William Bradford Painted The Wild North

William Bradford began as a proprietor of a clothing store, and in 1852 he started to paint professionally. “I spent too much time painting to succeed,” proclaimed Bradford. His father had not been supportive of art as a full time career. At the time Bradford invested in painting on a full time basis, he resided in New Bedford, Massachusetts and chose a studio overlooking the harbor.

Bradford - Panther Among Icebergs in Melville Bay, 1874

Bradford – Panther Among Icebergs in Melville Bay, 1874

When Bradford peered out into the water, his subject matter claimed him—whaleships. Whether ported, at land, or adrift at sea, the artist captured his subject matter in the influence of the Romantic era, resonating with Hudson Valley River School techniques. By 1855, the artist was procuring commissions of portraits of merchants and whaleships.

The Romantic period of fine art was nearing its end in 1860. Much of the art of the time echoed philosophic ideals that rallied against the Enlightenment movement. Bradford wasn’t solely a painter; he was also a photographer, researcher and explorer.  Raised in a Quaker family, his self-control and calmness was remarked as a part of his background and a valuable attribute when applied to research and painting. Bradford was fascinated by the more treacherous northern Frigid Zone, where expeditions had a large degree of risk and challenge. From 1861-1867 Bradford organized voyages to Nova Scotia and Labrador to render the northern scenery and the icebergs of the Frigid Zone. In 1869 he booked his most challenging expedition with a crew of 40 other men, including fellow researchers and photographers, traveling as far as Greenland and returning with a series of photographs and sketches. His depiction of the Frigid Zone garnered much interest.

Born in 1823 in Fairhaven, Massachusetts, William Bradford passed in 1892. Bradford spent the 1870s and beyond in New York, painting from many of the sketches and photographs he had taken on his voyages. The depictions of the Artic embody the pursuit of the ages, the clash of the Romantic and Enlightenment movements and the marriage of photography to fine art.

About the Author

Tiffany Chaney is a freelance writer, artist and graphic designer residing in North Carolina. In 2012, her first poetry collection Between Blue and Grey was released. Find out more about her at