Bridges, Fidelia (1834–1923)

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Bridges, Fidelia (1834–1923)

American artist. Born in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1834; died in Canaan, Connecticut, in 1923; daughter of a shipmaster in the China trade; studied painting with William Trost Richards.

Selected paintings:

Milkweeds (1861); Daisies and Clover (1871); Thrush in Wild Flowers (1974).

Orphaned as a teenager, nature artist Fidelia Bridges attracted a number of close relationships throughout her life that nurtured her personal and artistic development. One early attachment was with her teacher William Trost Richards, who became her friend and mentor when she set up her own studio in downtown Philadelphia in 1862. He introduced her to his wealthy patrons and welcomed her into his family circle. Richards, a follower of the English Pre-Raphaelite school, strongly influenced Bridges' early artistic style, which utilized small-scale, intimate details to record fragments of nature with botanical accuracy. Many of her early works were exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy.

Another important early influence was sculptor Anne Whitney , with whom Bridges shared living quarters during a year of study in Rome in 1867. Whitney was a strong role model, urging Bridges to find her own personal style. After her return to the United States, Bridges began to gain recognition for her close-up, fragmented studies of grasses, birds, and flowers, rendered in delicate yet vibrant watercolors. She was elected an associate of the National Academy of Design in 1874 and a member of the Water Color Society in 1875. Her exhibit at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition brought a number of commissions for chromolithographic prints from Louis Prang and Company. At this time, Bridges became close to the family of artist Oliver I. Lay, spending summers near their home in Stratford, Connecticut. The birds and wildflowers of the region became some of her favorite subjects and inspired such works as Daisies and Clover (1871) and Thrush in Wild Flowers (1874).

In time, Bridges' work moved away from her all-over detail to a more simplified background, which left orchestrated white space. Her compositions took on an Asian quality and prompted landscape painter John Frederick Kensett to write in Art Journal: "Her works are like little lyric poems, and she dwells with loving touches on each of her birds 'like blossoms atilt' among the leaves." A watercolor of this period, Untitled (1876), was praised for the shimmering summer air that was said to radiate from the spaces between the flowers.

In 1892, Bridges finally found a home of her own, on a hill in the village of Canaan, Connecticut, and endeared herself to the townspeople. Her later years were spent among the literary and artistic women of the community, and she was often seen riding her bicycle through town as she headed off for a sketching excursion. After her death in 1923, the citizens of Canaan erected a bird sanctuary in her memory.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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Bridges, Fidelia (1834–1923)

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