Sunday, December 20, 2009

WOOOOW

My Dad died earlier today and I am at a bit of a loss over how to mourn for him. Our world today is so filled with demands on our time and thoughts. Working eight hours a day, being involved with various community activities, keeping up with our “on-line” life (including writing blogs…), are all things constantly calling for our attention. While everyone is understanding at a time like this, it is not part of my daily life simply to be in the present time in order to try to deal with the passing of my father.

In earlier times, death was much more part of people’s everyday life. One manifestation of this was the common use of mourning pictures. Before the nineteenth century, there were memorial engravings, mezzotints or embroideries which were in the homes of the well off, but when modern printmaking processes, such as lithography, made prints more affordable and available, mourning prints became something that appeared in the homes of people of all classes and backgrounds.

Death was particularly prominent in the life of those in the “Victorian era.” Elaborate funerals and funeral processions were a common sight and death was an everyday topic of discussion. Death of family members, through childhood disease, accidents or war, was something everyone experienced far too often. In the nineteenth century, memorial mementos—lockets, hair jewelry and the like—became fashionable and ubiquitous. Among these were paper memorials, such as funeral photographs and funeral cards, and these were printed in large numbers. Memorial prints were also common.

In America, up to the end of the eighteenth century, memorial prints were mostly imported from Europe, but the death of George Washington inspired the production of American memorial prints. As lithographic printmaking firms began to appear around the country, producing “popular prints” for the general public, so too did lithographic mourning prints come to hang in more and more homes. The Civil War, with its huge number of deaths, spurred the publication of even more of these prints. One can find prints of this sort by Currier & Ives, the Kelloggs, Pendleton and many other American firms.


Typically, these prints would include a funerary urn on a plinth with weeping figures (wife, family, children, etc.) standing to the side. These variation in the mourners would allow a print to be appropriate for any family situation. The plinths often left a blank space below words such as “In Memory Of” for the name of the deceased to be written in. Other common elements of these prints include weeping willows, churches, and even sailboats on a river to represent the “soul’s voyage to heaven.”


These mourning lithographs tend to be some of the less expensive prints in today’s market. In today’s world death is not nearly as marketable as it once was! It is not as much a part of our lives and not something we really tend to want to “hang on the wall.” Still, the mourning prints are fascinating, for they can tell us—through architectural features, costume, and so forth—much about the age when they were printed, and they are really very touching in their sentiment. Still, they are definitely not good sellers on the market.

Would such a print help me? I certainly love to look at old prints and think about why they were used, what they tell us about the age in which they were produced, and to simply enjoy the art of our past. Maybe if I get a blank memorial print and put my dad’s name on it, it will allow me to slow down and remember him in a way I seem to be having trouble doing on my own. I always argue that antique prints give us a window on our past and I suppose it doesn’t necessarily have to be the distant past. I think I will give it a try.

In the last blog, I talked about the wonderful print illustrated above by Joseph Hoover, a Philadelphia printmaker. Today I'll talk a bit about this publisher whose firm lasted into the early 20th century.

Joseph Hoover started by making elaborate wood frames in Philadelphia in 1856, but within a decade or so he began to produce popular prints. Initially he mostly worked for other publishers, including Duval & Hunter, and he worked with noted Philadelphia artist James F. Queen. He also issued a few hand-colored, popular prints of considerable charm (like the one illustrated above). Later he produced decorative prints in black & white and then began to work in chromolithography, winning a medal for excellence during the Centennial for his chromolithographs after Queen’s renderings.

This was just the beginning of Hoovers work in chromolithography and he became one of the few native Americans who achieved success with this process. By 1885, Hoover installed a complete printing plant for chromolithography. By the end of the century, his firm was one of the largest print publishers in the county, with an average annual production of between 600,000 to 700,000 pictures.

Using chromolithography, Hoover was able to produce attractive, colorful prints that were still affordable for anyone to use as decoration for home and office. The audience for Hoover's prints was quite wide, extending through out the United States, and abroad to Canada, Mexico, England and Germany. The subjects issued by the firm are extensive, including genre scenes, still life images, views of American locations, and generic landscapes, including a series of charming winter scenes.

When one thinks of a Victorian holiday scene, and certainly that is the paradigm image many of us have, it is usually the great Currier & Ives winter prints that come to mind. With their cheerful winter scenes with snug homes, horse drawn sleighs and children playing, these iconographic images bring a smile to our faces, warm our hearts, and allow us to "remember" the "good old days of yore."

Currier & Ives were, however, only one of the popular print publishers in the nineteenth century producing charming winter scenes. One of their competitors, from my city of Philadelphia, was Joseph Hoover, whose business went on to achieve considerable success late in the century with their colorful chromolithographs (cf. forthcoming blog). At the beginning of his career, however, Hoover produced hand colored lithographs in the same ilk as those by his more famous competitors from New York City.

One of my favorite prints that brings with it all the wonderful feelings of the holiday is Hoover's print "Winter Scene in the Country" from 1868. Hoover did not have the same quality of artists as those who worked for Currier & Ives (such as George Durrie and Fanny Palmer), so his prints tend to be a bit more primitively drawn. This, in my mind, actually gives them a folksy charm, and certainly this print has all the elements we want in a holiday scene.

A wonderful ginger-bread Victorian house is set into a winter landscape near a pond upon which children and couples skate. Other children frolic and sled on the hill in the background, while boys and girls from the house in the foreground rush off to join their friends. Two horse-drawn sleighs are passing by and a huntsman and his dog return from a successful hunt.

While the drawing is not as fine as those on most Currier & Ives winter scenes, the quality of the lithography is first-rate. This is because this print was made by P.S. Duval and Son, one of the best lithographic firms in the country. Peter S. Duval was one of the first trained lithographers in the America, being brought over to Philadelphia from France in 1831 by Cephas G. Childs, a Philadelphia printmaker interested in expanding into the then relatively new print medium of lithography. Duval took over the Childs firm in 1834, bringing his son Stephen in as a partner in 1857.

Duval produced many of the finest American lithographs of the nineteenth century, including many of the wonderful Indian portraits from the McKenney & Hall History of the Indian Tribes of North America as well as beautiful views like the scene of Philadelphia above. The delicate line and subtle color of the Hoover "Winter Scene" make it a very nice, though unusual, example of his work.

Currier & Ives are famous not only because they produced some of the finest popular images of the nineteenth century, but also because their output, both in terms of different images and number of impressions of each, was so huge. Great Currier & Ives prints, though expensive, do come on the market with some regularity. Joseph Hoover, in contrast, was not nearly as successful and early prints by his firm are quite rare. Despite this scarcity, they sell for considerably less than similar images by Currier & Ives, so not only are these wonderful examples of Victorian popular art, they are also relatively affordable if you can find them.

The actions of the United States government have a huge impact not just on its own citizens, but of all people. The decisions facing the President, in particular, are difficult yet of crucial importance for the entire world. We can hope the government is guided by wisdom and this is a hope that citizens have had since the founding of the country. Today many are sceptical or pessimistic on this score, but in the early days of the republic there was more belief and optimism. This positive attitude is nicely expressed in a wonderful allegory "America Guided by Wisdom," based on a design by John Janes Barralet.

John J. Barralet (ca. 1747-1815) was an Irish artist who came to Philadelphia about 1795. He had established a reputation as a landscape and historical artist in Dublin and London. When Barralet first arrived in Philadelphia he was hired as an engraver by Alexander Lawson and soon took up painting landscapes in and around Philadelphia. Among American engravers, Barralet is credited with inventing a ruling machine for work on bank notes. Barralet is the artist of this print and the engraving was done by Benjamin Tanner, one of the leading Philadelphia engravers of the early Federal period.

The print was issued just after the War of 1812, which was often called the “Second War of Independence” at the time. Following a series of naval victories and battles at Baltimore and New Orleans, Americans were infused with a new optimism based on a peace treaty that arranged for them to be left alone to develop their new country. This print uses symbols of republican virtues to express pride in the new country, paying tribute to the nation's growing industry and trade.


In the eighteenth and early nineteenth century, educated viewers understood far more than we do about classical iconography, able to read and understand allegories such as this. However, the publisher felt descriptive text was needed and it helps provide us with information on the print. This text explains that the focus of the image is Minerva, Goddess of Wisdom, who points to an escutcheon of the United States with the motto “Union and Independence,” emblazoned on a shield held by female figure with a feathered headdress, representing America. As the description says, it is by "Union and Independence" that "the country enjoys the prosperity signaled by the horn of plenty, at the feet of America." Just besides America is a spear and shield with the visage of Medusa.

To the right of this vignette is an equestrian statue of Washington at the entrance of a "Triumphal Arch." I am not sure how this works, but according to the descripion, this is "indicating the progress of the liberal arts." On the base of the statue is a plaque with Washington's birth and death dates, as well as the year he was inaugurated President.



To the left of Minerva and America is a tableau that is best explained by the printed descriptive text:
Commerce is represented by the figure of Mercury, with one foot resting on bales of American manufactures, pointing out the advantages of encouraging and protecting Navigation...to Ceres....
Ceres is the goddess of agriculture and she is surrounded by symbols of America's rich agricultural prosperity, including a plow and wheat sheaves and a barrel and bundles of other goods.

The navigation Mercury points to is represented by a number of ships, including an armed U.S. Naval vessel.



Happy Thanksgiving! In honor of my favorite holiday, today I'll do a brief survey of prints of the turkey, which Benjamin Franklin thought should have been our national bird. In our neck of the woods these birds have made a significant come back and it is great to see them as I drive around the woods of Pennsylvania. You can also see them in print, as they have been pictured on paper for over four centuries!

As it happens, the first print of a turkey was also the first printed image of a North American bird. This was in an engraving published in 1591 by Theodor De Bry based on drawings by Jacques le Moyne de Morgues made while he was part of an attempted French settlement in the American southeast. Beginning in 1562, the French explored the coast from northern Florida to South Carolina. They tried to found a colony, under the command of Rene de Laudonnaiére, at Fort Caroline, but in 1565 they were massacred by the Spanish, who considered Florida to be their territory. Subsequently, to keep the French away, the Spanish built nearby a colony of their own, St. Augustine, thus founding the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in the United States.

There were only two survivors of the massacre, Laudonniére and the artist Jacques Le Moyne. In 1590 publisher Theodor De Bry began a series of volumes about early explorations to the New World and his second volume was about the French expedition, based on the words of Laudonniére and with engravings based on the water colors of Le Moyne. The print just above shows the French when they explored the Port Royal River. It includes depictions of native flora (grapes and gourds) and fauna (deer and turkeys). The latter image (detail at top) is the first printed image of any North American bird.

In 1606, Dutch mapmaker Jodocus Hondius wanted to include a regional map of the American southeast in his edition of the Mercator Atlas. The best maps of this region available were those in the first two volumes of De Bry's Voyages, one of the Florida region and one of the "Virginia" region. Hondius put these two maps together to create his important "Virginiae Item et Floridae." For information and decoration, Hondius included a few images from the two De Bry volumes, including portraits of Indians, vignettes of Indian towns, and small images of the deer and turkey from the Port Royal print.

Other than incidental appearances like this, the turkey does not seem to have been illustrated in print again until the early 19th century. Mark Catesby, who published the first natural history or American flora and fauna in 1731-43, and who included over 100 engravings of American birds, did not show the turkey even though it must have been fairly common. Perhaps it was considered too ordinary. Even Alexander Wilson, who followed Catesby's work with the first American ornithology in 1808-1814, did not picture the turkey. This was corrected in Charles Lucien Bonaparte's American Ornithology; or the Natural History of Birds inhabiting the United States, not given by Wilson, which was issued in 1825-33, after Wilson's death in 1813. Bonaparte's print of the turkey, shown here, is a lovely engraving by Alexander Lawson after a drawing by Philadelphia artist Titian Ramsay Peale.

The next major ornithological work on American birds was, of course, John James Audubon's mammoth Birds of America, a large folio work containing 435 hand-colored aquatints, mostly by Robert Havell, issued 1827-38. The very first print in the work was Audubon's great image of the male turkey cock (below left) and Audubon also included a plate of the female and young (above). These are without question the greatest of all turkey prints and the male turkey print is often among the most expensive of all Audubon's prints. In 1860, a second folio edition of Audubon's Birds of America was attempted, this time published using chromolithography. The advent of the Civil War basically killed off this expensive project before it was completed (as many of the subscribers were from the South), but not before a second edition of the male turkey print was produced (below right).

All of these folio Audubon prints are expensive, but since that time there have been many other prints of turkeys and most of those are considerably more affordable. Among the best of these are the octavo edition prints that are smaller versions of Audubon's folio prints. The first-edition octavo Audubon prints are somewhat expensive, though very collectible, but the later editions are also very attractive and definitely more affordable.

In the later part of the nineteenth century natural histories using chromolithographed prints began to appear. These were usually issued in fairly large numbers and this means that these prints tend to be relatively inexpensive, though they are also bright and colorful. Thomas Gentry included a nice image of turkeys with their eggs (above) in his 1882 Nests and Eggs of Birds of the United States and even an 1899 book on poultry breeding included a charming image of a pair of turkeys (below).


If you look at enough old prints, you will from time to time come across an interesting print with a black painted border or background. These are typically large folio, brightly colored and of somewhat crude in appearance. I have been quite interested in these prints and have tried to figure out the story behind them. Though I'm sure I don’t have the whole story, I think I have a reasonable handle on their history.

Most of the prints you find of this sort are by a New York publisher, H. Schile, who produced prints around the 1870s, including the wonderul "Across the Continent" pictured above. It is likely the Schile was a German immigrant and he certainly aimed his prints at the recent immigrant population, much of it German. By 1860, about 1.3 million German-born immigrants lived in the United States and the flow continued over the next couple decades, the 1880s being the decade of heaviest German immigration in the nineteenth century. Many of these immigrants from Europe settled in New York City and while few became rich, they were generally hard-working people who established a modest yet comfortable life style. In their neat apartments and homes they would naturally want decoration and Schile designed his prints both to reflect the culture and history of the New World, but in a style which they would find familiar..

Of Schile and his prints, Harry Peters, in his American on Stone, says the following:

“Though often German in source or character, often bearing titles in foreign languages, for the convenience of immigrants, and invariably and outrageously crude in conception, composition, drawing and lithography, Schile’s prints are undoubtedly American in spirit, because they so vividly represent the ‘melting pot’ from which they came for which they were made.” (p. 358)

“If the families of the trim, white isolated houses of New England had their Kellogg sentimentals, the swarming tenements of New York had their Schile heart throbs, and though the craftsmanship was miles apart, the essential appeal was the same.” (p. 359)


The black bordered prints seems to be in a style that was familiar and appealing to the immigrants, so many of Schile’s prints were issued in that format (some of his prints appeared both with and without the black borders).

Another German immigrant publisher who produced prints with the black borders was the New York publisher Max, Jacoby & Zellner. Among their prints were a series of hunting scenes (ripped off from Currier & Ives images), as well as views such as a print of Niagara Falls. Some of their prints have the indication that they were made in Germany.

Another publisher who produced hunting prints with black borders (also mirroring Currier & Ives images) is E. Foerster Company, supposedly of New York. I can find no information on this firm, which is not listed at all by Peters, so it is at least possible that Foerster was a German publisher trying to branch out into the New York market, with the prints made in Germany, as seems to be the case with the Max, Jacoby & Zellner prints which Foerster’s prints look much like.

There is a wonderful view of the Whirlpool near Niagara in the Penney Collection (at the Castellani Art Museum) which has a black border and which is listed as being produced by F. Silber of Berlin. Silber was a German publisher who did sell a number of prints (including some with black borders) in this country, so it seems not unlikely there was a similar Germany-New York connection for both Max, Jacoby & Zellner and Foerster. Such a connection may also apply to Schile’s prints, but I have not seen one that indicates it was produced in Germany.

In any case, these are very attractive and unusual prints, the study of which gives us some insight into the home environment of immigrant Americans in the second part of the nineteenth century. It is a subject I continue to try to learn more about, so if any reader has come across an example or has any further information, I'd love to hear from you.

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