The earliest art of the American west tended to focus on the Indians and their culture. After mid-century, this theme slowly gave way to more of a concern with landscape and genre subjects. Perhaps the most influential artist associated with this change was Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902). He was born in Germany, near Düsseldorf, grew up in the United States, and in his twenties studied at the Düsseldorf Academy in Germany. There he was deeply impressed by the tradition of heroic painting for which that school was famous. In 1858, soon after returning to America, Bierstadt paid his own way in order to accompany General F.W. Lander on an expedition to improve the wagon route from Fort Laramie to California. Bierstadt was tremendously impressed with the Rocky Mountains, which provided him with the subject matter for his most famous paintings. Bierstadt passed through the Rockies in the nascent days of the great American expansion west; the transcontinental railroad, the pony express, and most of the Indian wars lay in the future. Thus Bierstadt saw and absorbed an almost pristine frontier, for which the rocky peaks provided an emphatic exclamation.
After he returned east, Bierstadt straight away began to work on his western canvases, exhibiting his first Rocky Mountain painting in 1860 at the National Academy, where it was very well received. Thus encouraged, Bierstadt continued to produce large, dramatic mountain landscapes, which reached a peak with his large and sensational 1863 canvas, "The Rocky Mountains." This painting immediately received popular acclaim, establishing Bierstadt, in the minds of some of the public and critics, as the greatest American landscape artist of his day. This painting traveled widely and was purchased by James McHenry for the then fantastic sum of $25,000. Following this, Bierstadt received many commissions for new works, was acclaimed at home and abroad, and hobnobbed with the rich and royal. His canvases continued to dramatically portray the awe-inspiring grandeur of the Rockies. His were "the first paintings to capture successfully the wonder and excitement that the artist and other early trail blazers felt when they confronted the spectacular western scenery." (Trenton & Hassrick, The Rocky Mountains, Oklahoma, 1983) The success of "The Rocky Mountain" painting spurred Bierstadt to ask James Smillie, one of the best American engravers, to make an engraving of the image. Smillie took three years to produce this magnificent print. $7,400
Rembrandt Peale. "The Court of Death." New York: G. Q. Colton, [1859?]. 15 x 26 1/2. Chromolithograph by Sarony & Major. Very good condition. With descriptive key. Ref: Marzio, The Democratic Art, p. 51.
This print is after the painting by Rembrandt Peale (1778-1860). Born in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, he was the son of Charles Willson Peale. Rembrandt travelled to England and studied under Benjamin West from 1801 to 1803. A founder of the National Academy of Design, Peale is best known for his portrait of George Washington. Other important paintings of his are "Napoleon on Horseback," "The Roman Daughter," and portraits of Thomas Jefferson and Gilbert Stuart.
"The Court of Death," painted in 1820, was one of the most popular paintings of that decade. In the first year of its traveling exhibition, Peale earned over $8,000 in admissions, and it continued to be exhibited for half a century. The size of the canvas was a huge 11 feet by 23 feet, and was based upon a poem by the recently deceased Bishop of London, Beilby Porteus. Death is represented enthroned in a gloomy cave, his feet resting on the body of a man stricken in the prime of life. Surrounding him are his agents: War, Conflagration, Famine, Pestilence, Pleasure, Intemperance, Remorse, Delirium Tremens, Suicide, and an array of deadly diseases. Before the throne is Old Age who is supported by Faith. Members of the Peale family posed for most of the figures with the artist's daughter as the women and his famous father as "Old Age". Much was made in the time that the corpse was based on an actual cadaver from a medical school in Philadelphia. Two large prints were published by Colton but involved different processes. One was this chromolithograph printed by Sarony & Major, and the second was a wood engraving by Loomis and Annin. $1,400
William Sydney Mount. "The Power of Music." New York: Goupil, Vibert & Co., 1848. 14 5/8 x 18 5/8. Lithograph by Leon Noel on chine appliqué. Original hand color. Expertly repaired tear just touching the image with some wear in margins on the left hand side. A few faint stains in the bottom margin with some wear along the bottom edge of print. Print has been professionally conserved. Otherwise, fine condition. Rare.
A wonderful image after a painting by William Sidney Mount. Mount (1807-1868) was the first important American genre painter. He spent most of his life on Long Island, and he recorded his observations of local daily life in a large number of charming portraits, landscapes and genre scenes. In the mid-nineteenth century, a number of the better American artists, such as Mount and George Caleb Bingham, were having images made of their paintings to be sold as separate prints. These prints were important for their support of the native painters and for the dissemination of 'fine art' to the general American public.
Mount who played the fiddle himself, believed in the healing power of music. A boy plays a tune on a fiddle in the company of two men. A black man leans against the barn door to listen. One can easily see the impact of the soothing music by viewing the men's faces.
Goupil, Vibert & Company was a very large print publisher and art firm in Paris and New York. It employed some of the best lithographic artists in the world. The lithographer of this print, Alphonse Leon Noel (1807-1884), was a painter and illustrator from Pairs. Noel was a student of Gros and Herson. Early in his career he gave up painting and devoted his time to lithography, with his first lithograph being issued in 1827. Noel continued as a lithographer until 1866. During his day he was a well know lithographic reproducer of paintings and portraits, especially the work of portrait painter Winterhalter. Noel's lithographs number more than 1,000 of which 600 are portraits. His work can be seen in the Cabinet d'Estampes, Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris.
The quality of this print, lithographed by one of the best craftsmen in Europe, is excellent, and is one of the finest examples of American genre art to be found. $5,500
George Caleb Bingham. "Stump Speaking." New York: Fischel, Adler & Schwartz, 1856. 22 x 30. Engraving by Gautier. Time toned throughout, with vertical acid burns. Else, very good condition. Ref.: McDermott, p. 437, #9.
George Caleb Bingham is one of the greatest American genre painters of the middle of the nineteenth century. In his large canvases he showed daily life from American heartland. A number of these were made into prints, of which this is one of the most desirable and rare. The image is an icon of American art and politics. A group of voters (all men, the only enfranchised citizens at the time) gather beneath an oak tree on a Missouri farm to listen to the candidates present their positions and qualifications. The speaker leans forward for emphasis, while an imposing, opposing candidate sits behind listening and another makes notes on a pad. This latter individual is thought to be Bingham himself, who was involved in politics for a number of years. Though based on actual events witnessed by Bingham, the scene is general and iconographic. The mix of ages and social classes thoughtfully considering the candidates is an ideal image of American democracy. $6,200
George Caleb Bingham. "Martial Law." or [Order Number 11]. Columbia and Kansas City, Missouri: George C. Bingham & Company, 1872. 21 1/2 x 30 3/4 (image) plus full margins and text. 27 x 37 o.d. Engraving and mezzotint by John Sartain. Designated "PROOF." Some age spotting. Excellent impression.
A number of George Caleb Bingham's genre pictures were made into prints. This composition is unusual because rather than being a general situation, such as a genre scene on a river raft or at an election, this is a strong polemical piece depicting a particular event during the Missouri-Kansas fighting before and during the Civil War.
The scene of murder, devastation and misery is explained by the subtitle on the print: "AS EXEMPLIFIED IN THE DESOLATION OF BORDER COUNTIES OF MISSOURI DURING THE ENFORCEMENT OF MILITARY ORDERS, ISSUED BY BRIGADIER GENERAL EWING, OF THE FEDERAL ARMY, FROM HIS HEAD QUARTERS, KANSAS CITY, AUGT 25TH 1863." Prior to this event in the 1860s a veritable war existed in western Missouri and Kansas between pro and anti slavery advocates. Due to some cruel raids and pitched battles as well as outright murders the officer in charge of the federal military district around Kansas City decided to clear the countryside of farming people. The result saw Union and Confederate sympathizers as well as partisans expelled from homes which were destroyed. Despite protests by Bingham and other powerful citizens the order was enforced. Many innocent people suffered horribly.
Bingham never forgave Ewing and hounded him on the matter for the rest of their lives. Between 1865 and 1867 Bingham worked on his painting with the plan to issue prints of the image. Not until 1872 was the plate readied by John Sartain in Philadelphia and published with financial backing by the Rollins family in Missouri. Distribution of the print even included circulating it in Ohio where Ewing was running for political office in later years. The likeness of Ewing in the picture shows him drawing a gun while women, old men and boys plead for mercy. The Negro man and boy in the foreground exemplify how the innocent were victimized. Burning farms are seen across the far horizon. Art historians claim that this is not the artist's best work, but it is the most powerful image of the border war in the 1860s by a participant. $5,000
Thomas Cole. "Voyage of Life-Youth." New York: American Art Union, 1850. 15 1/2 x 22 3/4 (image). Engraving by John Smillie. Wide margins with light soiling in margins. Excellent impression. Overall, very good condition. Ref: Thomas Cole. One Hundred Years Later. A Loan Exhibition. Boston and New York: Wadsworth Athenæum and Whitney Museum of American Art, 1949. Matthew Baigell, Thomas Cole. New York, 1981.
Thomas Cole (1801-1848) is known as the founder of the Hudson River School of landscape painting and produced primarily realistic and imaginary landscapes. Samuel Ward commissioned Cole to paint a set of four allegorical paintings in 1839. These four prints, engraved after Cole's paintings, depict the stages of life from birth to death. Cole's inspiration may have come from a sermon by Reverend Reginald Heaver referring to "life [which] bears on us like the stream of a mighty river."
In 1849, Smillie engraved "Youth" for the American Art Union (1839-1851), an organization created to support and develop popular appreciation of American art by issuing prints engraved after paintings which the organization owned. The favorable reception of this print led Smillie to engrave the three other voyages and issue the four print set in 1855. This image shows the man just beginning to depart from his guardian angel, before he begins to deal with the difficult currents of manhood through appeal to God. $1,200
Emanuel Leutze. "The Angel's Whisper." Philadelphia: Bradley & Co; Rochester R. H. Curran, 1858. 16 x 12. Mezzotint by John Sartain. Minor tear in bottom margin expertly repaired. Otherwise, very good condition.
This print is after a painting by Emanuel Leutze. Born in Germany in 1816, Leutze is known mainly as an historical and portrait painter. He and his family emigrated to the United States and settled in Philadelphia, where he studied painting under John Rubens Smith. In 1840 Leutze traveled back to Germany to study under Lessing. He lived in Germany for twenty years before returning to America in 1859 to paint "Westward the Course of the Empire," an allegorical-historical mural for the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C. Leutze here shows a mastery of the more intimate, tender moments of human experience. In his engraved interpretation, Sartain beautifully captures the range of tone that makes the composition so successful.
Below the image, an excerpt for the Irish poet Samuel Lover's ballad, "The Angel's Whisper," lends a title to the print and enhances its tender effect. Celebrating both virtuosity of motherhood and the saintliness of children, this print is a beautiful example of Victorian sensibility and sentiment. $325
Frederic Edwin Church. "The hearts [sic] of the Andes." Berlin: F. Sala & Co., ca. 1858. Tinted lithograph with hand highlights. 15 1/2 x 21 3/4. Very good condition.
Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900) is one of the most influential landscape artists of the nineteenth century. A pupil of Thomas Cole, he was a key figure in the Hudson River School of American artists. In the 1850s, inspired by Alexander von Humboldt, Church went to South America and made sketches for what would become his most impressive painting, "The Heart of the Andes," completed in 1858. Church's large canvas (6 x 10 feet) was a huge success with the public and attracted more than twelve thousand viewers when it was exhibited in New York in 1859. Though this print, produced in Germany, cannot convey the impact of the huge original, it still beautifully captures Church's grand concept and the careful detail set in an awe-inspiring landscape. $1,200
After a painting by Lilly M[artin] Spencer. "The Pic Nic on the Fourth of July." New York: H. Peters, circa 1870. 21 3/4 x 29 3/4 (image) plus full margins. Engraved by Sam'l Hollyer & J. Roger. Repaired tears in margins at sides and top; one at top extending into image. Blemish in lower right margin.
Lilly Martin Spencer (1822-1902) executed domestic genre scenes, often including children and dogs. Her work has a distinct sentimental quality. Born in England to French parents, her family moved to America in 1830 to start a utopian colony. She began painting in her teens and had her first exhibition in 1841. This brought her artwork to the attention of a wealthy Cincinnati patron, Nicholas Longworth. He offered to send her to Europe to further her education, but she declined, instead spending much of her time working with John Insco Williams (1813-1873). In 1844, she married Benjamin Rush Spencer. She experienced some financial success in 1847 by selling her artwork through the Western Art-Union. Thereafter, Spencer moved to New York City where her popularity continued to grow. Unusual for the time, her husband, while being her business manager, served the domestic role in the relationship, taking care of the children so Lilly would have more time to paint. Lilly Martin Spencer had thirteen children, seven of whom survived. Throughout her career, she produced 500 works, many of which were reproduced as popular engravings and lithographs.
This print is a tour de force of her pictorial skills because it contains children, dogs, lovely costume elements and a bucolic landscape. While our limited reference capacity does not allow us to state when the painting was done, we can estimate the engraving being published in New York about 1870 because Spencer moved there from Cincinnati in 1847, and Hollyer returned to New York after a six year absence in 1866. The style suggest to us that the print was done in this second period when the artist and engraver were working in New York at the same time. $850
Two shoeshine boys at odds over a corner prime for the trade. $800
The Aldine. An American Art Journal (1868-79), was started as a house organ for a New York firm of printers, but became a general magazine devoted to art and typography under the editorship of R.H. Stoddard (1871-75). It was filled with wood engravings based on art by some of the best American artists of the day, including most famously Thomas Moran, after whose work thirty-nine prints were made. Many of these, and images by other artists, featured American landscapes, showing places and buildings of interest. $125
Noted for his sympathetic images of African-Americans, American painter Thomas Waterman Wood earned the Water Color Society of New York's prize with his painting "Uncle Ned and I." Born in abolitionist New England, Wood came of age as a portrait painter in antebellum Boston, where he studied with Chester Harding. His later travels took him around the country and the world before he settled in Montpelier and New York, focusing on American genre subjects. About one quarter of his paintings focused on African-American subjects, who he portrayed with remarkable sympathy for the period. Though "Uncle Ned" echoes the titles "Uncle" and "Aunt" given to enslaved Africans (and held over in post-bellum years), the subject here appears in much the same garb and stance as Wood's Caucasian farm worker subjects. The sentimental dignity afforded to both man and child here reflects the Victorians' obsession with the virtue of childhood. Rather than presenting an African-American man as a comical or political symbol, Wood portrays him here as a man, in much the same position and light as a Caucasian man of similar age and occupation. $850
Andrew W. Melrose. "Lake George." [Sabbath Day Point/Roger's Slide]. Washington: A. Melrose, ca. 1885. 21 1/2 x 35 1/2. Chromolithograph by Raphael Tuck and Sons. Margins trimmed to image as issued. Vibrant colors. Very good to excellent condition.
Andrew Melrose (1836-1901) was an artist of American landscapes. He had studios in Hoboken and Guttenburg, New Jersey during the 1870s and 1880s. He is particularly known for his paintings of views from North Carolina to New England, though he also produced images of Ireland, the Tyrols and Cornwall, England. This lovely and colorful Adirondack scene shows the area of Sabbath Day Point, near the present day town of Hague, New York. The view is looking north. In the background, on the left is Roger's Slide. In foreground, is a cabin with people unloading provisions on the shore. In the middle distance a flat bottom boat is ferrying people to another location on the lake. Melrose published a number of large chromolithographs after his paintings. Many artists tried selling these large and colorful prints to make extra money and to help establish their reputations. This is an excellent example of nineteenth century chromolithography used to reproduce American paintings. $2,400
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