Whittredge was born and raised on a farm near Springfield, Ohio. He established himself as one of the foremost painters of the Second Generation Hudson River School painters. His work is a wondrous balance of the topographical style of the Hudson River School and color and light sense more reminiscent of the French Barbizon and Impressionist painters.
After a brief stint as a sign painter, Whittredge taught himself portrait and landscape painting experimenting briefly with daguerreotypes. He opened a portrait studio in West Virginia but by 1843, focused solely on landscapes. In 1849, Whittredge enrolled at the Royal Academy in Dusseldorf and spent five years there. He spent the next five years in Rome and was part of an artist’s group that included Frederick Church and Nathaniel Hawthorne.
In 1859, he returned to New York City and newly devoted himself to painting the American landscape after a disappointing response to his European subjects. Whittredge became a “typical” Hudson River School painter with his adroitness of portraying filtering sunlight within a savage beauty of wondrous promise.
By the mid-nineteenth century civilization had encroached considerably upon the eastern landscape. Whittredge decided to venture Westward with his friend John Frederick Kensett and Sanford Robinson Gifford to find new sources of inspiration. In 1865, he joined an expedition lead by Major General John Pope from Leavenworth, Kansas along the Platte River to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Whittredge loved the west and the light and desolation proved great sources of inspiration. In 1896 he took another sketching trip to Mexico this time with Frederick Church. Many of the paintings from these expeditions were completed in the studio.
Whittredge is counted among the practitioners of Luminism. Notable works include Camp Meeting at the Metropolitan Museum. He completed a few still-life as well as domestic interiors and exhibited his work at the National Academy of Design where he served two terms as president. He played a central role in the development of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. William Merritt Chase painted a now famous portrait of Whittredge in 1890.
Worthington Thomas Whittredge died in Summit, New Jersey.