Rocky Mountain News Friday, 1 Dec 1893, page 5, columns 1-2
There is a painting in the Detroit museum of art which occupies a position of honor in the main gallery and which is in the cynosure of all artistic eyes in that treasury of all artistic eyes in that treasury of pictures. It represents the rude hospital scene where Longfellow’s Evangeline and her Gabriel were reunited for one brief moment on earth. The spirit of the angel wanderer, her manly lover in the old Acadian days, is about to take its flight. The artist put not only his soul but his life into that picture. The untouched canvas before which Samuel Richards stood in Munich in 1886 had two years later taken color and life under his magic touch, but through his vitality had slowly but surely ebbed until scarcely a spark remained. For five long years that spark has been kept alive by a devoted wife [Louise Parks] and a physician friend. Last night it went out and the spirit, set free like that of the aged Gabriel, after years of suffering, took its flight into a realm where the artistic soul might revel in an art undefiled, an eternity of purity.
Samuel Richards, one of the foremost of American artists, was born at Spencer, Ind., April 22, 1853. His earliest aspiration was to be an artist, and in the face of every conceivable discouragement he clung to that ambition until it was realized. Until 1880 he pursued his studies unaided, supporting himself by his art. At that time he determined to go to Europe. He believed, in common with other young Americans, that if an artist it to make of himself a power in the world of art, he must learn painting, a thing which, in the modern sense, could not then be accomplished in America.
Accordingly, he went to Munich, where he spent seven years in close and faithful application. Years before he had conceived the idea of “Evangeline,” the work which made him famous. After this severe apprenticeship, he felt himself prepared to begin his great undertaking. In spite of the discouragements of friends, he began to outline his picture. For two years his studio was a closed book to all but his wife and models. As “Evangeline” slowly took form under the touch of his brush, his interest increased and he could scarcely tear himself away from his easel. Six months before the completion of the work his health gave way. But he was determined not to give up and worked on. For six weeks previous to the time when he affixed his signature to the canvas he had to be carried from bed chamber to studio. At last the moment came when he dared add no more and with the last touch his strength gave way completely.
From the moment his studio door opened to the first critic, his fame was made. The picture was placed on exhibition alone in Munich and for three months attracted universal attention. It was afterward taken to the Paris exposition, where it was sold to the Hon. Bela Hubbard, who presented it to the Detroit museum of art. It was brought to Denver [August 1892] during the Knight Templar conclave and formed part of the art exhibit in the Equitable building.
Though the artist had finished his picture, expecting every day to be his last on earth, he survived the ordeal and was taken to Switzerland to recuperate, where at the famed Davos Platz he painted his second great picture, the “Day Before the Wedding,” which is considered, technically, his finest work. This picture is now owned by Mrs. Platt of Chicago, and was to have been exhibited at the world’s fair, but Mrs. Platt was in Europe and the picture was stored where it was not accessible.
In earlier days in Munich, Richards’ drawings of heads and character sketches brought him numerous medals and much notoriety. They were so much sought after that John Ruskin, the apostle of the beautiful wrote him numerous letters begging for a sight of the treasures. They were sent to Ruskin in England and returned after a delighted inspection by the great author-critic. His “Peasant Stories,” also painted in Munich, is now in the possession of Senator McPherson of New Jersey.
In Switzerland Richards formed two of his most lasting friendships. John Addington Symonds, the English critic, historian and biographer, whose works place him among the foremost authorities in the world in the direction in which his literary labors led him, was seeking lost health in the Swiss alps and he met the artist. They became inseparable companions and proved of infinite value to each other in their labors. A pathetic incident occurred in connection with the death of the great critic, which took place last spring. Symonds promised to apprise Richards of his approaching death, when he became certain it was at hand. He was taken ill so quickly, however, that he had no time to keep his promise. When the artist heard of his friend’s death, he exclaimed, “It will be my turn soon.” In less than a year the time came, and the spirits, so closely united on earth are to-day bound in an everlasting unity that shall not be broken.
At Davos, too, Richards met Dr. Carl Rüedi, who became at once his physician and close friend. After some years of sojourn there, Dr. Ruedi removed to Colorado and located in Denver. In a few months the artist followed him and has made this city his home ever since. The two have continued their friendship and the physician was one of the circle surrounding the death-bed at the Vallejo.
Richards’ boyhood companion and early friend was James Whitcomb Riley. The two struggled together for subsistence in the early days at Anderson, Ind. And upon the artist’s return from Europe they had a reunion at their old home. Since his residence in Denver, Richards has lived entirely in the open air, making a tent his habitation. For a long time this canvas home was a familiar sight in the open space near the D. A. C. park. Here Richards was located on Riley’s last visit to Denver and here the poet, the artist and Myron Reed, another early friend, had a jolly reunion.
Richards had been offered the directorship of the Boston Art school and other foremost institutions in the East. While in Denver he was tendered the position at the head of the art department of the Leland Stanford university in California. All these offers were declined, as the artist preferred his art to position. It was therefore deemed a great triumph when he consented, in the fall of 1892, to assume charge of the work of the Denver Art league. With such worthy assistants as Charles Partridge Adams, Emma Richardson Cherry, Harriet Hayden and others, he speedily made the league a power in art circles. His health would not permit of his retention of this position and it was with genuine regret and sorrow that the director and league parted company at the close of a remarkable year’s work. Since that time and up to the day of his death, Richards conducted a small private class of young ladies. It was the pride of his declining days and he often said that its work would compare with that of any body of students in the European art centers.
The bracing atmosphere and life-imparting sunshine of Colorado inspired in the heart of the artist a hope that by their aid he might live to give to art and the world yet more evidences of his genius. The tent life greatly strengthened his constitution and he luxuriated in the solitude it afforded him. He was a hermit in the heart of a great city.
Last summer he spent with his wife in an Estes Park cottage, where through some seemingly inexplicable cause he was prostrated by a severe attack of diphtheria, which affected especially his nose and eyes. On his return to Denver, with health once more shattered, the tent was removed to the vicinity of the Vallejo on Logan avenue. His wife’s recent illness compelled their removal indoors and here a few days ago he was attached by “la grippe,” which never released its hold upon him and to which he succumbed last night. In his death art loses an earnest devotee, and an inspired interpreter, and Denver a valued acquisition to her professional and social circles.