Richardt, Ferdinand (1819-1895)

Richardt, Ferdinand (1819-1895)
Richardt, Ferdinand (1819-1895)

Hailing from Brede in Denmark, Joachim Ferdinand Richardt was an academy-trained painter of landscapes, still lifes and architecture.

In 2009, at President Obama’s Inauguration luncheon, a panoramic view of Niagara was selected as the backdrop to his speech. It’s a breathtaking image, capturing the sublimity of the American Falls and the Horseshoe Falls in all their iconic majesty. The ‘Maid-of-the-Mist’, negotiates the rapids, a mere speck within a broad expanse of water. While beyond, a colossal sheet of spray is sharply illuminated through passing clouds.

It was painted by the son of a bookbinder, a humble Danish artist who travelled extensively across the United States to document its nature, buildings and civilization. Admired in his own lifetime, this unassuming adventurer produced scores of resplendent vistas but also numerous vignettes documenting everyday activities.

Joachim Ferdinand Richardt was initially destined to become a carpenter but, thankfully, enrolled at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts where he studied under three distinguished masters. Blessed with a skill for drawing, he was awarded medals and in 1839 began exhibiting at the prestigious Charlottenborg Spring Exhibition. In 1841, the Danish Royal Family acquired one of his works and six years later granted him a five-year stipend.

Richardt trained at a time of exceptional creative output whereby Denmark was developing a clearer identity. Dubbed ‘National Romanticism’, artists were extolling their country’s natural beauty, while also celebrating humble folk life within rural environs. Stylistically, their work is somewhat comparable with German Romanticism and often featured strong, saturated colours, exacting details and a grand sense of the Divine.

He first travelled to America in 1855 following an invitation from Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877), a wealthy business magnate who’d made a fortune in railroads and logistics. It’s unclear how the pair met but Vanderbilt was a worthy patron. With the Commodore’s encouragement, he established a base in New York and, during the summers, undertook various adventures. His output was astonishing, visiting scores of locations, including Niagara and numerous sights east of the Mississippi River. One can imagine his perpetual excitement - eager to undertake his next trip, clutching his sketchbook in hand.

In 1859, before returning to Europe, he published a series of engravings titled ‘A Collection of Paintings of American Scenery’. A reviewer referred to them “as the result of a very long and fatiguing journey through America” and that “if the visitor, who recognizes this or that view, bears witness that he has succeeded, then he will feel that his labour has not been in vain.”

He produced hundreds of detailed sketches during his first sojourn, many of which were used as the basis of his later oil paintings. Here, in this work from 1868, a community has congregated to view a river baptism. A priest stands waist-deep in water while holding the bible aloft. On his left, a young man in robes waits to be immersed and absolved of his sins. Above, the clouds are parting to reveal a bright symbolic glow. It’s a fascinating piece, capturing a rarely-painted event.

Ferdinand Richardt

It’s likely that Richardt sketched the scene during his earlier travels around the Mississippi River. Baptisms often drew substantial crowds and he’s taken great care to paint each figure. Many are dressed to the nines, with the women wearing their finest bell-shaped dresses, bonnets and shawls. The gentlemen sport a variety of hats, with the children also well-attired. Many other works by Richardt of this calibre currently hang in museums and, as such, it’s a rare discovery.

In 1873, following a period in Denmark and England (where he was asked by Queen Victoria to exhibit at Windsor), he moved back to the US and settled in San Francisco. He spent his final years in Oakland, California, where he worked as a drawing teacher.

Today, Richardt’s works are held in various public collections including at The Met, The White House, Denmark's Nationalmuseet, the Danish Royal Collection, and the U.S. Department of State. In 2003, over a hundred of his drawings were published in the book Danske Herregårde og Amerika. A copy of which was gifted to the First Lady, Laura Bush, during her visit to Copenhagen.


Charlottenborg Spring Exhibition, San Francisco Art Association, National Academy of Design in New York.

Public Collections

The White House, The Met, Denmark's Nationalmuseet, Danish Royal Collection, Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, Oakland Museum of California, U.S. Department of State, Thorvaldsen's Museum, Burchfield Penney Art Center, Castellani Art Museum of Niagara University, August Heckscher Collection, Canton Museum of Art, Yale University Art Gallery, Society of California Pioneers, Frederiksborg Castle, Hillerød Town Hall, Crocker Art Museum, Helsingør Municipality Museums.



Born in Brede, Denmark to Johan Joachim Richardt, a lessee of the Copper Works' Inn and later a bookbinder, and Johanne Frederikke Richardt (nee Bohse).


Undertook a carpentry apprenticeship in Copenhagen.
Enrolled at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts where he studied under Gustav Hetsch (1788-1864), J. L. Lund (1777-1867) and Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770-1844).


Awarded a medal by the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts.
Debuted at the Charlottenborg Spring Exhibition where he exhibited until 1871, missing only a handful of years.


Awarded a medal by the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts.


Work acquired by the Royal Collection.


Received guidance from Danish sculptor, Bertel Thorvaldsen (1797-1838).


Awarded a five-year stipend from the Danish crown. It stipulated that he should produce one architectural and one landscape painting each year for the royal collection.

C. 1850

Lived at Frederiksborg Castle for around two years.


Travelled to North America.


Worked from a studio in New York.


Works shown at the Picture Hall of the Stuyvesant Institute, Broadway as referred to in the press.

“The Niagara Gallery. This exhibition consists of a series of paintings, representing Niagara Falls and its environs, together with a large collection of Views in Sweden and Denmark, painted by Mr. Ferdinand Richardt. The Niagara portion of the collection is one of special interest owing to the number of views of which it is composed. The artist has availed himself of every point of interest, far and near, about the Fall, from which a view of it could be obtained, including separate studies of its peculiar features, like the rapids, the islands, various sections of the river, and buildings on its banks.

The paintings are made with reference to being engraved and published in Europe, and they are remarkably adapted to this purpose. We would instance the various passages of the Rapids, the tumbling, foaming water of which is admirably delineated, also the various structures in the vicinity of the banks of the river, including that fine work, the Suspension Bridge.

To one who has never visited Niagara, this series commends itself. The remaining portion of the exhibition is made up of sundry views in Sweden and Denmark, and the duchies of Schleswig-Holstein. The latter provinces having at one time been of great political interest to our community, an opportunity is now afforded for contemplating their castles and churches on canvas, to us more interesting than reading accounts of sieges and war, and destruction of architecture, in the columns of newspapers. The Niagara Exhibition is in the Stuyvesant Institute.”


Visited Kentucky and produced a work titled ‘Echo River in the Mammoth Cave’.
Painted views in the Mississippi Valley.


Painted Grace Church, New York and Trenton Falls, New York State.


Published a ‘Collection of Paintings of American Scenery’. As reported by the press.

“Mr Ferdinand Richardt, in submitting this Collection of Paintings of American Scenery to the public as the result of a very long and fatiguing journey through America, begs leave to say, that in every sketch he has taken, he has been deeply impressed with a sense of the importance of bringing before the eye of the beholder, as nearly as possible, a faithful copy of nature. This has been his principal aim; and if the visitor, who recognizes this or that view, bears witness that he has succeeded, then he will feel that his labour has not been in vain.

Mr. Richardt has for many years cherished the idea of publishing an Illustrated Work on America and he is now on the point of seeing this idea carried into effect, 8 Engravings of the Falls of Niagara and environs being already finished and ready for examination at the Gallery. It is the intention of Mr. Richardt to publish his work in monthly parts, each containing 3 Engravings with an ably written description and to deliver them to Subscribers for 75 cents each. Considering the superior manner in which these Engravings are executed and the truthfulness of the scenes represented, it will be generally conceded that the price is moderate.”


Mentioned in The Albion regarding an exhibition at the National Academy of Design, New York.

“It is not stern winter everywhere. The city promenader may turn aside from the ice and snow of Broadway-possibly converted into slush and mud, ere these words be read and forget them for a while, at the rooms of the National Academy of Design. For there he will suddenly find himself in the presence of scenes and subjects, habitually associated with a milder season. In plain terms, Mr. Ferdinand Richardt, a Danish artist, is exhibiting there a collection of views on this Continent, painted by himself from Nature.

Some of these are large; some small, designed for engravers' purposes and intended as material for a new illustrated hand-book. It is an agreeable contrast, this, we say, between the teeming life of our principal thoroughfare, and the quiet of the Kentucky Mammoth Cave, the summit of Mount Washington, the Chaudiére Fall, or the Winnipiseogee Lake. For Mr. Richardt's range has been an extensive one, and he has aimed at transcribing faithfully what he has selected with good judgement.

If not to be extravagantly lauded as works of ‘high art,’ these results of his labours and foretastes of his aim are very agreeable, as souvenirs or as stimulants to curiosity, especially as regards those unhacknied localities, the Upper Mississippi and the Mammoth Cave. Nor are there wanting here and there ‘bits’ of excellence, which may easily be singled out. Among them we cannot abstain from noting some of the foliage in no. 29, the Natural Bridge of Virginia-a spirited and well-handled, though somewhat sketchy picture of Bathers at Cape May, no. 2-the Falls of St. Anthony, no. 9-and several of the Danish sketches in water-colour, oil, and pencil, scattered at intervals through the rooms. As a practical lesson in geography, we look upon such a collection as valuable, and commend it accordingly to the young folk.”


Married Arndine Hedvig Sophie Steenstrup Linnemann in Rugstedgård, Denmark.


Travelled to Italy.


Travelled to London.
Around 800 paintings and sketches were submitted to Queen Victoria.


Queen Victoria invited Richardt to display his works to the court at Windsor Castle.


Works shown at Berners Street, London.


Moved to the USA.


Lived in San Francisco.


Settled in Oakland, California.
A collection of around 400 paintings auctioned via Easton & Eldridge, San Francisco.

Worked as a drawing teacher.


Died in Oakland.


A fire at his daughter’s home destroyed over 250 works.

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