William Trost Richards | Linda Ferber | National Academy Museum

William Trost Richards, Linda Ferber, and the National Academy Museum

Nina Sangimino | June 6th, 2013 | Posted in News

As someone who has devoted several years to the study of art history, I have grown to view Dr. Linda S. Ferber as a “rock star” in the field. She is Vice President and Senior Art Historian of the New-York Historical Society and curator emerita at the Brooklyn Museum, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. She is one of the foremost scholars of American art and has shared her knowledge with countless art enthusiasts and academics alike through her exhibitions, publications, and lectures on the Hudson River School, the American Pre-Raphaelites, the American watercolor movement, The Eight and the Ashcan school, Albert Bierstadt, Asher B. Durand, and, of course, William Trost Richards. During my time at Questroyal I have had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Ferber on several occasions, and her lecture at the National Academy Museum last night only served to further solidify my respect for her endless knowledge and many impressive accomplishments.  She is a true celebrity in the American art world!

To accompany the National Academy’s current exhibition William Trost Richards: Visions of Land and Sea (which features a work from the private collection of Louis Salerno) Ferber gave a talk titled William Trost Richards: The History of a Reputation. She explained how she discovered Richards at the Brooklyn Museum in the 1970s when she was a Ph.D. student. At that time, Richards was not included in any surveys of American art or taught as part of American art curricula. The talk, which, as Ferber stated, explored how reputations are made and unmade, followed Richards as he mastered every American and international art trend and moved from fine draftsmanship to Düsseldorf school sublimity, then on to Hudson River School luminism before arriving at and conquering the Pre-Raphaelite style in the late 1850s. She described that in the 1860s Richards “ran away to the sea” as a sort of respite from the painstakingly-detailed canvases he was doing at the time, and the marine subject, which he continued to explore until the end of his life, became the primary subject for which he was remembered. By the 1890s he was working in a more painterly approach to study the sea in motion as well as light, color, and atmosphere.

I learned a great deal about Richards last night, and with my furious note-taking I could probably recite some of the talk myself, but mostly I was in awe of Ferber’s depth of knowledge, her easy recall of quotes from Richards’s correspondence—which she acquired directly from Richards’s granddaughter and then helped to transfer to the Archives of American Art—and her passion for bringing this forgotten genius to light. I’ll never forget a college professor who was trying to convince me to choose another academic path and told me that nothing new ever happens in history. At the time, I was angered by his ignorance and argued how there are always new things to discover, new interpretations to make, and new lessons to be learned. Dr. Ferber has devoted her career to making new things happen in art history and I am so grateful to her for proving that professor wrong. She ended her talk by adding that Richards’s reputation is continuing to shift: the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art made a currently risky and bold choice by purchasing a 1903 Richards coastal scene for their collection, highlighting yet another unrecognized period of Richards’s work to a new museum audience.

William Trost Richards, Wooden Bridge at Sunset, 1862, oil on canvas

William Trost Richards (1833–1905), “Wooden Bridge at Sunset,” 1862, oil on canvas, 20¼ x 16⅛ inches. Questroyal Fine Art, LLC, New York.

Richards-Keene Valley UF

William Trost Richards (1833–1905), “Keene Valley, Adirondacks,” 1863, oil on canvas, 25 x 36 inches. Private collection of Diane Salerno.

William Trost Richards, Clearing after the Storm, 1889, oil on canvas

William Trost Richards (1833–1905), “Clearing after the Storm,” 1889, oil on canvas, 40 x 48 inches (approx.). Questroyal Fine Art, LLC, New York.


Nina Sangimino is the Senior Researcher at Questroyal Fine Art. Nina discovered her love of art in high school drawing and painting classes. She went on to study art history at the University at Albany and earned an MS in the same field from Pratt Institute. Prior to joining Questroyal, Nina was a curatorial apprentice at the Vanderbilt Museum in Centerport, New York.