A watercolor depicting an 1874 Portsmouth skyline, probably by artist Fidelia Bridges

When searching the Strawbery Banke Online Collections, users will come across this watercolor image of the Portsmouth skyline from the Piscataqua River. This painting (2014.43), possibly created by Fidelia Bridges (1834 – 1923), a native of Salem, MA -- and suggestive of her style -- is dated June 5, 1874. Recognizable buildings include St. John’s Church and the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. Gundalows and other masted ships are reflected in the calm water. View this painting in person in the "Port of Portsmouth: War Trade and Travel" exhibit in the Montrone Gallery in Thales-Yeaton House when the museum reopens!

Bridges is best known for her depictions of nature – wildflowers, birds, and landscapes. In 1874, she became the first woman to join what is now the American Watercolor Society. Louis Prang printed thousands of greeting cards featuring Bridges' watercolors, and her work was collected by Mark Twain and is now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Smithsonian.

Fidelia Bridges' watercolor of the Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion (L2017.6), painted on June 6, 1874, just one day after her view of St. John's, remains in a private collection. Though there is no documentation of Bridges' visit to Portsmouth in 1874, it’s certainly possible that she was in the same friend group as fellow Piscataqua Region artists Celia Thaxter, Sarah Orne Jewett, and, Atlantic Monthly editor James T. Fields.

E. Farish 3/24/2020