Fidelia Bridges

(1834-1923)

Fidelia Bridges was born in Salem, Massachusetts. At the age of 20 she accepted a position as governess and moved to Brooklyn, New York. There she became friends with the sculptor Anne Whitney, who encouraged her to study painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia. During her stay in that city from 1860 to 1863, she associated with the American Pre-Raphaelite landscape painter William Trost Richards, who became her lifelong friend and artistic mentor.

Beginning in the early 1860s, Bridges exhibited her work at the annual showings of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Brooklyn Art Association, and the National Academy of Design to which she was elected an Associate in 1873. Bridges became a member of the American Society of Painters in Water Colors in 1875, and the same year sold a series of paintings representing the months of the year to Louis Prang, the well-known publisher of cards, calendars and gift books. Six years later Prang hired her as one of his permanent designers, and she remained with the company until 1899. During the 1880s she became best known as a painter of birds, and also illustrated a number of books with bird themes. In 1890, Bridges moved to Canaan, Connecticut, where she died in 1923.

Fidelia Bridges' paintings occupy a special place in 19th century American art. Small in scale, predominantly watercolor, they convey a fresh and luminous vision of the natural world. William Trost Richards instilled in Bridges an appreciation for Ruskinian attention to detail and close focus on subjects from nature. Under his influence she began to picture the type of composition advocated by "The New Path", the American Pre-Raphaelite publication; not still-life but "a free, wild vigorous plant as it grows." Her informal studies convey the actual presence of growing things in the open air, suffused with sunlight. They are not so much nature drawings as microcosms of Nature, embodying the Transcendental idea that divinity is manifest in the smallest part of the created world.