Faces ravaged by time and labor abound in the students’ sketchbooks at the Munich Academy. However, this figure study depicts a young girl, long-identified as the artist’s daughter Gretchen. Tailoring his style to the youthful sitter, Richards softened his dark palette with the addition of a pink scarf to her costume.
The girl’s rigid, formal pose and carefully recorded features attest to the influence of local artist Wilhelm Leibl, who was active in Munich and the recognized leader in German realism.
Richards’s preference for figure painting, as well as his refusal to reestablish residency in Indiana, set him apart from his Hoosier colleagues. He died of tuberculosis at the age of 40 in Denver.
Samuel Richards was born in Owen County, Indiana and received his rudimentary art education and early employment in the Indianapolis photography studio of Theobald Leitz. While there he produced portraits that combined photography, drawing and painting. Such works satisfied the local patrons and were popular at that time. Richards, however, found the work distasteful and left to open his own portrait painting studio in Franklin, Indiana. He married and moved to Anderson, Indiana where he found employment as a newspaper illustrator. To enable him to travel abroad to pursue an academic art education, Richards raised money among his patrons in Anderson on the promise of repayment in pictures. Richards traveled to Munich, Germany to attend the Royal Academy where he would learn to draw and paint portraits and figure studies using local models. Richards copied Old Master Paintings in Munich’s Alte Pinakothek to send back to his Indiana patrons. While in Europe Richards contracted tuberculosis and was forced to return to the United States, where he took up residence in Colorado. His career was cut short when he died of his illness at the age of forty-three.
Richards completed his training at the Royal Academy in 1887, but unlike the other Hoosier artists, he showed no interest in landscape painting or any inclination to return to Indiana in the near future. Instead, he entered the mainstream of professional figure painting in Munich. This portrait, presumed to be the artist’s Munich-born daughter Gretchen, epitomizes all the richness of detail and formality associated with Munich realism. Gretchen is posed in profile against an unadorned background. Her hair and facial features are executed with exquisite detail. Richards’ use of dark tonalities is in keeping with his Munich training, but the delicate pink scarf relieves the starkness of the composition.
Martin Krause. The Passage: Return of Indiana Painters from Germany, 1880-1905, Indiana: Indianapolis Museum of Art in cooperation with Indiana University Press, 1991. ISBN: 0-036260-52