William Trost Richards was born in Philadelphia, the son of Quaker parents. His formal academic education ended in 1847 following his father’s death when he worked as designer and illustrator of ornamental metalwork to help support his family. Richards married writer Anna Matlack in 1856 and settled in Germantown, Pennsylvania, where he lived until 1881. He studied drawing with the German-born artist Paul Weber and traveled and sketched with William Stanley Haseltine.
Richards traveled widely and was often accompanied on painting trips by his artist daughter, Anna Richards Brewster. Richards rejected the romanticized and stylized approach of the so-called Hudson River School of painters, and instead insisted on meticulous factual renderings. By the 1870s he had turned increasingly to the marine paintings for which he is most well known. He first summered in Newport in 1874 and purchased a home on Gibbs Avenue in 1875. In 1882, he built a large cliff-top home, “Gray Cliff,” on Conanicut Island overlooking Narragansett Bay. He continued to paint in Newport and Jamestown for the rest of his life, dividing his time between his farm in Chester County, Pennsylvania, Newport, Europe, and England.
The artist died in Newport in 1905. His works are featured today in many important American museums, including the National Gallery, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Yale University Art Gallery, and Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. By the late 19th century, Richards was one of the best-known watercolorists in America. He enjoyed financial success and acclaim during his lifetime, and his luminist views of the coast of Rhode Island are among his most known images.