William Langson Lathrop–“The Pennsylvania Impressionist”

Father of New Hope, Pennsylvania Art Colony

William Langson LathropMy sixth maternal cousin (2x removed), The Pennsylvania Impressionist”  William Langson Lathrop (1859–1938) was born in Warren, Illinois, and raised at his family’s farm in Painesville, Ohio, by his parents Byron P. Lathrop, a physician, and Isabella A. Langson Lathrop, who was of Irish descent and a lover of the arts.  He became known as one of America’s premier landscape painters of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Considered the founder of the New Hope Colony of Pennsylvania Impressionists, William primarily painted rustic landscapes of oil and watercolor.

1876 (Age 17) – 1871 (Age 22)

William or “Willie,” as he was called as a child according to Census records, graduated high school and traveled to New York to first study art at Cooper Union’s Free Night School of Art.

William returned to Painesville in 1877, and in 1880 started sending his illustrations to New York-based magazines. He landed a job at Harper’s magazine, where soon after, Charles Parsons, his editor, told him his real talents appeared to be in the fine arts not illustrations and he urged William to put brush to canvas instead.

“Cows Watering at Twilight” by: William Langson Lathrop

At age 22, Lathrop sold his first painting (of his neighbor’s cows) and then went back to New York to work at a photoengraving company on Park Place.  While in New York, he met artist Henry B. Snell, who would later join William’s “New Hope Pennsylvania Art Colony”. He next sold his first etchings to New York engravings and etchings publisher Christian Klackner, but earned little money doing so.

1887 (Age 28) – 1891 (Age 32)

William Merritt ChaseIn 1887 Lathrop went on to study with American impressionism teacher William Merritt Chase at New York’s Arts Student League.  The next year he visited England, France, and Holland. In November 1888, he met and married Annie Sarah Burt of England’s Oxford District.

In France, he visited the Louvre, and then in Barbizon, just south of Paris, France, he painted at The Barbizon School among other landscape artists.  (Barbizon School artists are often considered to have sown the seeds of Modernism with their individualism, and were the forerunners of the Impressionists, who took a similar philosophical approach to their art.)

Colleagues and Affiliations:

J Alden Weir

Julian Alden Weir (1852-1919) American Impressionist

For a few months upon their return to the states, Lathrop and his wife Annie stayed at Julian Alden Weir’s (a fellow impressionist painter and member of the Cos Cob Art Colony near Greenwich, CT), Georgetown, Connecticut farm. The etchings market struggled in 1891 and the Lathrop’s were forced to return to farming back in Painesville.

Henry and Florence Snell were close friends with William and his wife Annie. They would have Sunday dinners together at Phillips Mill.

An Evening Walk 1886

An Evening Walk 1886

It was in 1896 when Henry Snell (left in the photo of two men below) entered six of William’s (right in the photo of two men below) watercolors in the Annual New York Watercolor Club Show and one of them won “The William T. Evans Prize”  in the prestigious New York show and his works received a glowing review in The New York Times–this event and its publicity launched William’s career as an American impressionist painter.

Much to my dismay I could not find an online copy of Lathrop’s “Twilight in Connecticut.”  However, below is a copy of the New York Times Article dated 15 February 1896 where the writer reviewed Lathrop’s artistry:

New York Times 15 Feb 1896

Snell and Lathrop

In 1899 Lathrop and his family moved to New Hope, PA on the Delaware River. Other artists began to settle in the area, some of them drawn by Lathrop’s recommendations. The Lathrop home soon served as the social focus of the growing art colony and he began teaching art classes in his home studio. Lathrop Home Studio                                           His wife, Annie entertained artists with Sunday afternoon teas which became a popular forum for exchanging ideas about art.  Lathrop was also a friend of physicist Albert Einstein of nearby Princeton, New Jersey. They shared the love of music and of sailing. Lathrop even built his own violin. He was also friends with fellow artists, John Folinsbee and Harry Leith-Ross.

Phillips Mill

In 1903, Dr. George Marshall of Philadelphia, owner of the early 18th Century Phillip’s Mill, sold the house and a four acre portion of the property to his boyhood friend, William Lathrop. The Mill became the playhouse for the Marshall and Lathrop children. The Lathrops’ Sunday afternoon teas, to which local artists and neighbors were invited, were the beginnings of the community association. These early “members” included the artists Rae Sloan Bredin, Fern Coppedge, John Folinsbee, Daniel Garber, Mary Elizabeth Price, Edward Redfield, and Walter Schofield.

Lathrop Hospitality

Lathrop Hospitality

William Lathrop was the first president of the Phillips Mill Community Association, 1929. His son, Julian L. Lathrop, was a founder of and taught at the Solebury School. Julian’s wife, Anne Goodell Lathrop, was educated at the Philadelphia College of Art and Design, (now Moore College of Art and Design).

In 1907, William Lathrop was elected an academician of New York’s National Academy of Design.  He served on the juries of the Carnegie Institute’s International Exhibits and  the National Academy of Design from 1910-1917.

He received a gold medal at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition (1915) in San Francisco, California, which showcased works by many of the major American artists of the time.

William Lathrop was a member of the group of painters, called the New Hope Group, along with Daniel Garber, Morgan Colt, Charles Rosen, Robert Spencer and Rae Sloan Bredin. The locals dubbed them the Towpath Group. They exhibited together from 1916-1926, and their exhibitions traveled to a number of cities throughout this country.

Published quotes by William Langson Lathrop

Unknown Newspaper Quote 1924Lathrop QuoteFor more than thirty years Lathrop pursued landscape painting at New Hope, exhibiting his works in galleries across the nation. During this time Lathrop’s painting style evolved from tonalist, characterized by darker colors and an emphasis on mood, to the brighter impressionist paintings for which he is best remembered today.

The Widge Sailboat

The Widge SailboatIn the late 1920s Lathrop hand-built a wooden boat in his backyard and named it The Widge. Measuring over twenty feet in length, Lathrop and his friends launched The Widge into the Delaware River in 1930. Lathrop, an able sailor, piloted the boat into the Atlantic coastal waters. He continued sailing for pleasure in his later years, painting scenes of the Atlantic shoreline and even once entertaining Albert Einstein on board as a guest.

Today, Lathrop’s paintings are in numerous museum collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC.

Hurricane of 1938

In September 1938, the 79-year-old Lathrop was piloting his 20′ wooden boat around eastern Long Island when word came of an approaching hurricane–“The Long Island Express” as it became known or “The Great Hurricane of 1938”. Far from safe harbor, Lathrop chose to ride out the storm in a sheltered bay. While The Widge survived the storm, Lathrop did not.  Below follows the storm’s description as provided by the Public Broadcast System’s “American Experience” series:

At 9 am on Wednesday, September 21, the storm was reported off the coast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and the Cunard liner Carinthia passing close to the Virginia Capes and Cape Hatteras, reported a barometric pressure of 27.85 inches not even passing through the eye of the storm. If forecasters were more historically inclined, they would have recognized that this information suggested that the storm was not heading out to sea as usual, but was moving straight north — as similar hurricanes had in 1635 and 1815. Rain had been falling in the northeastern United States intermittently for days before September 21, representing a trough of low pressure or weakness in the atmosphere. The hurricane responded by moving rapidly in this warm moist pathway. A large high pressure system over the Maritimes of Canada blocked the storm from moving out to sea.

The earth was already saturated from the prior rainfall, with streams and rivers full to their banks across New England. The tide was astronomically high at the autumnal equinox — when both the sun and the moon’s gravity tug at the sea level. The stage was set for major impact from all aspects of the storm: wind, rain, and storm surge.

A decimated shoreline.

A decimated shoreline.

Even the best forecasters, however, would have been hard pressed to forecast the forward speed of this storm. The Hurricane of 1938 swept up the coast to northern latitudes at greater than 60 mph — at least twice as fast as normal. At 1 pm the storm was east of Atlantic City, New Jersey, where part of the Boardwalk was torn up. The eye came ashore at Bayport, Long Island, New York, at 2:30 pm when a barometric pressure was noted at 27.94 inches. When the hurricane and its accompanying tidal surge and surf hit Long Island, the impact registered on seismographs in Alaska.

The eye of the storm was about 50 miles wide at this time, and the storm continued traveling northward into New England at more than 50 mph. The east side of the hurricane — the “dangerous semicircle” — was scouring the countryside at speeds approaching 100 mph with higher gusts estimated at 120 mph on Fishers Island south of New London, Connecticut. In New York City, west of the eye, the top of the Empire State Building recorded winds of 120 mph, although at ground level in Central Park the winds were blowing at 60 mph. With each mile eastward on Long Island the damage worsened. There was nearly total devastation on the beach along Dune Road at Westhampton, where only 26 out of 179 homes stood after the storm and most of those were uninhabitable. The 125-foot steeple atop the Presbyterian Church in Sag Harbor fell, as did hundreds of other steeples that day.

On September 26, 1938, numerous national and local newspapers published the United Press release of the demise of William Langson Lathrop at sea:

Evening News - Harrisburg, PA:  26 Sep 1938

Evening News – Harrisburg, PA: 26 Sep 1938



Michener Art Museum. http://www.michenermuseum.org/bucksartists/artist.php?artist=141&page=655


Pennsylvania Impressionism. 2002;  By Brian H. Peterson, William H. Gerdts, Sylvia Yount

Phillips Mill Community Association.  www.phillipsmill.org

The National Academy of Design.  http://www.jstor.org/stable/25608025

Julian Alden Weir Biography (1852-1919) – Life of an American Artist totallyhistory.com


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s