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Tracy was born in Rochester, OH, in 1843. He was the descendant of Mayflower passengers Elder Brewster and John Alden. His father was an abolitionist preacher (one source says he was a lawyer) who was killed in an antislavery riot before his son’s birth; his mother was among the first women journalists and a contemporary of Susan B. Anthony in the women’s suffrage movement. He grew up in the house of his grandmother, Orpha Conant, near Oberlin, OH. Tracy studied at Oberlin College and Northwestern University in Chicago, IL, then served in the Union Army during the Civil War beginning in 1861. In the late 1860s he worked as a fruit picker and a teacher around Egypt, in southern Illinois. He then went to France and studied in Paris in 1867 and 1868 at the École des Beaux-Arts with Carolus-Duran (Charles Emile Auguste Durant) and I. A. Pils. He was in the United States through most of the 1870s; during this period he is thought to have studied further at the California School of Design in San Francisco, where he painted a number of landscapes. It may be here that he executed his Bighorn - Sheep in the Sierras and his Grazing [Domestic] Sheep.
After working in Chicago for a few years he returned to Paris in 1873, where he again attended the École des Beaux-Arts with Adolphe Yvon and, latter, with Boisbaudran. Tracy became fluent in French and married the sister of the French sculptor Emile Guillemin, whom he had met on his first visit. Among Tracy’s circle of American friends and artists working together at the time near the forest of Fontainebleau outside of Paris included John Singer Sargent (qv), who painted a study of Tracy; James C. Beckwith (qv), the best man at his wedding; Will H. Low, who was named the executor of his estate; George Inness (qv), with whom he shared a studio; and Theodore Robinson (qv), among others. Tracy exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1874 and 1876, showing a full-length portrait of his wife Mélanie in 1874. During this period he is said to have executed a battle picture, which included his own portrait, commissioned by the United States government, but no record of the painting has been found.
Upon his return to the United States in 1878 Tracy established himself in St. Louis, MO. He initially worked as a landscape and portrait artist, executing works both in his studio and outdoors; his commissioned subjects first included women and children, but later portraits of men participating in the field sports became his specialty. An unusual example is his Out for a Stroll, a large oil composition of Mr. and Mrs. August Belmont, Jr. walking together in the field, he with his cane and pointers and she with her collies. During his first year in St. Louis he was commissioned to paint a champion Irish setter. Thereafter he executed many canine commissions, especially hounds and gun dogs; he also painted horses including scenes of field trials. Around 1881 he settled in Greenwich, CT, and began wintering in Ocean Springs, MS. John Sergeant Wise’s 1897 book Diomed: the Life, Travels and Observations of a Dog, written as the autobiography of an English setter, covering whelping, rearing, training and all aspects of work in the field, included two chapters about Tracy entitled “A Week with an Artist - [at] Pampatike [in King William County, VA]” and “How Pictures Representing Field Sports are Made”; the book was illustrated by John L. Chapman (qv). Tracy’s November on the James, an extensive composition depicting two sportsmen with pointers retrieving quail to hand with a black scout holding their horses, was reproduced as an illustration in the latter chapter. Shooting on Upland, Marsh, and Stream, an anthology compiled by William Bruce Leffingwell in 1890, includes a comprehensive chapter written and illustrated by Tracy, entitled “Concerning Pointers and Setters,” covering the pedigree, anatomy and training methods of pointing dogs. Its contents reveal the artist’s thorough knowledge of the subject. This expertise, coupled with his awareness of the revolutionary kinematical studies of animals and humans by the English photographer Eadweard Muybridge, led the artist to become a much sought-after bench show and field trial judge, as well as a portrait painter. His portrait of the dual champion bench show and field trial pointer Robert le Diable is a unique commission in that the artist was also the judge at the Westminster Kennel Club show in New York City in 1886 where the dog was named champion. He also contributed articles and illustrations for The American Field, a weekly periodical published continually since 1874 and billed as “The Sportsman’s Newspaper of America-The Recognized Authority.” His vignettes of shooting over pointers, hare coursing trials, and angling were engraved by Weinhardt Engraving Company of Chicago, IL, and used as the mast head for this periodical in the 1880s and early 1890s. A number of Tracy’s works were also reproduced as lithographs, usually remarqued and signed in pencil by the artist, and copyrighted and published by Charles Klackner of New York City; examples include Home for the Hollidays, Full Cry, Chickens at the Setters’ Bowl, Beagles on a Rabbit, Southern Field Trails, 1891 and November on the James circa 1897.
Tracy died in Ocean Springs, MS, on 20 March 1893, at the age of forty-nine. Contemporaries who knew him well suggested he died from anxiety and over-work in an effort to repaint and repair his entries to the 1893 World’s Colombian Exhibitions after they were damaged by a fire.