William Stanley Haseltine
(Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1835 - 1900, Rome, Italy)
William Stanley Haseltine was an American-born landscape and marine painter of the latter half of the nineteenth century, whose distinctive style reflected the important international painting movements in that period of artistic evolution and change. A native of Philadelphia, he received his initial art training there, but found his most important schooling and experience when he went to Düsseldorf in 1854. His European travels and studies were the most formative of his career and he eventually settled permanently in Rome in 1868, only returning thereafter for short visits to the United States. (1)
Haseltine was born into the family of a prosperous businessman in Philadelphia, and at the age of fifteen he began to take lessons there from a German national, Paul Weber. Weber emphasized the importance of meticulous draughtsmanship, a skill and a factor that influenced the artist’s work for the remainder of his career. Haseltine enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania, and later transferred to Harvard College, graduating in 1854. Once convinced of his son’s devotion to a career as an artist, Haseltine’s father sent the young man to Germany to study in the company of Weber. The Academy at Düsseldorf was a prime destination for Americans seeking art training in the mid-nineteenth century. The instructors there were adherents of the German Romantic movement, and stressed meticulous attention to detail, as well as accuracy of form. Through his training in Dusseldorf, Haseltine met and formed strong bonds with three other young American painters—Emanuel Leutze, Worthington Whittredge and Albert Bierstadt—each of whom left a significant mark on the history of American painting.
Haseltine’s works show a clear adherence to the objective realism that was promoted by the criticism of the Englishman John Ruskin, and this approach characterized the paintings he made of the New England coast upon his return to the United States in 1858. He exhibited in New York and won significant critical acceptance for his coastal scenes of rocky shores, but in an attempt to find new subject matter, left for Paris in 1866 for two years.
Travelling through Switzerland, Italy and France, Haseltine painted landscape and architectural views, until finally electing to settle permanently in Rome in 1868. He cultivated the ex-patriot life of a gentleman painter, traveling and garnering commissions for scenic views from important patrons such as European royalty and diplomats, and prominent collectors such as J. P. Morgan. From his Roman base he journeyed extensively, making studies of sites in Europe and the United States during the summer months in order to make finished pictures later in his studio. In 1899, he was accompanied by his son Herbert on a trip to the American West, traveling to California, Washington, Oregon and up to Alaska. Upon his return to Rome he contracted pneumonia and died in January of 1900.
Haseltine’s paintings of the 1860s and 1870s were all strongly influenced by the tenets of the Pre-Raphaelite movement and Ruskin’s doctrine of “truth to nature.” At the beginning of his career, he was also most likely influenced by the general social trend of an interest in scientific studies relating to natural history. During his period of study at Harvard one of the pioneering scholars of earth science, Louis Agassiz, was publishing research relating to pre-historic geology of the Ice Age. (2) The quality of Haseltine’s images of rocks on the Massachusetts coast convey his knowledge of this evolving science. The artist captured the essence of the qualities of these geologic forms through a style that emphasized a heightened clarity achieved by strong contrasts of light and shadow.
This same clarity of vision also informed his later images of European landscape, particularly his images of made in Italy of sites near Naples, and his views of Venice, for which he became widely known. The quality of the Mediterranean light allowed the artist to maintain his customary style, which incorporated highly focused areas of detail with broader passages of context in water and sky, rendering his subjects crisply through the contrast of light and shade and brilliant color. Unlike his predecessors who had painted vedute since the eighteenth century, his paintings “were souvenirs of mood and atmosphere, more than just of topography and architecture.” (3)
1. Biographical information is found in a biography by the artist’s daughter, Helen Haseltine Plowden, William Stanley Haseltine: Sea and Landscape Painter (1835-1900) (London: Frederick Muller, Ltd., 1947) and in the monograph The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Expressions of Place: The Art of William Stanley Haseltine (San Francisco: The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 1992).
2. Marc Simpson, “Noble Rock Portraits: Haseltine’s American Work,” in The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Expressions of Place: The Art of William Stanley Haseltine (San Francisco: The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 1992), p. 16.
3. Andrea Henderson, “’Water-Rambles” on the Lagoon: William Stanley Haseltine in Venice,” American Art Review, Winter, 1993, p. 157.