Connecticut: Sound View Press, 1999.
    • Mandel, Patricia C.F., A.F. Tait Artist in the Adirondacks. Blue Mountain Lake, New York: Adirondack Museum, 1974.
    • Lucie-Smith, Edward. American Realism. London: Thames and Hudson LTD, 1994.

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