Although Bristol studied briefly under portrait painter Henry Ary, he was primarily self-taught. He lived in New York City, but he traveled and painted throughout New England almost every summer.
Bristol exhibited at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876 where he was awarded a medal, the Paris Expo in 1889 where he was awarded a prize, and at the Pan-American Expo in Buffalo in 1901 where he was awarded a medal. He exhibited at the National Academy of Design from 1858 to 1900. He was elected an associate academician in 1860 and a member in 1875. He was a member of the Century Association from 1873 to 1909.
His work is preserved at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore.