William H. Willcox lived in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in 1849, the year that he exhibited two pencil drawings at the American Institute of the City of New York and sold two landscapes to the American Art Union. He moved to Philadelphia in 1850, lived in Germantown, and exhibited regularly at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts from 1852 to 1868 and from 1880 to 1917. The titles of the landscapes he exhibited there indicate that he painted in upstate New York, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, and the countryside around Philadelphia. Willcox also exhibited at the National Academy of Design from 1853 to 1869. He was primarily a landscape painter but occasionally painted portraits and genre scenes.
Willcox’s style was quite similar to that of his colleague and friend, William Trost Richards. The two artists often worked together and corresponded frequently on subject matter.
This view of Atlantic City exemplifies Willcox’s penchant for panoramic landscapes. The famous Absecon Lighthouse breaks the horizon line in the middle of the painting, providing a view from Brigantine Beach of the Lighthouse that Willcox painted frequently. The structure was built by the Army Corps of Engineers between 1855 and 1857. Rising to a height of 171 feet, it is the tallest lighthouse in New Jersey and the third tallest in the United States. The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1933, placed on the New Jersey Register of Historic Places in 1970, and the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. Absecon Lighthouse remains one of Atlantic City’s most distinctive landmarks and popular tourist attractions.