William Bradford, a 19th-century American marine painter, was born on April 30, 1823 in Fairhaven, Massachusetts. He was born to Quaker parents who disapproved of his desire for a painting career. He worked as a clerk in his father’s dry goods shop in New Bedford, devoting his spare time to sketching.
In the early 1850s, he launched his career by selling portraits of ships for twenty-five dollars a piece. Bradford was entirely self taught, and set up a studio overlooking the harbor in 1954. During this time he attracted the interest of Albert Van Beest, a Dutch painter. He became William Bradford’s teacher and collaborator until his death in 1860.
In 1861, William Bradford set of on a series of trips to Nova Scotia, Labrador and Greenland with Dr. Isaac Israel Hayes. He painted and photographed the Arctic region, and was the first American painter to portray the frozen regions of the North. Bradford published a book in London titled The Arctic Region. The book was illustrated with his photographs accompanied by lantern slides of his paintings.
In the 1870s, Bradford established a studio in San Francisco. During this time he traveled extensively in the western United States, painting Yosemite, Mariposa Valley, and the mountains of the Sierra Nevada, often with painter Albert Bierstadt.
In the 1880s William Bradford, as well as other artists of his generation, suffered from a shift in taste, away from realistic depiction of nature to more recent innovations in technique and subject matter by painters who studied or observed the art scene in Europe.
William Bradford was a member of the Hudson River School, adopting their techniques. He was especially interested in light’s effect on the appearance of water surfaces. He developed a technique, painting from his photographs. He used them only as tools and not something to copy, feeling strongly that an artist should never copy nature exactly but should rework the subject matter throughout one’s mind and creative hand.
William Bradford died on April 25, 1892.