Painter. Remembered almost exclusively for magisterial marine paintings from the later part of his career, he also painted genre scenes, landscapes, and portraits. Waugh first drew widespread acclaim for The Roaring Forties (Metropolitan Museum, 1908), a large canvas devoted exclusively to the turbulent sea. (The title refers to stormy latitudes of the North and South Atlantic.) The awesome force of nature continued as the major theme of his numerous coastal views. Depicted with close attention to effects of light, convincingly rendered waves typically surge and froth along desolate and often craggy shores. Born in the Delaware River town of Bordentown, New Jersey, Waugh grew up in Philadelphia and studied there from 1880 until 1883 at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts with Thomas Eakins and Thomas Anshutz. In 1882 he spent a summer in Europe. The following year he moved to Paris to continue his training at the Académie Julian, where Adolphe-William Bouguereau numbered among his teachers. During summers he painted in Grez-sur-Loing, near Fontainebleau, and in Brittany. His plein air scenes from this time suggest the influence of Jules Bastien-Lepage in their firmly drawn figures, often peasants, set against atmospheric landscapes. In 1885 he returned to Philadelphia to concentrate on portraits and commercial illustrations. Seven years later he again left for Europe, on a sojourn that lasted fifteen years. He lived in Paris at first, then in the Channel Islands from 1893 until 1895. Subsequently he resided in England, primarily in the London area, but also kept a studio in Cornwall, at the artists' colony of St. Ives. During this period he began specializing in seascapes but also continued working as an illustrator until his return to the United States in 1907. He lived in Montclair, New Jersey, until 1915, when he relocated to Kent, Connecticut. He usually summered near the sea in New England and occasionally traveled to other locations to observe the ocean. His illustrated children's fantasy The Clan of Munes (1916) reflects the artist's appreciation for Monhegan Island, Maine, a frequent summer destination. In 1927 he moved permanently to Provincetown, at the tip of Cape Cod.
Several members of Waugh's family also were painters. His father, Samuel Bell Waugh (1814–85), a leading Philadelphia portraitist, also painted landscapes and other subjects. Born in the western Pennsylvania town of Mercer, he studied in Philadelphia before traveling in Europe for eight years, perusing the old masters on his own. He died in Janesville, Wisconsin. Frederick Waugh's mother, Mary Eliza Young Waugh, painted miniatures. A half sister, Ida Waugh (?–1919), painted portraits, religious or allegorical subjects, and genre scenes, often featuring Dutch subjects. Known for her depictions of children, she also worked as an illustrator, particularly of children's books. She was born in Philadelphia and studied at the Pennsylvania Academy before going to Paris for additional training at the Académie Julian. Frederick Waugh's son, Coulton Waugh (1896–1973), born in England, became best known as a comic strip artist, although he worked also as a painter. He lived in Provincetown for many years. His history, The Comics (1947), numbered among the first serious works on the subject.