Influenced early in his career by the Hudson River School and Luminist preferences, Frederick DeBourg Richards specialized in landscape and maritime scene. By the middle of the 19th century, he ranked among the most accomplished artists practicing realism in the United States. Over time, his brushwork became somewhat more painterly, however he never abandoned his dedication to meticulously accurate observation.
Frederick DeBourg Richards was born on June 24, 1822, in Wilmington, Del. He lived in New York in the 1840s before moving to Philadelphia in 1848, where he spent most of his remaining years with his wife and two daughters. Richards considered himself mostly self-taught as a painter, and he achieved success as a landscape artist by exhibiting his paintings at the American Art-Union, an exclusive association in New York City where the finest American artists were eager to show their works.
Richards thrived in the stimulating cultural environment he found in Philadelphia. He opened a daguerreotype gallery across from Independence Hall that was in business until 1855, and his actual-size daguerreotypes were particularly notable. His account book notates sales to such major Philadelphia artists as James Hamilton, William Trost Richards and Peter Rothermel. Richards often exhibited daguerreotypes at the Franklin Institute’s annual exhibitions. His collection contains images from 1850 to 1864, most of which capture the changing architectural landscape of the city, and can be found at the Library Company of Philadelphia. Richards’ subjects can generally be divided into two categories: historic buildings in and around the Philadelphia area and commissioned images of the houses and estates of wealthy men.
Richards was also known as a manufacturer of stereoscopes, and an 1853 article in The Journal of the Franklin Institute noted the improvements he had made to that instrument.1 In December 1853, it was reported that he exhibited at the Franklin Institute and showed a large stereoscope with a revolving cylinder.
In the mid-1850s, Richards began traveling to Europe, visiting England, France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany and Belgium. In 1868, he moved to Paris but returned soon after to Philadelphia. A series of sketches dated June 19 through September 22, 1855, depicted the traditional European tour and was published in 1857 under the title Random Sketches, or, What I Saw in Europe: From the Portfolio of an Artist.
Throughout his life, Richards pursued a career as a landscape and marine painter while making his living primarily through daguerreotypes. His landscapes were mostly of the Pennsylvania countryside and scenes from surrounding states, including tranquil images of the Potomac and Delaware River Valleys. He also made numerous visits to the New Jersey shore, which inspired him to produce some of his finest paintings, such as Atlantic City (1881) and Salt Marshes at Atlantic City in October, which he exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy’s annual show in 1878. While living in Philadelphia, Richards was an active member of the Philadelphia Society of Artists, the Artist’s Fund Society, the Art Club of Philadelphia and other local associations. His work was exhibited regularly at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the National Academy of Design and the Art Institute of Chicago.
Richards died in his Philadelphia residence in 1903 and was buried in nearby West Laurel Hill cemetery.
1: The Journal of the Franklin Institute, vol. 5 (February 1853), pp. 285-87.
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