William Stanley Haseltine was born in Philadelphia on June 11, 1835, the son of John Haseltine, a successful businessman, and his wife Elizabeth Shinn Haseltine, an amateur landscape painter. After two years of study at the University of Pennsylvania, he entered Harvard University in 1852, receiving his degree two years later. He studied painting briefly in 1854 with Paul Weber, a German landscape and portrait painter who had settled in Philadelphia. In the spring of 1855 Haseltine made his public debut as an artist, exhibiting several paintings at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia. That summer he journeyed to Düsseldorf, where he joined the colony of young American painters studying landscape painting at the Academy. In 1856 Haseltine joined Worthington Whittredge (1820-1910) and a group of fellow students on an extended sketching trip up the Rhine and into Switzerland and Italy. Although in January 1857 Haseltine returned to Düsseldorf, he was back in Italy by the summer and settled in Rome in the fall. During the winter of 1857-1858 and the spring of 1858 he made numerous sketching tours in the environs of Rome and also visited the island of Capri.
In the late summer or early fall of 1858 Haseltine abruptly returned to Philadelphia. By November of the following year he had moved to New York and taken a studio in the Tenth Street Studio Building, which was the center of American landscape school in the late 1850s and early 1860s. Among the painters Haseltine joined in the Studio Building were Frederic Edwin Church, Albert Bierstadt, and Whittredge, the latter two acquaintances from his European travels. Haseltine now began to establish a reputation as a landscape painter, showing his works regularly at exhibitions in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. Many of his works of these years were based on sketches completed abroad, but he also made use of studies made on his travels to popular seaside resorts in New England. Among his favorite subjects were Maine's Mount Desert Island and the shore areas around Narragansett, Rhode Island, and Nahant, Massachusetts. These landscapes and coastal scenes were generally well received, with critics praising in particular his geological accuracy in depicting the distinctive rock formations of the New England coast. In 1860 Haseltine was elected an Associate of the National Academy of Design; he was made a full Academician the following year.
Personal tragedy struck in 1864 when Haseltine's wife died in childbirth. In February 1866 the artist remarried and in May he and his family departed for Europe. He considered settling in Paris, but by 1867 he had joined the large international art colony in Rome, which would remain his base for much of the next thirty years. Haseltine's paintings of European views, especially his landscapes and coastal views of Italian scenery, proved extremely popular with wealthy American tourists who were travelling abroad in ever-increasing numbers in the years after the Civil War. In the fall of 1874 Haseltine located his studio in a grand setting at the Palazzo Altieri, which he opened to visitors and potential patrons on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. This was a common practice among artists working in Rome, which had only a few contemporary art galleries and scant opportunities for public exhibition.
From his home in Rome, Haseltine often travelled to other areas of Italy and Europe, including Venice, Capri, Sicily, Paris, Cannes, Belgium, Holland, and the Netherlands. During the 1880s and 1890s, he and his family often spent summers in Bavaria and the Tyrol. Sketches made during these trips frequently served as the basis for later paintings and watercolors, with his scenes of Capri and Sicily proving very popular with tourists. Haseltine also made periodic trips back to the United States, especially during the 1890s. In the summer of 1899 he and his son, Herbert, made a trip west, visiting Utah, Colorado, California, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Banff, and Yellowstone Park. This was his last trip to the states; a few months after his return to Europe in the fall, he contracted pneumonia and died in Rome on February 3, 1900. [This is an edited version of the artist's biography published in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]
Plowden, Helen Haseltine. William Stanley Haseltine: Sea and Landscape Painter (1835-1900). London, 1947.
Simpson, Marc, Andrea Henderson, and Sally Mills. Expressions of Place: The Art of William Stanley Haseltine. Exh. cat. The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, M. H. de Young Memorial Museum, 1992.
Kelly, Franklin, with Nicolai Cikovsky, Jr., Deborah Chotner, and John Davis. American Paintings of the Nineteenth Century, Part I. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1996: 271-272.