William Langson Lathrop (1859-1938) was an American landscape painter and founder of the art colony at New Hope, Pennsylvania. He is sometimes referred to as a "Pennsylvania Impressionist". Lathrop was a member of the National Academy of Design and served on numerous exhibition juries during his career. 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. 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.
Lathrop (pronounced "Lay-throp") was born in Painesville, Ohio and grew up on his family's farm. Lathrop began his art career in New York City in the late 1870s as an illustrator and part-time etcher, both pursuits that earned him little money. In the late 1880s Lathrop traveled to Europe where he met and married his wife. Returning to America, Lathrop endured financial difficulty and briefly turned away from art before friends convinced him to enter his watercolors in a prestigious New York show. Lathrop received the top prize and a glowing review in The New York Times, and his career was launched.
In 1899 Lathrop and his family moved to New Hope, Pennsylvania on the Delaware River. Other artists began to settle in the area, some drawn by Lathrop's recommendations, and the Lathrop home served as the social focus of the growing art colony. For 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.
In 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.
In late September 1938, Lathrop was piloting his boat around eastern Long Island when word came of an approaching hurricane. Far from safe harbor, Lathrop chose to ride out the storm in a sheltered bay. While The Widge survived the storm, Lathrop's body was recovered along the shoreline a month later. Eyewitness accounts of Lathrop from occupants of nearby boats indicated he may have died of a heart attack during the storm, and been blown or washed from his boat.