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William Richards was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1833. He attended the local Central High School from the age of 14 to 15. Later, between 1850 and 1855, while working as an illustrator and designer of ornamental metalwork, he studied with German artist, Paul Weber.
His works were first shown to the public as part of an exhibition in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Albert Bierstadt organized the exhibition in 1858. In 1852, Richards would exhibit at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts for the first time and in the following years, elected an Academician.
Soon, Richards would meet the Hudson River painters Frederic E. Church, John F. Kensett, Jasper F. Cropsey, and Samuel Colman on a trip to New York; Richards’ name is often associated with the Hudson River School.
He then returned to Pennsylvania to get married. Richards often went into sketching trips in the Adirondacks and the Catskills. In 1862 he was elected as a National Academy of Design honorary member and an Academician nine years later. Richards became a member of the American Pre-Raphaelite group, the Association of the Advancement of Truth in Art, in 1871.
Richards spent many summers on the East Coast, taking advantage of the scenery for his paintings. In 1874 he would become a member of the American Watercolor Society. He bought a house in Newport, where he spent most of his subsequent summers, the house`s design was by Richards himself and named the building as “Graycliff.”
Between 1879 and 1880, Richards spent the winters in London and the summer on the Continent. Richards would travel to Europe every year until his death, visiting Scotland, England, and Norway. William Trost Richards died in Newport, on 8 November 1905.
Although being a member of the Hudson River School, Richards would reject the stylized and romanticized approach familiar to many of his peers. Instead, the artist preferred to produce his pictures with meticulous fidelity to the source material, often resulting in excellently rendered paintings with often photorealistic qualities.
William Trost Richards also had noteworthy offspring. His daughter, Anna Richards Brewster, also became a painter; his son, Theodore William Richards, became a distinguished chemist, as well as the first American scientist to earn the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.