Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Mythical Islands: Brasil

Last blog I talked about the legendary St. Brendan's Island which floated around the North Atlantic for many centuries. Another non-existent island in the North Atlantic which was based on legend was Brasil (also called Brazil, Bersil, Brazir, O’Brazil, O’Brassil, Hy-Brasil or Breasail).

This is not to be confused with the country Brazil. That country was named after brazilwood, which was exported to Europe for its red die. As João de Barros wrote in 1552,
"When it came to the 3rd of May, and Pedroalvares [Cabral] was about to set sail, in order to give a name to the land thus newly discovered, he ordered a very great cross to be hoisted at the top of a tree, after mass had been said at the foot of the tree... and then he gave the country the name of Sancta Cruz... But as soon as the red wood called Brazil began to arrive from that country, he wrought that the name should abide in the mouth of the people, and that the name of Holy Cross should be lost, as if the name of a wood for colouring cloth were of more importance than that wood which imbues all the sacraments with the tincture of salvation, which is the Blood of Jesus Christ."

It is not clear where the name of the legendary island Brasil came from, but it may have its roots in the Gaelic "Hi-Breasail," which may refer to an old Irish clan or possibly an ancient demi-God. It could also come from from the Gaelic "breas-ail", meaning blessed, and so it might be connected with Brendan's Fortunate Isles. Whatever the source of the name, the island was a fixture in early Irish legend, first recorded as "O'Brasil" in the Voyage of Maelduin from about 1100 A.D. The legend is that Brasil was an island just to the west of Ireland which was constantly covered by mist, except one day every seven years when it becomes visible at sunset. Even today some of the inhabitants of Aran and the west coast of Ireland claim to have seen the island rise from the sea every seven years.

Beginning in the late fifteenth century, sailors out of Bristol are recorded by the Spanish representative to England, Pedro de Ayala, as sailing in search of Brasil. A letter by John Day from 1497-98 stated that Brasil had been visited by John Cabot, who had learned of it from earlier Bristol sailors. This probably refers to English voyages to either Newfoundland or Nova Scotia, and it is even possible that some of the early Irish references to the island reflect knowledge of North America.

Brasil first appeared on maps in the fourteenth century, including in the Catalan atlas of 1375, where it appears twice. While St. Brendan's Island began to disappear from maps in the early seventeenth century, Brasil was a regular feature of the waters to the west of Ireland for over a century more. By the nineteenth century Brasil had morphed into "Brasil Rock" on the Admiralty Charts, before it was finally removed officially in the second half of that century.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Mythical Islands: St. Brendan’s Island

The most common type of mythical geographical feature are non-existent islands. Sailors called these “flyaway islands,” because they were not where they were supposed to be when a crew went looking for them. There are a number of reasons that non-existent islands appear so often on maps, including a basis in legends, optical mistakes, navigational mistakes, and deliberate misinformation. Today I’ll talk a bit about one of the islands based in legend.

Historically, the oceans almost always formed the edge of the known world. It is likely that the question of what lay over the water, beyond the horizon, was a subject that stirred the imagination of coastal visitors for as long as there have been humans. This naturally led to speculation about what possibly existed far out at sea, resulting in the oceans becoming the location of numerous legendary places and beings. Every nation located on the coast of a large body of water has tales of places out at sea that were based on myths and fables. Sometimes these were the location of Earthy Paradise, or a magical land or certainly at least a land of unimaginable wealth.

There was a long tradition of rich islands off the coasts of Asia and Africa. The wealthy kingdom of Ophir from the Bible was often believed to be an island, the Garden of Eden was thought by some as an island, and others said that Adam and Eve went to an island in the east after being expelled from Eden. John Mandeville spoke of over 5,000 islands east of Asia, Marco Polo said there were 12,700 islands in the India Sea and 7,459 in the China Sea, and Arab geographer Al-Idrisi said the oceans contained 27,000 islands!

The Atlantic was also heavily populated by legendary islands. I have already discussed, in an earlier blog, the non-existent islands based on the reports of the Zeno brothers, but there were a number of mythical islands with an even longer history, including St. Brendan’s island, Brazil, Antilla, and the Island of Seven Cities. Though none of these islands existed (at least as they were thought to exist), many Europeans went looking for them time and again over the centuries.

St. Brendan’s Island

St. Brendan of Ardfert (ca. 484-578) was an Irish monk who was said to have sailed, with sixty men, into the Atlantic Ocean in search of the Isle of the Blest. According to the story, they sailed for five years and saw many wonders, eventually reaching a beautiful island where they met a holy man. Brendan believed this to be his “Promised Land of the Saints.”

Legends about Brendan became current shortly after he died and by the tenth century a number of books had been written about his voyages. The written accounts differ with each other, but there is enough in them that matches the geography of the North Atlantic that it seems to indicate that the accounts probably reflect some knowledge of voyages in the North Atlantic by Irish monks, including possibly by St. Brendan himself. Certainly Irish monks had been to Iceland before 800 A.D., and it is possible that they made it to Greenland.

Beginning in the fifteenth century, expeditions were sent out from Portugal and Bristol, England, to locate St. Brendan’s island, though of course this non-existent land was never discovered. Still, by the thirteenth century the island appeared as a concrete place on maps. The first map to include the island seems to be the Ebstorf mappemundi of 1235. It also appeared on the Hereford mappemundi of 1275 (above), which labels the island as “Fortunate Insulae sex sunt Insulae Sct. Brandani.”

St. Brendan’s island appeared on maps to as late as the middle of the eighteenth century, wandering about the Atlantic Ocean in numerous locations. Sometimes the island might actually reflect newly discovered islands, such as the Madeiras or Canaries (which are also called the “Fortunate Islands”), or it might simply be inserted in some unexplored blank spot at the guess of the mapmaker. The island appeared on the Behaim globe of 1492 and prominently on a number of other maps, including those by Abraham Oretlius (above) and Gerard Mercator (below).

Though St. Brendan’s island did have a long history on maps, lasting almost 500 years, it did begin to disappear from most maps by the early seventeenth century, for by then it seems to have mostly been accepted as referring to the Canary Islands. There was another island, of equally legendary status, that floated about the Atlantic even after St. Brendan Island vanished. I’ll write about that island, Brasil, in the next blog.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Selling prints

When I was growing up, I was unsure I what I wanted to do with my life, but one thing I did know was that I didn't want to be in business. My Dad was a minister and, in my family, "business" was somewhat looked down upon (one of my friends calls businessmen, "money grubbing merchants"). I ended up heading in the direction of teaching Philosophy, doing a couple of degrees in the subject and then working towards my PhD, which is what brought me to Philadelphia. Somewhat by chance I ended up taking a year hiatus from my thesis in order to work for a printseller, but at the end of that year I discovered that i) I couldn't stand the guy I worked for and ii) I loved working with antique maps and prints. So, the only option seemed to be to start my own business, which I did with my partner Don Cresswell in 1982.

What I loved about this career was being able to work with all the wonderful maps and prints that I came across. I was able to research them, write them up, and then tell other people about them. That was great! The one part I was uncomfortable about initially, however, was the fact that I was trying to sell them and make money. Somehow this didn't quite seem "right." I felt almost apologetic when I sold something and made a profit.

Not surprisingly, however, this feeling didn't last too long. First off I realized that people loved the fact we were allowing them to find and purchase antique prints and maps. These were not things that people had to buy, like light bulbs, but things people wanted to find and acquire. If we weren't out there finding great things, fixing them up, and putting them out for people to see, they wouldn't have the opportunity of owning these great old prints. And, of course, the shop had to make a profit or we wouldn't be able to perform this service. It really did take a while, but eventually I became comfortable being a businessman.

I have not lost my philosophical bent, however, and I am always interested to think about the whole process of selling prints. One thing I realized was that the attitude of our shop wasn't on "selling" prints, but rather on educating people about how wonderful our prints were, which would then lead them to purchase the prints. This is a bit of a subtle difference, but it is real.

For instance, when we are looking for a new employee, we never look for someone who can "sell"; we always look for someone who i) can appreciate our prints and ii) can communicate what is interesting/special about them to the public. The prints sell themselves; our job is to find them, make sure they are stable, put them out where people can see them, and then educate people about why they are special. That is why our web site and catalogues tend to have extensive descriptions about the items listed, why our web site has so many "informational" pages and an on-life reference library, and why we provide historic descriptions for almost everything we sell.

Our shop was founded because of my and my partner's love of antique prints and maps, and we both believe that if you can communicate what is special about these prints, the business will be successful (tell it and they will sell). There was an interesting example of this at the Philadelphia Antiques Show this last weekend, concerning chromolithographs.

As I have written in an earlier blog, I really like American chromolithographs of the sort that were intended to have the appearance of oil paintings. We usually have a good inventory of these prints and I always take a few to antique shows with me. Unfortunately, they tend not to sell very well at those shows. What usually happens is that people look at them, assuming they are oil paintings, and then when they ask me about them and I explain that, no they are chromolithographs, the people immediately lose interest. To me, that is what is so great about them, but for people who were assuming they were oils, it seems to just be a turn off.

For the Philadelphia Antiques Show this year, I decided to feature a whole section of our booth on these chromos, so I hung 10 of them all together and put up a sign explaining what these were. Amazingly enough, it worked! I probably don't sell even a single chromolithograph at but one in five or six shows I go to, but at the show (so far) we sold seven of them. I do not think it was just that we happened to have a good selection, nor that they were all hung together, but I think it is because when people approached these prints, the sign made them realize right from the beginning that they were looking at prints. That way there was no downer of being mistaken as to what was being looking at, but instead the clients could simply appreciate the prints for what they are.

One thing I have found over the years is that almost any print or map is interesting if appreciated in the right way and one of the fun things about my career is for me to learn about these prints and then be able to tell others about them. When it works, not only is it a success for us as a business, but it is also very satisfying.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Philadelphia On Stone

I seem to be a bit behind once again on posting about a terrific print exhibit, Philadelphia on Stone, which opened last month... I did mention that this exhibition was coming when I posted a blog on The Library Company of Philadelphia, but forgot to make a new post once the exhibit actually opened. My forgetfulness has nothing to do with what I think of the exhibit, for I think this is one of the best exhibits on 19th century American lithographs I have ever visited.

The exhibit Philadelphia on Stone: The First Fifty Years of Commercial Lithography, 1828-1878 focuses on 19th century Philadelphia lithography. Invented at the end of the 18th century, commercial lithography only came to America in the 1820s, becoming the dominate means of printmaking by the time of the Centennial. As clearly documented in this exhibit, Philadelphia played a seminal role in the development and expansion of American lithography, from the first American lithograph by Bass Otis in 1819 to the commercial advertisements of the 1870s.

The exhibit is in the Library Company's quite small exhibit space, but curator Erika Piola has done an terrific job of packing in an amazing amount of information, along with lots of wonderful illustrations and examples of Philadelphia lithography. The exhibit considers a number of different aspects of Philadelphia lithography. A clear and quite comprehensive section focuses on the history and process of the medium and another interesting section looks at the lives of Philadelphia lithographers. The examples of Philadelphia lithography, from the Library Company holdings and other collections, are varied, attractive, colorful and fascinating.

This exhibit is part of a larger collaborative project headed by the Library Company, under the direction of Erika. Besides this exhibit, the Philadelphia on Stone project is embarked on making a survey of eight institutional collections--the Library Company, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, the Atwater Kent Museum, the Athenaeum of Philadelphia, the Free Library of Philadelphia, the American Antiquarian Society, the Library of Congress, and the Smithsonian Institution--for lithographic views of Philadelphia in this period. This survey will soon result in a digital catalog, available on-line, of these prints. Other parts of the project include a biographical dictionary of Philadelphia lithographers and a forthcoming book on the subject (for which I have contributed a chapter). For more information on this project, and to access the digital resources as they become available, visit the Philadelphia On Stone web site.

Let me once again highly recommend visiting the exhibit, which is running through October 15, 2010. It is visually captivating and intellectually stimulating. I consider myself something of an expert on the topic, but I learned an amazing amount as I went around the exhibit. In the last decade or so, there have been more and more scholarly projects on the history of American prints and this exhibit, and the related project, are superb examples of this exciting trend.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Maps of Pennsylvania. Why so unloved?

Last week I wrote the first blog in a series about differences in popularity of different antique prints, looking at the most popular Philadelphia view, the Bartlett engraving of Fairmount Waterworks. Today I'll talk about popularity of maps, but this time looking at one of the least popular types of maps, those showing the state of Pennsylvania.

As I discussed in an early blog about the value ranking of antique prints & maps, there is a hierarchy of values for maps of the different states. At the top are maps of Texas; maps of the Lone Star state almost always sell for more than comparable maps of other states. By this I mean that if a map of Texas and some other sate, say Kentucky, are by the same maker and of the same date, condition, size, and visual appeal, the map of Texas will almost certainly be worth considerably more than the map of Kentucky. Some of this is because Texas has an interesting history and some of it is because Texas has a large population, but I think the biggest reason Texas maps are so popular is because Texans love Texas and they love almost anything related to their state, including antique maps.

Pennsylvania maps are not at the absolute bottom of the value ranking for state maps, but they are certainly in the lower half. Why is this? Pennsylvania has a very interesting history--I'd say just as interesting as that of Texas, and it has a large population--about half the population of Texas, but it still is the 6th most populous state. So why does it have such a low value ranking compared to maps of Texas?

There are quite a number of reasons for this. One fairly mundane reason, though one that I think is fairly powerful in determining the value rankings of maps, is the shape of the state. I hate to say it, but Pennsylvania has a rather boring shape; it is pretty much just a standard rectangle, with an odd angle in the northwest and a few squiggles in the east. Compare that to Florida, with its swooping peninsular and delicate pan-handle, or Kentucky with its interesting hump-backed shape. I am convinced that maps of Pennsylvania would sell for more if the state had a more interesting shape and that Florida would not be so desirable if it were squared-off!

Not only is the shape of Pennsylvania boring, but it doesn't really change much over time. Early settlement was mostly along the east coast, but the shape of the colony by the Royal Charter was as a rectangle. The first map of the state was Nicholas Scull's monumental map of 1759 (above left). This map depicts only to the middle of the Appalachian chain of mountains, but it still looks almost identical to the map (above right) done sixteen years later by Nicholas Scull's grandson, William Scull, even though that map shows the colony right to its western edge. The shape of maps of Pennsylvania is really basically the same whether from 1759 or 1814 or 1905 or the present day. Many states changed shape as they moved from colony or territory to state, so collectors can have fun hanging maps that show the progression of the state as it changed over time, like Nebraska as it morphed from a vast territory to the moderately sized state of today.

I think that all these factors play a role in keeping maps of Pennsylvania near the bottom of the value ranking of states, but I think the most important factor is the fact that there just are not that many people who identify with the state of Pennsylvania. There are lots of people who identify with parts of Pennsylvania, but not so many who identify with the state as a whole. There are a lot of people who consider themselves as either Philadelphians or part of the Delaware Valley; maps of Philadelphia are very desirable and have a high value ranking relative to other American cities. Similarly with western Pennsylvania. Lots of people think of themselves as Pittsburghers or western Pennsylvanians and maps of the western part of the state or the city sell well. Those in the east often look down on those in the west and those in the west think those in the east are full of themselves. Many of those who live in the middle of the state wish both ends would drop off!

The result is that relatively few people really identify with the state as a whole. This is somewhat true of New York State as well, where citizens of New York City tend not to identify with the state as a whole, only with the city. This cuts out many of the people who you might think of as wanting New York state maps, so that state is quite a ways down in the value ranking. This contrasts with Texas and Virginia, where people in almost every part of the state identify with the entire state. There are, therefore, lots of people who want maps of Texas and Virginia (which is, like Texas, near the top of the state value ranking), but not so many who want maps of Pennsylvania or New York, even though both states have large populations.

There are a couple other reasons that keep Pennsylvania near the bottom of the state value ranking. One is that there are lots of maps published of Pennsylvania ever since the eighteenth century. The colony was important early, so quite a number of maps were made of it before the Revolution. In the early days of the nation, the state was a political and economic powerhouse, so again a lot of maps were made of it. One final factor that keeps maps of the state relatively unpopular is the lack of a good reference book documenting the history of the mapping of Pennsylvania. States were there have been good references written about their maps always see a surge in interest, so maybe one of these days I'll write such a reference...

I have long tried to build up interest in the maps of Pennsylvania, for I think they are really unfairly unpopular. The greatest maps of the state sell for a fraction of even less important or rare or attractive maps of more popular states. However, there is one good thing about this, which is that a collector can at any time find a very good selection of early maps of Pennsylvania and those are priced very moderately. The collector maps of Texas or Virginia, in contrast, has a much harder time being able to get hold of a great state maps and will have to pay much more. So, Pennsylvania may get no respect from map collectors, but maybe that is not such a bad thing.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Soccer prints

On Saturday (April 10), the Philadelphia Union will play its first home game. As a soccer fan, I have been waiting a long time for Philadelphia to get a MLS (Major League Soccer) team and that happy event happened this year. The Union played its first ever game two weeks ago and coming up is its first home game. In honor of this wonderful event, I thought I would do a post about early soccer prints.

Soccer has ancient roots, for variations of “football” were played during the Han Dynasty in China (206 BC–25 AD), by the ancient Greeks and Romans, and in Japan during the sixth century. The earliest modern form of the game was played in Great Britain in the twelfth century. This game was very popular but fell into royal disfavor, being banned several times in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. In 1349, the game was prohibited by a royal edict “because it cooperated with other favorite amusements to impede the progress of archery.”

This early game was close to the modern game of soccer, or as most of the world still calls it, football. The core of this game involved two teams each trying to kick a ball across a goal line. By the middle of the nineteenth century, various quite distinct forms of football had evolved, with the nature of the field, number of players, and other rules varying considerably. At first all forms of football prohibited carrying the ball, but-–according to a possibly apocryphal story–-in 1823 William Webb Ellis, a student at the Rugby School, disregarded this rule by picking up the ball and running across the goal line. Soon a separate branch of the game, which allowed the ball to be carried, had evolved, the origin of today's rugby and American football.

In England, the kicking form of football continued to evolve, especially in English schools and universities, but also in various public clubs. Efforts to standardize the rules culminated in 1863 with the formation of the London Football Association formed by several London clubs. They established a uniform code of rules, defining "association football," and establishing the basis of today's game. As it happen "soccer," is derived from "asSOCiation."

The English, including soldiers, ex-pats, and travelers, exported their game around the world. In America, what we would call soccer was not very common. In the 1860s, the Oneida Football Club of Boston probably played a similar game and some American colleges played a game inspired by the Football Association rules, though their game soon took on the form more of rugby, eventually turning into American football. There were a number of Football Association leagues formed towards the end of the century, and by the early twentieth century the name “soccer” began to be used as the primary name in America for this form of the game.

In the nineteenth century, other than the "gentleman's sports" of hunting, fishing, and horse racing, most sports had not achieved the status to have separately issued prints made of them, at least in any great number. Thus for most sports, including soccer, one mostly finds early prints from the illustrated newspapers of the day, like Harper's Weekly or Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper.

There are some antique prints showing some of the early forms of soccer. In America, a version of football with teams consisting of many players was played by Civil War troops. This game had elements of today's soccer, rugby and football. Wood engravings from Harper's Weekly provide some of the first pictures of this popular game. Most prints showing soccer from the nineteenth century were issued in British illustrated papers, such as the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News. Today, at the dawn of professional soccer in Philadelphia, it is fun to look back at the history of the game and of its early iconography.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Popularity of prints: favorite Philadelphia image

I have posted a number of blogs on how we price prints, looking at the various factors which influence the value of antique prints. Today I will start a few blogs which look at particular cases of print desirability, considering why it is some prints are more desirable (and thus generally more valuable) than other similar prints.

Without question, the most popular antique Philadelphia print is W.H. Bartlett's view of the Schuylkill Waterworks. This is a smallish (4 3/4 x 7 1/4 image size) steel engraving first issued in 1839-40 as part of N.P. Willis's American Scenery, a travel book describing the picturesque sights in America with text and numerous views based on drawings by Bartlett. Bartlett's print of the waterworks is quite affordable (under $200), very attractive, and was issued in fairly large numbers. By far we have sold more examples of this print in the last quarter century than any of print. It is a print which I would guess has an average "shelf life" (time it takes from our putting it on the sales floor until it sells) of about one week.

There are a number of reasons why this print is so popular. First off, it is a lovely image, as are most of Bartlett's views of American scenes. Prints by Bartlett from American Scenery are among the most popular American prints of any place that he depicted. Bartlett did four images of Philadelphia; besides the waterworks, he did an image of the Fairmount Gardens (at the foot of Faire Mount, behind the waterworks), the Merchant's Exchange and the U.S. Bank. These three prints are also very popular and sell quite quickly, though not as fast as the waterworks.

All the Bartlett prints, of Philadelphia and elsewhere, are popular because they are lovely images, well crafted, and are priced moderately. They are also of a size that is easy for people to frame and find a place for in their homes. Finally, they are of specific locations in America. Prints of American places always have a certain popularity. All the Bartlett prints have the same history, each image is essentially just as attractive as any other print, so the variation in price of these prints (which range from about $75 to $150) is totally determined by the desirability of the place depicted.

Certain places (like Boston, Philadelphia & Washington DC) have more people interested in pictures of them than other places (such as upstate New York or the Susquehanna River valley). Where there are multiple images for one location, such as for Philadelphia, the value depends on the popularity of the different subjects. Certain places, like the Capitol Building, are icons and well known, so they will be more desirable than other places. Also, if the building depicted no longer is standing or if the location has changed so that the print is not recognizable (such as the Trenton Falls in New York), then those prints are always less desirable.

In Philadelphia, there is no more iconic, well known, and beloved building than the Fairmount Waterworks, at least for those people who live in Philadelphia. I would suppose that if you talked to people from elsewhere, it is probably "Independence Hall," (the Pennsylvania State House), which is the best known symbol of America. Not only have images of Independence Hall been around since the 18th century, but its important role as the site of the beginnings of the United States give it an historic importance second to none for Philadelphia, and indeed the United Sates.

Fairmount Waterworks is, as happens, very important in the history of Philadelphia. Replacing the Centre Square Waterworks, it allowed Philadelphia to have the best public water system in the country, and indeed probably in the world in the early nineteenth century. However, most Philadelphians are not really aware of how important the Fairmount Waterworks are to our history. The reason this site is so popular lies not in its history, but in its situation.

The Fairmount Waterworks is a lovely complex; the dam, porches, and engine house form a charming Greek Revival site. Add this to its situation on the banks of the Schuylkill River, in front of the gardens behind and Faire Mount rising up to the Art Museum above, and the scene is sublime. Not is the Fairmount Waterworks one of the most beautiful urban sites in America, but it is seen by a huge number of Philadelphians. Drivers on the Martin Luther King Drive and the Schuylkill Expressway have an excellent view of the site as they approach or leave the city. It is not surprising that this is a scene that appeals to a huge number of Philadelphians. Independence Hall, somewhat buried in the urban density of Philadelphia, is not nearly as charmingly situated nor seen by as many people.

Images of the waterworks, in any medium, from any date, and for any price range, are definitely the most popular Philadelphia scenes, and for antique prints, it is the wonderful Bartlett engraving of the waterworks which is the most popular of all.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Influence of French prints on early American lithography

One of the main appeals of lithography in the early days after its invention by Alois Senefelder in 1798, was that it was an excellent medium for the presentation of artistic renderings. Not only was it a medium which was relatively easy for artists to use themselves, but the range of tones and facility of line allowed for the close copying of paintings and drawings by skilled lithographic artists. The French were particularly adept and interested in this use of lithography and so many fine examples of French art appeared as lithographs in the first decades of the nineteenth century.

The lithograph above, “La Reverie," is based on painting by Henri de Caisne, showing a young woman caught in the midst of a day dream. The solid black rim of her hat and black dress contrast with the white feathers and her pale skin. Her right hand rests on a balustrade and to her left is a column almost covered by a billowing decorative curtain. Caisne (1799-1852) was a painter born in Brussels, who worked in Paris and exhibited in the Salons of both cities.

His charming image is rendered beautifully by French lithographer Alphonse Leon Noel (1807-1884), published by the french firm of Rittner & Goupil in 1829. Noel studied as an artist under Gros and Herson, but early on turned his attention to the new medium of lithography, his first print issued in 1827. Noel continued to work as a lithographer until 1866, becoming very well know as a lithographic reproducer of paintings and portraits, especially the work of portrait painter Franz Xavier Winterhalter. Noel’s lithographs number more than 1,000, of which 600 are portraits.

The second print, “Reverie,” here shown in a hand colored example, is a very close copy of Noel's lithograph, though this one lithographed by Dominico Canova about 1830. In the mid-1820s Canova worked for printmaker Anthony Imbert in New York, lithographing several plates for a commemorative publication in 1825 on the opening of the Erie Canal titled Memoir...presented to the mayor of the city, at the celebration of the completion of the New York Canals (cf. image on right). Canova also produced a number of other prints for Imbert and became an independent lithographer in the early 1830s in New York. Canova's lithograph is clearly copied from Noel's lithograph. Interestingly, the imprint indicates this print was published in Paris, this time by Rittner alone.

Of considerable interest is that there are other examples of this print, lithographed by Canova, which list Imbert as the printmaker. The example illustrated above is in the Harry T. Peters Collection at the Smithsonian Institution. They obviously look alike and a close examination shows that they actually came from the same lithographic stone. Canova’s signature, the size and composition of the image, and the four lines that surround the image are all exactly the same.

So, how does one explain the same print appearing on both sides of the Atlantic? That Imbert would have Canova copy the Noel lithograph makes sense. In the early part of the nineteenth century, French culture was emulated widely in America and prints "in the French style" were very popular. There was no great body of American art comparable to that of the French and so many American printmakers copied French prints in this period.

But why is there also an example of the same print with a Paris imprint, when the lithograph was made by an American lithographer. Especially why would a French printmaker involved in the publication of the first, French lithograph use an American copy? It is possible that Imbert, originally a Frenchman, may have known or worked for Rittner before moving to the United States. Imbert, seeking to make as much money as possible, perhaps sold the prints to Rittner, who then printed his name as publisher for European distribution. Something of a puzzle that would be fun to explore a bit more...

There is (at least) one more image based on Caisne's painting, this one entitled "The White Plume." This print was both lithographed and published, in 1830, by Philadelphia printmaker Cephas G. Childs (1793-1871). Childs was a native of Bucks county who became an expert engraver and print publisher in Philadelphia (he ended up living in Chestnut Hill, just a few blocks from our shop!).

In 1829, Childs formed the lithographic firm of Pendleton, Kearny & Childs. A year later, he went into business for himself, which did not prove successful, and in the same year acquired a partner, the New York artist Henry Inman. In 1831, Childs went to Paris to learn more about lithography, and returned with the lithographer P.S. Duval. Childs & Inman often used George Lehman as an artist, and Lehman went into partnership with Childs after Inman left in 1833. Despite his energy, skill and popularity, Childs never made much money in lithography, and so in 1834 he abandoned the business to become a newspaper publisher. That year, Child’s place was taken by Duval and the firm became known as Lehman & Duval. Lehman would eventually leave, and the firm under the leadership of P.S. Duval, would become one of the most respected and prosperous lithographic shops in the United States.

Like Canova, Childs based his print, “The White Plume”, on the French lithograph “La Reverie.” However, Childs changed the composition by eliminating balustrade, curtain and dark atmospheric setting to solely focus on the costumed figure. With the change in composition came a change in the title. This was likely done to accommodate American sensibilities. The editors of the United States Gazette, in April, 1830, commented enthusiastically:
“We had the pleasure yesterday of examining several beautiful lithographic prints from the establishment of Col. Childs in Walnut Street, and while we admire the positive beauties of all, we were especially struck with the evidences of rapid improvement within a few months. Most of our citizens have probably seen and admired the Mad’lle Sontag from Mr. Child’s establishment, now being exhibited at the windows of the fancy stores. We compared it with a new piece nearly finished entitled “The White Plume,” and could hardly have believed that so much could be attained in a few months. The latter we think may with advantage be compared with almost any print that has issued from the lithographic press at Paris."
The editors probably were unaware of the irony of their last statement! In any case, another publication, the National Gazette, also was impressed with Child's efforts, referring to the two prints mentioned in the quote above: “They exemplify the great progress which this truly useful art is making in this country." The quality of "The White Plume" is indeed high, making this a good example of the best of early American lithography, but it is also a good example of the influence of French prints on this new industry. The meaning of the other American-made copy, by Canova, is not so clear.