Frederic Arthur Bridgman

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Biography of Frederic Arthur Bridgman ( 1847-1928 )

Frederick-Arthur Bridgman was born in Alabama in 1847. He was three years old when he lost his father, an itinerant doctor from Massachusetts. His mother decided to move to Boston with her two sons and soon after they settled in New York City. There, Bridgman, already showing some artistic talents, joined the American Banknote Company as an apprentice engraver in 1864. But very soon he preferred to dedicate his time to painting and he started taking evening classes first at the Brooklyn Art Association, then at the National Academy of Design.

In 1865/1866, he exhibited his work at the Brooklyn Art Association, and, stimulated by his success, he decided to give up his work and to move to Paris under the sponsorship of some Brooklyn business men. He first went to the famous village of Pont-Aven in Brittany, where he stayed with a group of American artists, working under the charismatic leadership of Robert Wylie (1839-1877). In 1866, he went back to Paris and joined the Fine-Arts Academy in the studio of Jean-Leon Gérôme together with Harry Humphrey Moore, another future american orientalist artist. He remained there for four years, spending his summers in Pont-Aven with Wylie.

In 1870, he exhibited at the Salon des Artistes Français, « A Provincial Circus », a painting which encountered such a success that Bridgman decided to send it and exhibit it at the Brooklyn Art Association in New York. Meanwhile, he also began to sell some of his works to Goupil, the art dealer and Gérôme’s father in law. It is under Gérôme’s influence that Bridgman discovered the Oriental subject matters in art, and his style was also influenced by Gérôme in his early works like « Portrait of a kabyle woman » (1875), or « Worshippers at the Mosque » (1876). (He was eventually nicknamed « the American Gérôme »). But very soon, he finded his own path and adopted a more naturalistic aesthetic, emphasizing bright colours and a painterly brushwork.
He left Paris during the Franco-Prussian war and the 1871 Commune, went to spend another summer in Pont-Aven. In 1872, he set off for his first journey towards Spain and North Africa.
He arrived in Tangiers, renting a studio in a poor area of the town. He discovered the local night life and spent the days exploring the surrounding villages and oases on horseback, absorbing images of religious scenes, buzzling crowd in the streets and markets, belly-dancers, all the local colour which inspired him and remained the main subject of his work until his death.
He pursued his trip to Egypt, visiting the Second Cataract and Abu Simbel.

In 1874, he returned to Paris with more than 300 painted studies, oil sketches, pencil and ink drawings, as well as oriental costumes, works of art and architecture that he used in his future works. He continued painting even more exotic North African scenes in extravagant decors of oriental style which leaded the artist John Singer Sargent to say that his place was the second sight worth visiting in Paris, after the Eiffel Tower. 

In 1877 he exhibited « The Mummy’s funeral » at the Paris Salon. The picture was extremely successful and became an exhibition favorite. James Gordon Bennett, the owner of the New-York Herald purchased it a few months later. Following his success, Bridgman decided to organize a personal exhibition at The American Art Gallery in New-York where he showed more than three hundred works. Once again, the public was very enthusiastic and prayed the great variety of subjects matters, the high quality, the beauty and the freshness of the treatment. Soon after he was elected a member at the National Academy of Design.

In 1885 he went back to Algeria with his wife. They settled in Biskra and Bridgman was delighted to find himself immerged within the familiar environment which had become his favourite theme of inspiration : the outdoor and indoor daily life in an Algerian village. In 1881, he published « Winters in Algiers », a diary of his journeys and life overthere, richly illustrated with woodblock prints of his drawings and paintings.

In 1889, he presented five paintings at the Universal Exhibition in Paris. His success kept growing ; the following year, he exhibited more than 400 paintings at the Fifth Avenue Galleries in New York. In 1907, he received the Legion of honor. Today he is still considered as one of the greatest American Orientalist artist.

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