A specialist in marine and coastal paintings, Alfred Bricher was celebrated for his precise depictions of waves breaking at the shoreline. Bricher grew up in Newburyport, on the Massachusetts coast, and moved to Boston after he finished his general education. There he worked as a clerk in a dry-goods store while painting in his spare time. Bricher may have studied art at Boston’s Lowell Institute but was largely self-taught. Bricher’s early paintings were panoramic views of the New England, painted with the celebratory spirit and exacting detail that characterize the Hudson River School, America’s first native landscape painting tradition. With growing success as a landscape painter, Bricher moved to New York City around 1868. Later that year he exhibited at the National Academy of Design, participating annually afterward. He may also have taken classes at the Art Students League during this period. During the 1870s, he traveled widely in search of subjects, journeying throughout New England and as far as Grand Manan Island and New Brunswick, in Canada. His painting of Niagara Falls (Mattatuck Collection 2019.14) was produced during this period. Like other of his marine paintings, it is characterized by the same precise, realistic detail as his earlier depictions now applied to a masterful rendering of the flowing and sunlit water.
In the late 1870s, Bricher also turned to figural works, portraying genteel ladies, including his second wife, in idyllic landscapes and at the beach. While never abandoning his commitment to a detailed realism, Bricher was influenced later in his career by the contemporary tendency toward looser, more active brushwork. As described by an art critic writing for The Art Journal in 1880, Bricher’s versatility and industry were suggested by his sketches done en plein air of blossoming trees “seem to give one the fragrance and soft airs of May.” That vision is captured beautifully in Young Lady in the Orchard (1879).
A lushly painted watercolor, highlighted with the use of china white gouache, demonstrates Bricher’s explorations in the new style, impressionism, just becoming known to American artists through conduits including William Merritt Chase and J. Alden Weir. A stylishly dressed young woman, though to be Bricher’s wife, stands in front of a flowering fruit tree. She raises her arms to the luxuriant foliage as if to bring the scented blooms closer. Tall grasses and wild flowers fill the foreground; the only visual escape is at upper left where a small, long view over a stone wall leads the eye to an undetermined space, perhaps a field, perhaps a small body of water. A member of the New York Watercolor Society, Bricher was equally skilled at oil and watercolor. Young Lady in the Orchard is a finished painting, not a sketch for an oil. Scenes of women in nature make up a small part of Bricher’s oeuvre; they seemingly focus on his wife, then his wife and two daughters, as in Boating in the Afternoon (1886), a scene in Southampton. Bricher’s popular and financial success enabled him to purchase homes in New York’s Staten Island and Southampton on Long Island, which furnished such subjects for his paintings
While never abandoning his commitment to a detailed realism, Bricher’s latter works offer an emotional depth and evoking romantic themes as well as the power of nature. He died in his Staten Island home in 1908, survived by his wife and daughters.