Corbridge, known primarily for his watercolors, was born in Lancashire England, immigrated to the United States and settled in Fall River in 1913. His first apprenticeship was at Armour Sign Shop in the same town.
Soon Corbridge began to exhibit work around New England. He supported himself by working as a self-employed window trimmer and operator of the Corbridge Display Service, often incorporating his artwork into his displays.
Corbridge was primarilty a self-taught painter. He believed that his lack of training had a beneficial effect on how he approached his painting. Most of his instruction was, in fact, from observing another painter. He mentioned, “We both had Mondays off, I would pack some things in an old car and drive out in the country, and he would sketch and paint. In time, I decided that I wanted to paint too, and I took a try at it.”
Audiences were immediately drawn to Corbirdge’s bold colors and the simplicity of his forms. He was praised for his “extraordinary tonal quality” as well as “clarified, designed reality, which reduces the confusion of nature to fundamental form.” Precisionism, an American style of painting that emerged in the 1920s and 30s was the style Corbridge was associated with the most throughout his career.
While showing at the Margaret Brown Gallery in Boston, a critic drew a comparison between Corbridge and the most notable Precisionist, Charles Sheeler: “Corbridge at first seems a disciple of Sheeler…but, although the Massachusetts painter also stresses simplification…he also reveals more feeling than Sheeler, a more poetic use of delicate color tints, a warmer affinity to natural things which ought to look that way in a perfect world.”
In the 1940s his painting career gained recognition while he exhibited at several venues such as the Newport Art Association, the Providence Art Club, The Rhode Island School of Design Museum, the Corcoran Gallery in Washington DC, and other galleries.
Provincetown became his favorite summer spot to sketch countless studies of the vistas he saw. He would then bring them back home in the winter to transform into fully developed watercolors. Peter Corbridge, son of the painter, remembers this process, mentioning that “Our house smelled of casein in the winter. My father would sketch in the summers when we vacationed on the Cape and in the winter he would paint from the sketches. Casein was the winter smell.”
For Corbridge, the outskirts of Provincetown was a place of solitude to study his natural surroundings. This meant that picnics were interrupted by time needed to sketch and family outings became serious time to location hunt. His precise lines, clean edges, and bold washes in watercolor depict unpopulated, quiet landscapes often backed by a tranquil bay. With great control over his washes and moderation of color, the volumes of his shapes possess a delicate presence which evoke the quiet beauty and vast space of the natural countryside. In his watercolor, “Small Brown Sailboat,” a single, empty boat lies on shore framed by the walls of a vacant boathouse. A light field of blue serving as the bay behind the boat gives the viewer a sense of the vast plane of water beyond. Even a more controlled composition lies in his piece, “Cape Cod Cottages,” where white houses are situated along a road in a row creating their own visual pattern. He was often cited for finding the ‘balance’ or ‘geometry’ in the landscapes he composed. Corbridge has been quoted as saying that his work “should influence the daily lives of all people, not just the habitual gallery-goers.”
As the 1950s progressed, Corbridge exhibited less, although participating in the Provincetown Art Association shows consistently through the 50s. His last known exhibit is that of an anniversary show in Provincetown in 1964. A specific reason for this is unknown, although it could be attributed to his inability to spend summers at Provincetown due to family obligations at home. Another possible reason could be the changing atmosphere and increased commercialism in Provincetown, which the artist may have found to be in contradiction to what initially attracted him to the beach town.