American Gilded Age · Essay · Works on Paper

A Portrait of Her Father in the Studio

Opportunities for women artists in the nineteenth century had advanced little beyond the informal apprenticeships originating in the Renaissance. While specialized art academies were founded across Europe beginning in the eighteenth century, these schools rarely admitted women. The culture was such that art made by women was considered “domestic” or “amateur” up until the early twentieth century and any association with professionalization for women artists was undesirable.[1]  In some circumstances, male artists passed their skills onto their daughters to circumvent these obstacles. One such pair was William Trost Richards (1833-1905) and his daughter Anna Mary Richards Brewster (1870-1952), who were both born and raised in Philadelphia.

When Brewster painted her father, she fashioned him as a strong mentor who encouraged her during a period of limited access for women. She memorialized their bond in the oil painting Portrait of the Artist’s Father (1888), which portrays Richards as a confident painter of Luminist-style marine canvases. Appearing here in a luxuriant studio reminiscent of William Merritt Chase (who later taught Brewster at the Art Students League), Richards is clearly depicted as a man of dedication, talent, and creativity. Those qualities, which he passed onto his daughter, craft their legacy.

Nature studies attracted both father and daughter for their scientific objectivity and attention to detail. Richards, who began his career as an illustrator, became interested in the finely detailed landscapes of the Düsseldorf School while traveling through Europe from 1853 to 1856. This preference is clearly visible in the artist’s pencil and graphite drawings from the 1860s, including Fir Trees (July 31, 1868) and Blossoming Plant (Oct. 2, 1861). These meticulous drawings, which are specifically dated to give them a documentary accuracy, reflect Richard’s desire to chronicle his surroundings.

As seen in the nature study Flowers and Leaves (dated Aug 18/19), Brewster shared this interest. More than likely she completed this nature study during sketching excursions with her father and their friend, the nature artist Fidelia Bridges (1834-1923). At this time during the Gilded Age, painting en plein air or “outdoors” was the height of artistic achievement. Thus we see both Richards and Brewster focusing on their natural environment on group trips through the Connecticut countryside. Their artistic friendship with Bridges is commemorated in a later painting by Brewster, who depicts Bridges strolling through a field after leaving public life to live in Canaan, Connecticut circa 1903.

Lizzie Frasco

[1] Prieto, Laura R. At Home in the Studio: The Professionalization of Women Artists in America (Cambridge: Harvard University, 2001), 59.


Anna Richards Brewster, William Trost Richards in His Studio (also known as Portrait of the Artist’s Father), 1888, oil on canvas, private collection.

Richards Fir Trees.jpg

William Trost Richards, Fir Trees, July 31, 1868, pencil and watercolor on paper, Hawthorne Fine Art.

Richards Blossoming Plant.jpg

William Trost Richards, Blossoming Plant, Oct. 2 1861, graphite on paper, Hawthorne Fine Art.

1 - Anna Mary Richards Recto.jpg

Anna Richards Brewster, Flowers and Leaves, Aug 18/19, pencil and watercolor on paper, Hawthorne Fine Art.


Anna Richards Brewster, Miss Fidelia Bridges at Miss Brown’s, Canaan, Connecticut, ca. 1903, oil on canvas mounted to board, Hawthorne Fine Art.


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