Joachim Ferdinand Richardt

River Baptism

Regular price £27,995.00
Unit price

Joachim Ferdinand Richardt

River Baptism

Regular price £27,995.00
Unit price
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This mid-19th-century oil painting by Danish-American artist Joachim Ferdinand Richardt (1819-1895) depicts a congregation observing a river baptism, probably in the Mississippi River.

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.

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.

Signed/dated and held within an ornate contemporary frame.

Learn more about Joachim Ferdinand Richardt in our directory. A view of Niagara was recently appraised at $100,000-$175,000 by DuMouchelles in Detroit.

Medium: Oil on canvas
Overall size: 39” x 29½” / 99cm x 75cm
Year of creation: 1868 
Provenance: Private collection, Germany.
Condition: Assessed and approved by our conservator. Cleaned. Revarnished. Canvas relined. Areas of old restoration. Later stretcher.
Artist’s auction maximum: £121,272 for ‘View of Niagara Falls (1865)’, Oil on canvas, Christie’s, Important American Paintings, Drawings And Sculpture, New York, 2007 (lot 61).
Our reference: BRV1806

Conservation & History

We care profoundly about our role as custodians and every piece in the collection has been assessed by our conservator. When required, we undertake professional restoration carefully using reversible techniques and adopt a light touch to retain the aged charm of each work. We also restore frames rather than replace them as many are original and selected by the artists themselves.

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