A Mine of Beauty, Landscapes by William Trost Richards

Last week I mentioned that I’d received two new books on my doorstep. This post is a review of the second book.

Thanks to James Gurney, my library has a new addition: a delightful book of watercolor miniatures by Nineteenth Century American painter William Trost Richards called A Mine of Beauty. Published by the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art for an exhibition of the paintings, this little book is itself a mine of beauty. Or, as my friend Steven put it, “Holy cow!”

An Essay at Twilight by William Trost Richards at PAFA
An Essay at Twilight, watercolor on paper, 3 5/16 x 5 inches. Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Promist Gift of Dorrance H. Hamilton in memory of Samual M. V. Hamilton

Richards (1833–1905) was a Philadelphia painter who painted both in oil and watercolor. The approximately 100 paintings in A Mine of Beauty are printed full sized, from about 2 ½ inches by 3 ½ inches to 3 by 6. Richards painted them for his patron, industrialist George Whitney. Remarkably, the collection remained intact and now belongs to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

The paintings in A Mine of Beauty are remarkable: beautifully rendered landscapes and seascapes from southern New England, mostly around Newport and Conanicut Island in Rhode Island, and from Britain. They are exquisitely detailed little things, images of shorelines, boats, villages, sheep grazing in fields, river scenes. The man must have had a size 000 brush and a magnifying glass to make some of these tiny people and animals and castles. I recently had a brief discussion with another blogger about size. Well, these miniature watercolors show just how big a world a tiny canvas can convey. And they’re watercolors!

If you believe, as I do, that a painter should study the masters to improve her own work, then, as much as Sorolla or Sargent, this is a must see for landscape painters.

The book is fabulous. The exhibition runs from September 29 to December 30, 2012. I wish I were going to Philadelphia this fall so I could see it!

Postscript: To be fair, there’s another new book on Richards, called William Trost Richards True to Nature: Drawings, Watercolors and Oil Sketches by Carol M. Osborne. As the title indicates, this larger book showcases Richards’ oils and drawings. I recommend them both to anyone interested in Richards’ work.

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