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(Thomas) Worthington Whittredge
Hudson River School Painter
American, (05/22/1820–02/25/1910)
This biography was submitted by Altermann Galleries
Born: Springfield, Ohio 1820
Died: Summit, New Jersey 1910

Important “Hudson River School” landscape painter in the West beginning 1866, illustrator

Son of a farmer, Worthington Whittredge went to Cincinnati when he was 17. “After failing in several pursuits”, he worked as a house and sign painter while studying art. At 20, he learned daguerreotypes and began painting portraits in and around Cincinnati. At 23, landscape painting became his specialty. The local collectors bought his work readily. In 1849, they commissioned a series of European scenes. Whittredge studied in Dusseldorf, the pupil of Andreas Achenbach until 1854. He was the friend of Bierstadt and Leutze, and became Leutze’s model for Washington Crossing the Delaware. Whittredge went on to Italy, returning to the New York City Studio Building on Tenth Street in 1859. His European landscapes had been sent directly to Cincinnati to pay to for the trip.

A picturesque figure, a man of fine presence and physique, Whittredge was tall, dark-complexioned, dignified and very courteous. In 1866, he accompanied General John Pope on a journey of inspection from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas through Denver and south along the Rockies into New Mexico. The expedition returned via the Santa Fe Trail. Whittredge used his field sketches for the studio landscapes of the West. The price quoted by the artist was $10,000 plus $2,000 for the frame. In 1870, he again toured the Rockies, this time with Sanford Gifford and JF Kensett, and may have made a third trip in 1877. He was in Mexico 1893 and 1896.

Resource: SAMUELS’ Encyclopedia of ARTISTS of THE AMERICAN WEST,
Peggy and Harold Samuels, 1985, Castle Publishing

This biography was submitted by Thomas Nygard Gallery

Whittredge, after his studies in Dusseldorf and Rome in the 1850’s, returned to a studio in New York where he befriended Albert Bierstadt and became an important Hudson River School artist. He paid for his voyages to Europe through the sales of his landscapes done abroad.

Beginning in the 1860’s he made several trips west. His first journey was with Major General John Pope in 1866. They made their way from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas through Denver and south along the Rocky Mountain range into New Mexico. Several of his important works came out of the time he spent in Colorado painting along the Platte river and in the mountains near Denver. With sketches and materials gathered on the expedition they returned via the Santa Fe trail. Back in his studio in New York Whittredge turned his sketches into oil landscapes.

Whittredge was very moved by the west and returned to the Rockies in the early and late 1870’s. He was especially fond of the plains and used them as the main setting for many of his landscapes. The drama of the Rocky Mountains was often left as the backdrop to his scenes or, as in Western Mountain Valley, as a way of framing and giving scale to the plains.

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born and raised on a farm near Springfield, Ohio, on the sparsely settled frontier, Worthington Whittredge was to later establish himself as one of the foremost painters of the Second Generation Hudson River School painters. His artwork incorporates the topographical style of the Hudson River School with the use of light and color typical of the French Barbizon School and Impressionism. His subjects celebrate the Catskill Mountains in New York and the White Mountains in New Hampshire, in addition to the Great Plains of the American West.

Growing up as a trapper and hunter in Ohio, he had little formal art education. In 1837, at age 17, he went to Cincinnati to work with a brother-in-law, Almon Baldwin, who was a house and sign painter. Whittredge taught himself portrait and landscape painting, experimented briefly in Indianapolis with daguerreotypes, and then opened a portrait studio in Charlestown, West Virginia. However, after 1843, he focused on painting landscapes.

When he was in Cincinnati, he met many supporters of the arts including Nicholas Longworth, who became his patron and sent him to Europe. In 1849, Whittredge enrolled at the Royal Academy in Dusseldorf, Germany and spent 5 years there studying there with Carl Lessing and Andreas Achenbach. In Germany he developed an aesthetic that emphasized the meticulous recording of naturalistic details. The use of color and light in his landscapes is often referred to as a style that anticipated the forthcoming work of French Impressionists. He went on to spend another 5 years in Rome where he was part of the artists' group that included Frederick Church and Nathaniel Hawthorne. He also visited Switzerland and Paris and was exposed to but rejected the Barbizon style of painting depicting peasant figures in landscape.

He returned to New York City in 1859, and, realizing his paintings of European landscapes were not well received, devoted himself to American landscape subjects, producing views of New York and New England. He became a typical Hudson River school painter, showing special skill with sunlight filtering through dense foliage and scenes of savage beauty and wondrous promise.

At this time, some parts of the population, unconvinced of mankind's supereminence and skeptical of materialism, were proponents of the romantic rebellion, and tended to trust emotion and subjectivism over intellect and objectivism. Developing more contemplative frames of mind, they queried the mysteries of life, the universe, and God. In America the movement found a philosophical base through the eloquent writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and other transcendentalist thinkers. According to Whittredge, who had become a leading member of the Hudson River School, that designation was first coined by an unnamed critic for the New York Herald, who intended it as a barb on what was seen as the group's provincialism. Other accounts hold that the term originated with Clarence Cook, a nineteenth-century critic for the New York Tribune.

Landscape had by this time evolved from subordinate backgrounds in history painting and some portraiture to an autonomous statement. The widespread acceptance of a romantic view of nature was significant, as it was believed that nature revealed its truth and beauty not to a limited few but to the mass of men. Nature in its own terms would come to symbolize, an American vast geophysical asset, the challenge and adventure of exploration, as well as the present and future of the nation, particularly appropriate for a country deficient in long historical traditions.

On the other hand, to the anti-urban, anti-industrial naturalist, landscape was the glorious demonstration of God's handiwork and benevolence. Nature was God's art. Characterizing landscape was of the highest worthiness for the artist's consideration. Not surprisingly, in much writing of the period, the word nature is reverentially capitalized, as though proceeding from Deity just as certainly as the Son and Holy Spirit of the Trinity. Thus landscape was potentially more than mere topographical recording; it could be overlaid with moral and theological significance.

By the mid-nineteenth century, however, civilization had encroached considerably upon the eastern landscape and Whittredge decided to journey westward with John Frederick Kensett and Sanford Robinson Gifford to Fort Kearny in Nebraska and then the Rockies to find new sources of inspiration.
In 1865-66, with Gifford and Kensett, he accompanied Major General John Pope from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, up the south branch of the Platte River through Denver, then south along the eastern Rockies into New Mexico, where they met Kit Carson in Santa Fe.

If some were disenchanted with the desolate plains and prairies, Worthington Whittredge, on his journey with General Pope, was deeply moved by them: "I had never seen the plains or anything like them. They impressed me deeply. I cared more for them than for the mountains, and very few of my western pictures have been produced from sketches made in the mountains, but rather from those made on the plains with the mountains in the distance. Whoever crossed the plains at that period, not withstanding its herds of buffalo and flocks of antelope, its wild horses, deer and fleet rabbits, could hardly fail to be impressed with its vastness and silence and the appearance everywhere of an innocent, primitive existence."

Whittredge made a total of three trips into the West but produced only about forty oil sketches and studio paintings based on Western subjects. Most were painted in his New York City studio from sketches made during his first journey to the West in 1866. A work in the Museum of Nebraska Art is, however, one on-site painting done along the South Platte River on his last trip in 1871.

In 1896, Whittredge took a sketching trip to Mexico with Hartford native Frederic Church, who had been one of the nations leading landscape painters.

The evolving and changing style of his landscape paintings reflect the variety and flux of American society at the time. He is numbered among the practitioners of luminism, as his paintings contain a minutely executed tonal quality marked by intense illumination, expressing a mysterious, atmospheric silence.

Notable works include the Camp Meeting (1874; Metropolitan Museum) and Third Beach, Newport (Walker Art Center, Minneapolis). He also did a few still life as well as domestic interiors and exhibited his work at the National Academy of Design, where he served two terms as president. He also played a central role in the development of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Around 1890, William Merrit Chase painted a portrait of Whittredge (Worthington Whittredge).

Worthington Whittredge died in Summit, New Jersey in 1910.

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