As an artist William Trost Richards traveled extensively up and down the eastern coast of the United States. Rejecting the overly romantic and stylized approach of such other Hudson River painters as Jasper Cropsey or Worthington Whittredge, Richards instead preferred to capture his seascapes with an extraordinary realism. Such exquisite Luminist renderings and atmospheric qualities are present in his works that they are reminiscent in refinement and subject to the works of such American greats as Francis A. Silva and Alfred Thompson Bricher.
From 1856 until 1867 William Trost Richards was best known for his still life and landscape paintings which were executed near his home in Germantown, Pennsylvania. Trained in metalwork and then as an illustrator his pictures were flawless and almost slavish photographic renditions of his subjects. It was in 1866 while studying abroad in England that Richards became fascinated with a storm at sea and began to study the structure of waves - their rise and fall - as well as how such a storm affected the water and the shoreline In the early 1870's, William Trost Richards returned from his studies abroad and purchased a summer home on Conanicut Island, just off the coast of Newport, Rhode Island. Here he began to turn his attention solely to maritime subjects and as a result he began to develop his true appreciation for the ocean. Living in almost complete isolation with continuous access to the sea, Richards completed numerous paintings. It is these marine seascapes for which Richards is best remembered today and which make him one of America's truly great artists.
Twin Lights, Thacher Island is a superlative early Luminist rendering of Thacher Island off the coast of Rockport, Massachusetts executed in 1873 at an important early point in the artistic career of William Trost Richards when he had abandoned his Pre-Raphaelite style of painting. The island was named for Anthony Thacher who along with his wife Elizabeth were the only survivors from the sailing vessel Watch and Wait which was wrecked in a ferocious storm near the island in 1635, as it attempted to travel to Marblehead from Ipswich, Massachusetts. Today the twin light houses on the island provide a safe beacon for all ships navigating the fog that frequently envelops the sea and land around the spit of coast that juts into the Atlantic Ocean northeast of Boston.
Richards paints the calm reflective waters off Rockport, Massachusetts that are "a window on the soul" portrayed in hushed tones that seem to glow or radiate from within. It was Richards' mentor and colleague Frederick Church's own dramatic application of light on his subjects and his unique atmospheric effects that the younger artist strived to emulate and that can so visibly be seen and enjoyed in this work with its emphasis on tranquility and calm. The low horizon line and attendant large proportion of the canvas devoted to the treatment of the sky creates a sense of distance which approaches a feeling of infinite space, a lasting vestige of transcendentalism.
Private Collection, Cape Cod, MA