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William Trost Richards (American, 1833–1905)
The Wood Path, 1856
Oil on canvas, 31 x 25 inches
Courtesy of Alex Boyle, Godel & Co. Fine Art, Inc.

The most meticulous artist of his generation, William Trost Richards, along with some of his associates, so far transcended the draughtmanship of the Hudson River School, that in 1862 they formed an organization called the Society for the Advancement of Truth in Art. Modeled after the English Pre-Raphaelites and inspired by the philosophy of John Ruskin, the group was truly devoted to depicting nature’s minutia. Few atrists ever matched their attention to detail. Ultimately, the laborious process of painting such detailed work would bring about an exhausted end to this artistic association. “Ours is the lonliest [sic] of apprenticeships” was a complaint often heard.

For years, many thought the 1858–1859 traveling exhibition of English Art, seen in Philadelphia, New York, and Boston, was the impetus for Richards’s embracement of the detailed aesthetic. This work shows otherwise. Dated 1856, the palette is derivative of Dusseldorf where Richards was schooled from 1854–1856. However, the abundant detail of a forest at sunset directly anticipates the American Pre-Raphaelites. The scene depicts rural Germantown, now part of Philadelphia. In 1857 Richards exhibited a painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts titled The Wood Path. Over the last 140 years nothing resurfaced that matched both date and subject, until now.

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