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Worthington (Thomas) Whittredge

 (1820 - 1910)
Worthington (Thomas) Whittredge was active/lived in New Jersey, New York, Ohio.  Worthington Whittredge is known for landscape, portrait, marine, and genre painting.

Worthington (Thomas) Whittredge

Biography from the Archives of askART

Biography photo for Worthington (Thomas) Whittredge
Born in a log cabin 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 include 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 five 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 five 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 thick foliage and scenes of savage beauty and wondrous promise.

At this time, some parts of the population, unconvinced of mankind's super eminence 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 nation's 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.

Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art
Matthew Baigell, Dictionary of American Art
Peter Hastings Falk, Editor, Who Was Who in American Art

* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary

Biography from Spanierman Gallery
Worthington Whittredge, an important member of the later Hudson River School, is best remembered as a landscape painter who celebrated the beauty of the Catskill Mountains as well as the American West.

Born in 1820, on a farm near Springfield, Ohio, he moved to Cincinnati in 1837 where he began working as a house painter's assistant to his brother-in-law.  He gradually advanced to sign and banner painting and to a little portrait work.  He went to West Virginia where he painted portraits but after a discouraging season there he turned exclusively to landscape painting in 1843.  Whittredge's works from this period reveal the romantic influences of artists such as Thomas Cole and Thomas Doughty.

Cincinnati at that time boasted a wealthy community of art lovers headed by a patron, Nicholas Longworth, who after three years, made possible Whittredge's move to Europe to study painting in 1849.  He arrived first in London and then toured through Belgium and Germany and spent the summer sketching along the Rhine. Traveling back through Belgium, he arrived in Paris, but as he was unimpressed by the Barbizon painters, he moved on to Düsseldorf, the major center for the study of landscape painting, where he spent five years under Carl Lessing and Andreas Achenbach.  Like many other American artists in Düsseldorf, Whittredge was called upon by Leutze to pose for his Washington Crossing the Delaware.  He of course came in contact with many other American artists.  Among them was the young Albert Bierstadt who came from New Bedford, Massachusetts.  It was with Bierstadt that Whittredge enjoyed many sketching trips to Westphalia.

Whittredge's mature style incorporates both European and American influences.  For a time he adopted the hard, relatively monotone palette of the Düsseldorf School but later he asserted that this German style "was not enough and never will be enough to satisfy us in the realm of art".

In 1854, Whittredge traveled through Switzerland to Italy where he remained for five years, until 1859.  There, he was part of an artist's colony that included Frederick Church, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Sanford Gifford, George Loring Brown and the sculptors Thomas Crawford, William Wetmore Story and Harriet Hosmer.  In the end Whittredge came to find extended European study undesirable, asserting the idea that it undermined the distinctive quality of his work.

Upon his return to America he visited Newport and Cincinnati and then settled in New York. He was elected to the National Academy in 1861.  In 1865 he accompanied Major General John Pope on an expedition to the Rockies, journeying through Colorado and New Mexico as far as Fort Union.  In the late fall he went to New York and in 1867 was married which limited his trips to the West.  But he still traveled throughout New England, especially Newport, Rhode Island, the North Shore of Massachusetts, the Catskill Mountains, Lake George in New York, and in New Jersey.  He was to make two more trips out west including one with Church to Mexico in 1896.  He served as President of the National Academy from 1874 - 1877 and was a member of various New York Clubs: Union League, the Century Association and the Lotos Club.  In 1880, he built a house in Summit, New Jersey, where he resided until his death in 1910.

Worthington Whittredge's work is well represented in the collections of the Worcester Museum of Art, Massachusetts; the Cincinnati Art Museum; the Brooklyn Museum; the Metropolitan Museum of Art; and the Newark Museum, New Jersey among other institutions.

COPYRIGHT. The essay herein is the property of Spanierman Gallery LLC and is copyrighted by Spanierman Gallery LLC and may not be reproduced in whole or in part, without written permission from Spanierman Gallery LLC nor shown or communicated to anyone without due credit being given to Spanierman Gallery LLC.

Biography from Taylor | Graham
As a young man Worthington Whittredge left his native Cincinnati, Ohio to embark on a journey to Europe in search of a teacher.  He had been painting for several years and was essentially a self-taught artist, as were most of his contemporaries in the Midwest.  It was unusual for landscape artists to seek formal training in Europe at this time; however, Whittredge was determined and became one of the first to establish this trend.

The young artist arrived in Paris in 1849.   However, the city proved too expensive for him and the Barbizon school did not impress him.  Whittredge moved on to Germany and spent the next seven years studying at the county's leading art center, the Düsseldorf School.

"I found the professors of the Academy in Düsseldorf among the most liberal-minded artists I have ever met, extolling English, French, Belgian, Norwegian and Russian art.  The Düsseldorf School therefore was not alone the teachings of a few professors in the Academy but of the whole mass collected at that once famous rendezvous, and America had Leutz there, the most talked about artist of them all in 1850."

While at the Düsseldorf Academy, Whittredge absorbed a variety of painting styles incorporating them into his own work. Even the Barbizon style which he had rejected earlier, had indirectly influenced the artist's style.

After Germany, Whittredge spent a summer sketching in Switzerland and then relocated to Rome.  While in Rome he befriended Sanford R. Gifford and Albert Bierstadt.   His new friends departed the following summer, but Whittredge remained in Rome for two years.   His money soon ran out and it became necessary for Whittredge to begin selling his paintings on the open market.  The majority of these paintings were either Swiss lake scenes or views of the Roman Campagna.

Whittredge returned to America in 1859.   He landed in New York and eventually set up a studio in a building on Tenth Street, an appropriate symbol of the artist's professional stature.  He soon became a member of the National Academy of Design.

Whittredge had a difficult time in the beginning, attempting to paint American landscapes using his European training.  He spent months painting in the Catskills and his early attempts at painting in the Hudson River style where not promising. However, by 1961 Whittredge finds his place in the movement by painting his first major opus as a Hudson River painter, Landscape with Hay Wain. (Cleveland Museum of Art Collection)

Biography from Altermann Galleries and Auctioneers, V
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.

Peggy and Harold Samuels, 1985, Castle Publishing

Biography from 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.

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About  Worthington (Thomas) Whittredge

Born:  1820 - Springfield, Ohio
Died:   1910 - Summit, New Jersey
Known for:  landscape, portrait, marine, and genre painting

Essays referring to
Worthington (Thomas) Whittredge

Hudson River School Painters
Paris pre-1900