Frederick Lee Bridell was born in 1830, with the name William Bridle, into a humble English family in Southampton. After his initial training, in which he showed remarkable drawing skills, he made the acquaintance of Henry Rose, a local engraver, who sensed the young man’s artistic inclination and encouraged him to undertake a suitable education.
He soon specialised in portraiture, one of his first known works being the Portrait of Henry Rose, dated 1848 and signed for the first time under the pseudonym Frederick Lee Bridell. Appreciated by the local aristocracy, he was noticed by the painter and restorer Edwin Holder who decided to take him under his wing. Apprenticed in his studio in a small Berkshire town, he began to approach landscape painting, copying paintings for his master and soon developing a personal sensibility.
Landscape, between the picturesque and the romantic
In 1851, he sent his first landscape painting to the Royal Academy in London and two years later, he was sent by Holder to perfect his skills on the Continent. After an initial stay in Paris, he settled in Munich and then in the Tyrol. His landscapes began to be appreciated by some collectors after his first exhibitions at the Rayal Academy and the Liverpool Academy in the mid-1950s. In particular, James Henry Wolff, a wealthy English businessman, became the main patron and collector of Frederick Lee Bridell, who was particularly fascinated by his landscapes of northern Italy.
Thanks to his protection, the painter was finally able to break his contract with Holder and make a new visit to Italy at the end of the 1850s. Settling in the place most loved by foreign artists, a small flat in Piazza di Spagna, he began to experience Roman artistic culture, frequenting the colony of English intellectuals, including Robert Browning and his future wife Eliza Fox, the daughter of an MP.
During this period he produced some of his most famous views, including The Temple of Venus, The Temple of Vesta, The Colosseum in the Moonlight, Villa d’Este, Neptune’s Grotto and the Etruscan Tombs at Civita Castellana. After returning to England, he settled in London for a while, often exhibiting at the Royal Academy, where he achieved considerable success, especially with the view of The Colosseum in the moonlight, an extraordinary example of chromatic fluency and skill in rendering the effects of light, which skilfully combine the realist vision with the romantic sublime.
In the early 1960s, he unfortunately contracted tuberculosis, which led him to seek relief for his health by travelling to Italy again. He continued to paint in his moments of respite from his illness, but returned to England and died in Kensington in 1863, aged just thirty-two.