by Armand Cabrera
Thomas Worthington Whittredge was born in 1820 on his family’s farm near Springfield, Ohio. His father was a retired sea captain. The family had moved from Massachusetts in 1817 and settled on the little Miami River. Whittredge’s education was extremely limited; most of his time was spent working the farm as a child and trapping animals for their pelts. Whittredge asked his father to leave home at 17 and with his father’s blessing he moved to Cincinnati, Ohio to serve as an apprentice house and sign painter to his sister’s husband.
As a sign painter he learned to draw and letter and was soon creating pictures for all types of signs and banners. He later tried his hand running a daguerreotype studio in Indianapolis, Indiana, to disastrous results that left him broke and sick and was taken in by Henry Ward Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe who wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin. For helping him recover, Whittredge painted portraits of the Beecher family members.
In 1843 Whittredge decided to pursue landscape painting, and secured lines of credit against the paintings he would make abroad. In 1849 he traveled to Düsseldorf, Germany, to further his training at the Düsseldorf Academy. He received informal training from landscape painter Andreas Achenbach and became friends with Carl Friedrich Lessing. Whittredge travelled through Europe and sketched with Albert Bierstadt staying for 4 years in Rome where they were joined by Sanford Robinson Gifford and William Stanley Haseltine.
In 1859 Whittredge returned to America to live in New York City. He rented a space in the now famous Tenth Street Studio Building. Whittredge sought a unique approach for his American landscapes. He turned to nature and he began painting the Catskills and along the Hudson River with his friends Sanford Gifford and Gervis McEntee. Other painters were also pursuing an American aesthetic they were John Frederick Kensett, Richard Hubbard, George Inness, Alexander Wyant John Casilear, James Hart, William Hart and of course Frederick Church Asher Durand and Albert Bierstadt. These artists came to be known as the Hudson River School.
Just before the outbreak of the Civil War in 1860 Whittredge was elected to the National Academy of Design and becoming a full member in 1862. Whittredge tried to inlist in the war but was turned away. During the war he worked to help raise money and make clothes for the troops. He became President of the National Academy of Design from 1874 to 1877.
In 1865 Whittredge accompanied General Pope on a tour of the Missouri Territory, the Eastern Rockies and New Mexico. Worthington married in 1868. In 1880 bought some land and built a house for his family in Summit, New Jersey. In the 1890’s Whittredge began writing his autobiography which he completed in 1905. Thomas Worthington Whittredge died three months before his ninetieth birthday in 1910.
The Autobiography of Worthington Whittredge 1820-1910
Edited by John I. H. Baur
1969 Arno Press
Techniques of the Artists of the American West
1990 Wellfleet Press
A landscape painter is only at home when he is out of doors. It matters not whether he is an Impressionist or one of the older schools who dwelt with more rigors on form and outline.~ Thomas Worthington Whittredge
6 thoughts on “Thomas Worthington Whittredge”
One of my favorite HRS painters (along with Gifford and Kensett). Thanks for sharing these images!
Amazing to see that some investors actually would extend lines of credit to help an artist pursue his/her goal in those times. Does this even happen anymore?
Actually it does, although its not as common as the 1800's. I have had such a thing and know a few artists that have had their trips paid to paint in a chosen location or overseas and in return gave the client first pick of the paintings created there. Its a tricky proposition though and the artist and client have to be careful to make sure there is a clear understanding of what will transpire.
Armand, you bring interesting info to the table.
I had no idea Worthington was a farm boy, a sign painter and did portraits.
He truely had a love to paint.
Don't forget fur trapper too. He made four hundred dollars as a young boy trapping furs. It was supposed to be given back to him when he left home but his father who held the money for him reneged and spent it. I highly recommend his autobiography, America was still very much a frontier when he was growing up. Not much on art but a great quick read.
I love his work. Thanks for providing information on Whittredge. I may look for his paintings when I make my rounds at the museums in my area. I love the Hudson River Painters and appreciate the statement that a landscape painter is only at home when he is outdoors. I think that painting outdoors is where I most want to be too.