WILLIAM BRADFORD (1823–1892)
View of Otter Cliffs, Mount Desert, Maine, about 1855-62
Oil on paper mounted on board, 17 x 26 in.
Signed (at lower right): W. Bradf[cut off]
EX COLL.: sale, Sotheby’s, New York, March 15, 1995, no. 41 illus. in color; to [Godel & Co., New York, until 2008]
Based on the pale, luminous light that suffuses the entirety of View of Otter Cliffs, Mount Desert, Maine, it is likely that Bradford painted it in the late 1850s or early 1860s on one of his cruises up the New England coast. The painting's intense minimalism suggests that Bradford painted it toward the latter end of this period, when he began to pare his paintings of what he deemed inessential topographical details of background scenery, thus creating more spare and open compositions. Bradford is known to have taken a summer cruise to the coast of Maine in 1862, lending credence to this hypothesis. (A highly useful chronology of events in Bradford’s life is given in Richard C. Kugler, William Bradford: Sailing Ships & Arctic Seas, exhib. cat. [New Bedford, Massachusetts: New Bedford Whaling Museum, 2003], pp. 167–69.) Mount Desert began to attract the attention of artists in the 1840s and 1850s, when such leading figures as Thomas Cole and Frederic Church visited the island. The Otter Cliffs, with their spare and rugged appearance, was of particular interest. Furthermore, the subject of rock studies allies Bradford with William Stanley Haseltine (1835–1900), the American landscape painter who made studies of the rocky coasts of Nahant and Narragansett, Rhode Island, a specialty of his in the early 1860s. Artists like Bradford and Haseltine, under the influence of the English critic and historian, John Ruskin, looked to “nature’s school” for inspiration. The carefully observed details of both the surface texture and color of the rocks in the present painting, as well as of the ocean and the bank of clouds, demonstrate a particular fidelity to nature’s details.