Thomas Addison Richards was an artist of multiple talents and interests whose strong entrepreneurial instincts stood him in good stead throughout his career. Born in England to a Baptist minister, Richards accompanied his family on a series of successive moves in America, beginning in 1831. In 1838, working first from Augusta, Georgia and then Charleston, South Carolina, Richards offered drawing lessons and began to write a series of illustrated travel accounts for which he would eventually earn national fame. His pioneering regard for the splendors of the Southern landscape, as evidenced in both word and paint, was first recognized in an 1843 publication, which noted that his “drawings of the beautiful scenery of the Southern States are almost the first pictures which have been made from this rich store-house of nature.”
In 1844, Richards moved to New York where he entered the National Academy of Design and began to exhibit with the American Art-Union. At this point in his career, he was best known for his romantic paintings of the Southern landscape, works which were clearly influenced by his Hudson River School contemporaries. From his base in New York, he continued to travel in the South, seeking out both views for his brush and picaresque episodes for his pen. His writings were a regular feature in such publications as Harper’s, Graham’s Magazine, the Knickerbocker and the Southern Literary Gazette, a periodical published by his brother and distributed from Athens, Georgia. A collection of his anecdotal adventures in the South was released as Tallulah and Jocassee in 1852, followed by The Romance of American Landscape in 1854. He is credited with creating an American tradition in travel guides by editing the first in a series of Appleton’s Illustrated Handbook of American Travel in 1857.
With the coming of the Civil War, the taste for paintings of the scenic South declined. Accordingly, Richards increased his teaching activity and expanded his artistic range by painting still life art. After serving as the first director of the Cooper Union School of Design for Women from 1859 to 1861, he taught at New York University for twenty years, retiring in 1887. Always popular with his colleagues, he served as corresponding secretary of the National Academy from 1852 to 1892, a tenure unsurpassed to this day. Richards’ works can be found in the collections of the National Academy of Design, Brooklyn Museum, Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Morris Museum of Art, Gibbes Museum of Art and Ogden Museum of Southern Art.