Born 4 March 1832, Portland, Maine, son of a bookseller, publisher, and dealer in fine engravings; moved with family to New York as a youth. By 1850, decided to become an artist. First exhibited 1851, National Academy of Design. Probably studied with Asher B. Durand around this time. Established studio in New York, 1854; elected associate member of the National Academy. Exhibited Boston Athenaeum, 1855. Traveled abroad, 1860–62: Paris, Rome, Granada, Seville, Madrid, Tangiers. 1864, academician, National Academy.
1866, a founder and first president (until 1870) of the American Society of Painters in Water Colors. Probably in 1870 traveled to the West, including California. 1871–75, returned to Europe (Italy, France, Holland) and North Africa (Egypt, Morocco, Algeria). 1877, a founder of the Society of American Artists. 1878, exhibited at the Paris Exhibition; active in the just-founded New York Etching Club. 1881, exhibited work in Exhibition of American Etchers at Boston Museum of Fine Arts and in London.
Had become an expert on and collector of Oriental art; an exhibition of his porcelains held in New York in 1880. Noted as an interior designer. 1882, built home in Newport, R.I., designed by McKim, Mead and White; stained-glass windows of his own design. Mid-1880s, resumed travels in the American and Canadian West. 1904, traveled in Europe. 1912, published "Nature's Harmonic Unity," a theoretical treatise; in 1920, "Proportional Form." Died in New York City, 26 March 1920.
William Kloss Treasures from the National Museum of American Art (Washington, D.C. and London: National Museum of American Art with the Smithsonian Institution Press, 1985)