Born into a prominent Salem, Massachusetts family, Joseph Ropes did not become an artist until he was in his mid-thirties. Ropes studied at the National Academy of Design in the 1840s. After further study with John R. Smith in New York, Ropes settled in Hartford, CT, where he maintained a studio from 1851 and 1865. He was undoubtedly the best topographical draughtsman active in Hartford at that time. His drawings, prints and paintings convey a vivid sense of the appearance of the small but bustling city.
Ropes was also active as a teacher and was the author of several artist’s manuals, published during his residence in Hartford. The Connecticut Historical Society has four drawings by Ropes, and their Graphics Collection includes at least one lithograph drawn on the stone by him and published by E. C. Kellogg. Additional paintings by Ropes are in the Society’s museum collection.
Ropes worked as a miniaturist, a landscapist, and a teacher of art. He used crayon as well as the more conventional techniques. A peripatetic man, he moved about, starting in New York City, settling in Hartford, CT, for fourteen years, then traveling abroad for eleven years, returning in 1876 to Philadelphia, and finally going back to New York City for his final years.