Showing posts with label painting. Show all posts
Showing posts with label painting. Show all posts

Friday, February 15, 2013

Cincinnati's Kilgour house and Mount Adams - This Time in Winter!

Ohio River Landscape / The Steamboat Washington
Ohio River Landscape / The Steamboat Washington. An oil painting (circa 1820). Used courtesy of Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Schwartz, Paterson, NJ. Reproduced from Folk Painters of America (1979) by Robert Bishop.

As part of my research, I've been reading Artists in Ohio, 1787-1900: A Biographyical Dictionary, (2000) edited by Mary Sayre Haverstock, Jeannette Mahoney Vance, and Brian L. Meggitt. This 1066 page tome includes perhaps 10,000 artists active in Ohio in or before 1900. I've been reading it, seeking out all of the artists active in or before 1865.

Two weeks ago, I identified the painting shown here as a Cincinnati scene. At center is the Kilgour house, built about 1820. To the right, the city's first water works. At the left, Deer Creek empties into the Ohio River.

The Forest Queen in Winter
The Forest Queen in Winter. A painting (1857) by Martin Andreas Reisner. Used courtesy of Richard and Jane Manoogian. Image used courtesy of The Athenaeum.

This morning, while reading Artists in Ohio, 1787-1900, I came across a citation for this 1857 painting, The Forest Queen in Winter by Martin Andreas Reisner. The authors noted that, in 1857, Reisner "visited Cincinnati (Hamilton), a portrino of whose riverfont features prominently in The Forest Queen in Winter (Manoogian Collection)."

To my surprise, I was able to locate a high quality image of the painting. It appears to be based, in part, on the same landscape! Mount Adams is present in the background. The Kilgour house is present, just to the right of center. The Little Miami Railroad runs along the river.

Detail, Cincinnati Panorama
Detail, Cincinnati Panorama. A daguerreotype (1848) by Charles Fontayne and William S. Porter. Used courtesy of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

When compared with this photograph, made nine years earlier, it's obvious that Martin Andreas Reisner took considerable liberties. The commercial buildings are all gone - either he envisioned the landscape without them, or, perhaps, he was working based on an earlier view of the area. On the other hand, he retains what appears to be a bit of commercial activity based around the (considerably smaller) Deer Creek. Yet if we are to see this as something based on an earlier work, why the inclusion of the railroad?

This view clearly involves a bit of imagination and artistic license. This doesn't diminish its value as a look at Cincinnati in the 1850s. Further, given the rarity of winter views, it seems perfect for a day like today.

What do you see in it?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

New Find! First* Painting of Cleveland in Color!

Lake Erie, From Cleveland
Lake Erie, From Cleveland. A watercolor painting (July, 1833) by Seth Eastman. Used courtesy of Sloans and Kenyon Auctioneers and Appraisers, Bethesda, Maryland.

When I think about downtown Cleveland and the mouth of the Cuyahoga, images of industry and commerce come to mind. While I know it wasn't always this way, this area has so long been the heart of the city it's hard to imagine it otherwise. Even Thomas Whelpley's four views of the city, published in 1834, show a quickly-growing city.

It's for that very reason that this watercolor, made by Seth Eastman in July, 1833, is so special - it represents the earliest detailed painting I'm aware of of the mouth of the Cuyahoga River.

Eastman probably came through Cleveland en route from Fort Snelling, in Minnesota, to West Point, New York, where he had received a teaching appointment. He appears to have been looking west from what is now the intersection of West Sixth Streets and Lakeside Avenue.

In the foreground, to the right, there's a group of five Native Americans, said to be Iroquois. A few people sit on the hillside, where a row of fenceposts is visible. Closer to the river are a couple of buildings, one of which appears to be a log house. On the river, there are what could be canal boats. The pier and harbor light are also present. The hill at the mouth of the Cuyahoga, on the west bank, had not yet been flattened. A steamship, with a cloud of black smoke, sails on Lake Erie. In the distance, we see what would come to be called the "Gold Coast."

These things are all significant.

There are almost no historic images of Native Americans in Ohio. Of those, virtually all were either made years after the fact, based on memory and conjecture or were made by artists who hadn't seen the people in question. I can't think of another painting (within the scope of my current research - before 1866) that documents Native Americans in Ohio at the time the painting was made.

The presence of a log building is also notable - there are very few known in northern Ohio. While there were a good number built (though not in such numbers as in the southern part of the state) they would have usually been covered with siding as soon as was practical, as a matter of fashion and appearance.

Further, this painting documents Cleveland at a point just before it underwent a major transformation. With the completion of the Ohio and Erie Canal, Cleveland and the interior of Ohio were opened up to commerce. The cost of shipping goods dropped considerably. Cuyahoga County's population would more than double between 1830 and 1840. It would almost double again by 1850. The landscape illustrated here would soon be gone.

Cleveland, 1853
Cleveland, 1853 A hand colored lithograph (1853) by B.F. Smith, after a drawing by J.W. Hill. Published by Smith Bros. & Co. Used courtesy of the Chicago Historical Society. Reproduced from Bird's Eye Views: Historic Lithographs of North American Cities by John W. Reps.

This view, made 20 years later, from the west bank of the Cuyahoga, looking east, shows the magnitude of the change. While the west bank still has plenty of vacant land, the east side and downtown are mostly built up. Warehouses line the banks of the Cuyahoga River. To the right, we see both the Cuyahoga River and the narrower Ohio and Erie Canal.

Cleveland, Ohio, From Brooklyn Hill Looking East
Cleveland, Ohio, From Brooklyn Hill Looking East. A hand-colored etching (1834) by Thomas Whelpley. Engraved by Milo Osborne. Used courtesy of Cleveland Public Library.

The point from where Seth Eastman made the watercolor is illustrated in this 1834 print, Cleveland, Ohio, From Brooklyn Hill Looking East.

Whelpley detail
Detail, Cleveland, Ohio, From Brooklyn Hill Looking East. A hand-colored etching (1834) by Thomas Whelpley. Engraved by Milo Osborne. Used courtesy of Cleveland Public Library.

This detail, taken from the left side of the print, illustrates the location more clearly. Eastman's vantage point is indicated by the red arrow. Note the row of fenceposts, illustrated in the painting, to the left of the arrow. The yellow arrow indicates the location of the Cleveland lighthouse.

Harbor Light
Detail, Lake Erie, From Cleveland. A watercolor painting (July, 1833) by Seth Eastman. Used courtesy of Sloans and Kenyon Auctioneers and Appraisers, Bethesda, Maryland.

It's worth noting the presence of the harbor light, at the mouth of the Cuyahoga River. This structure was likely completed a year or two earlier.

[Cleveland harbor]
[Cleveland harbor] A print (1837) by Charles Whittlesey. Published in the Annual report on the geological survey of the State of Ohio (1837). Used courtesy of Ohio State University and the Internet Archive.

The pier upon which the harbor light was built is illustrated, top and center, in this drawing - letter "F". There's a square, on the right (east) side of the river that provided the foundation for the structure.

Cleveland Lighthouse on the Lake Erie
Cleveland Lighthouse on the Lake Erie. A hand-colored engraving (1839) by Pierre Eugène I. Aubert, after a drawing by Karl Bodmer. Published in Reise in das innere Nord-America in den Jahren 1832 bis 1834 (1839) by Maximilian Wied. Used courtesy of the Beinecke Library, Yale University.

I've often heard suggested that this 1839 print, based on preliminary drawings and/or paintings made in 1834, doesn't actually portray the Cleveland lighthouse. What then, I ask, does it portray? The response tends to be a mumble that it's probably somewhere else.

It's been pointed out that the structure in the print doesn't look like the Cleveland lighthouse, nor is it located up on the hill like the Cleveland lighthouse was - see the point noted by the yellow arrow above.

Seth Eastman's painting, combined with Charles Whittlesey's map of the harbor seem to indicate that Karl Bodmer's print, Cleveland Lighthouse on the Lake Erie, does, in fact, depict a Cleveland scene. It's just that the structure being illustrated isn't the lighthouse but rather, the harbor light. Perhaps this was a translation issue.

Bodmer's vantage point appears to have been from the west bank of the Cuyahoga. It's worth noting that the physical relationship between the ship and the harbor light appears to be about the same in Seth Eastman's painting and Karl Bodmer's print. What does this mean? I do not know.

View of Inscription Rock on South side of Cunningham Island, Lake Erie
View of Inscription Rock on South side of Cunningham Island, Lake Erie. A print (1852) The print is based on a drawing by Seth Eastman created in 1850.
C. E. Wagstaff & J. Andrews (Engraver) Published in Historical and statistical information respecting the history, condition, and prospects of the Indian tribes of the United States; collected and prepared under the direction of the Bureau of Indian Affairs per act of Congress of March 3rd, 1847, Volume 2 (1852) by Henry Rowe Schoolcraft. Image used courtesy of the Ohio Historical Society.

Seth Eastman is best known for the work he did portraying Native Americans - the greatest bulk of which appeared in Henry Rowe Schoolcraft's Historical and Statistical Information, Respecting the History, Condition and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States, published in the 1850s. This view of Kelley's Island is one such image.

Sculptured Inscriptions on Rock, South Side Of Cunningham's Island, Lake Erie
Sculptured Inscriptions on Rock, South Side Of Cunningham's Island, Lake Erie. A pen and ink drawing (October 10, 1850) by Seth Eastman. Reproduced from Seth Eastman: A Portfolio of North American Indians (1995) by Sarah E. Boehme, Christian F. Feest, and Patricia Condon Johnston.

His record of Inscripion Rock on Kelley's Island, the original drawing for which is shown here, remains the best document that we have of this important, but now rather eroded, pictograph group.

Inscription Rock, North Side of Cunningham's Is., Lake Erie
Inscription Rock, North Side of Cunningham's Is., Lake Erie. A print (1852) by Seth Eastman, from a sketch made October 12, 1850. Published in Historical and statistical information respecting the history, condition, and prospects of the Indian tribes of the United States; collected and prepared under the direction of the Bureau of Indian Affairs per act of Congress of March 3rd, 1847, Volume 2 (1852) by Henry Rowe Schoolcraft. Used courtesy of Cornell University Library and the Internet Archive.

Another boulder, now lost, inscribed with pictographs was present on the north shore of Kelley's Island, near the present state park campground.

Eastman's documentation of the island also included two earthworks.

Cleveland, Ohio Grocery Store
Cleveland, Ohio Grocery Store [John Smith Grocer]. A drawing (October 9, 1850) by Seth Eastman. Used courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

In the course of his travels, Seth Eastman made drawings of the cities he passed through, along with other items not relating to the subject of his research. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, has drawings by Eastman of Fairport Harbor and Sandusky, in addition to this one, of a grocer on the Cuyahoga River, in Cleveland.

After the initial discovery of this painting wore off, I started to suspect that the watercolor painting, Lake Erie, From Cleveland, might have been made in the 1850s, based partially on his observations in the 1830s. I couldn't locate any works this early by Seth Eastman, and the combination of factors in this painting - the portrayal of the landscape and the presence of Native Americans, among others - just seemed too good to be true.

So I did more research. I found that the layout of the harbor is consistent with Cleveland in 1833. The number and nature of buildings corresponds reasonably with Whelpley's print of a year later. And the improvements made in the 1840s are not present. Further, the technique of the painting is not as refined as Eastman's later works.

I'm confident, now, that Lake Erie, From Cleveland depicts Cleveland in July of 1833. It provides a rare glimpse into the landscape of this region as it used to be.

This watercolor is to be auctioned at Sloans and Kenyon this Sunday. Their estimate is $80,000-$150,000 - meaning that the bidding will likely start at $40,000.

* The Seth Pease 1796 map of Cleveland (see a drawing based upon said map) features a tent with a couple men situated by the mouth of the Cuyahoga River. However, this appears, to my eyes, to be merely added as a visual device, rather than an attempt to illustrate the location. For that reason, I don't count it as a painting of the city.

Correction: Janice B. Patterson, author of Cleveland's Lighthouses, pointed out to me that where I said "breakwater", I meant "pier". I corrected the two instances of this term. She noted that "There were no breakwaters in the 1830s -- they were built in the 1870s. I think what you are calling a breakwater was actually just a wooden pier, built on pilings and possibly reinforced with stones."

Monday, December 3, 2012

Ohio in Upstate New York: The Geography of a Painting by Robert S. Duncanson

Not a Ohio Landscape
Ohio Landscape, an oil painting (circa 1860-1870) by Robert Seldon Duncanson. Used courtesy of Cowan's Auctions.

This painting, by African American artist Robert Seldon Duncanson, has been referred to as Ohio Landscape. The subject matter appears to be the southern part of the state, where Duncanson worked. His most notable Ohio landscape is Blue Hole, Little Miami River (1851), which I'll address in a future story.

Landscape & Covered Bridge
Landscape & Covered Bridge, an oil painting (1888) by E.A. Sumner. Used courtesy of Cowan's Auctions.

While Duncanson's painting dates to the 1860s, it seems to have been exhibited somewhere in the 1880s or 1890s, as at least two paintings based on it were created during that period. This 1888 canvas by E.A. Sumner copies the original composition almost exactly, save for the omission of the person and boat in the foreground. Ohio River Valley Landscape with Town
Ohio River Valley Landscape with Town, an oil painting (1894) signed "M.P.W." Used courtesy of Garth's Auctions.

This 1894 painting focuses on the centre part of the image, also omitting the person and boat.

Where was this scene?

While, as a work of art, Duncanson's painting may be appreciated without knowing this, and even as it relates to history it can be telling in some ways, there's much that is left unknown by the inability to name the location depicted.

Place matters. It matters both for what a work can tell us about the subject, but also what it can tell us about the artist by his or her choice of that place. We can revisit a location and learn what liberties the artist took and how that location has changed in the intervening years.

In short, I really really wanted to identify the subject of this painting.

I consulted with some colleagues with the hopes that perhaps they might have some idea as to the location. Shirley Wajda came up with a strong argument for Nelsonville, a city in Athens County, Ohio.

Covered Bridge over the Hocking River
Dangerous Bend, Hocking River, Nelsonville, Ohio, a postcard. Used courtesy of Athens County Public Libraries.

Wajda was familar with the area through previous research. She located this postcard, which does appear to show the subject. There's the covered bridge. The curve of the river is just about right, as are the the locations of the buildings and the hills in the background. It was the best possibility that I'd seen - and it satisfied me that we'd identified the site where Robert S. Duncanson made the painting as well as could be, short of actually visiting it.

Early Autumn on Esopus Creek
Early Autumn on Esopus Creek, a chromolithograph (1861-1897) by Alfred Thompson Bricher. Published by L. Prang & Co.. Used courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Print Department.

Time passed. As part of the research for Early Visions of Ohio, 1765-1865, I've been looking at a lot of books (more than 2700 at last count), many that include historic imagery of areas outside Ohio. In one of these titles, I came across this print, Early Autumn on Esopus Creek, a chromolithograph (1861-1897) by Alfred Thompson Bricher.

The most likely Esopus Creek is in Ulster County, New York. The geology of that area is consistent with the subject depicted in the painting.

My initial thought was that Duncanson based his painting on Alfred Thompson Bricher's print. Now I'm no longer so sure.

The two other paintings of the subject have clouds that are consistent with Bricher's print, not Duncanson's painting. This means that the artists likely made their paintings while observing the print. Since they date so close together (1888 and 1894), it suggests to me that the print they were using as a reference had been printed recently.

Based on the style of Duncanson's painting, I'm inclined to believe that he executed that work in the 1860s, as has been suggested, or perhaps a little earlier. This would suggest that Bricher's print was based on Duncanson's painting, not the other way around.

So the painting is of Esopus Creek?

Maybe. Maybe not.

The only landscape of a New York subject that I know of by Duncanson is Niagara Falls (1863). This is at the opposite end of the state from Esopus Creek. That said, Robert S. Duncanson painted at least a couple paintings of New Hampshire, the travels for which would have put him close enough to Esopus Creek.

On the other hand, it's not inconceivable that Alfred Thompson Bricher might have given the subject a title that would sell better - there would be more demand for a New York landscape than an Ohio one. There's a great example of this in a painting by Godfrey Nicholas Frankenstein, of the Great Miami River near Cincinnati. A pair of paintings done after that image are described as being in Connecticut - but that's another story.

It's not clear where this subject was painted. It'll take field work and more research to know for sure either way.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Discovered Yesterday: The oldest painting of an Ohio landscape

I admit it. I've been away from this blog for a little while. Part of it has been writer's block - ok, a good part of it - but also, I've been working on a project, a museum exhibition of art illustrating Ohio created before 1866.

As you know, I try to tell visually compelling stories. And to do that, I need good images. Again and again I ran into the problem that I simply couldn't locate good material to illustrate the early history of this area. One thing led to another and I began a quest to locate all the art I could reasonably locate of Ohio views created before 1866.

I thought there were, perhaps, a thousand such images. The first thousand came quickly. Then the second thousand. Right now, I'm closing in on 3,000. Many of them aren't that useful, but the point is that there's a great wealth of historic imagery, waiting to be used, if only it could be found. That's what I'm doing.

While the art is always interesting, occasionally, I find something that excites me to no end. This was the case yesterday afternoon.

Bass Island, West End of Lake Erie Bass Island, West End of Lake Erie (1795) by Elizabeth Simcoe, after a drawing (1795) by Robert Pilkington.

This watercolor painting, dating to 1795, is the earliest known painting of an Ohio landscape. I don't believe it's ever been reproduced in any work relating to Ohio history.

How did I find this significant piece of our history?

I was flipping through Northwest Ohio Quarterly (the journal of the Maumee Valley Historical Society, looking for any art that might meet the criteria of this project. Much of the art relating to the state's history has only been illustrated in print once, and often not in places that one might expect. So the only way to find it all is to look at a lot of material. (Right now, my sources consulted list contains more than 2,700 titles.)

View on the Miami River [ now the Maumee River, probably at or near Fort Miami ] View on the Miami River (1794) by Elizabeth Simcoe, after a drawing (March, 1794) by Robert Pilkington.

In Northwest Ohio Quarterly, I came across this drawing, View on the Miami River. Fortunately, the author noted the source for the image, The diary of Mrs. John Graves Simcoe, wife of the first lieutenant-governor of the province of Upper Canada, 1792-6 (1911) by J. Ross Robertson.

After a bit of effort, I determined that Mrs. John Graves Simcoe did, in fact, have a name - Elizabeth Simcoe.

As lieutenant governor, John Graves Simcoe travelled considerably. Elizabeth accompanied him. On these travels, she kept a diary and made many sketches, including this one, View on the Miami River (1794).

The title confused me. The Simcoes travels were in Canada, almost exclusively. Elizabeth Simcoe's watercolors and drawings illustrate scenes along the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River. While it was plausible that they might have travelled as far as perhaps the upper reaches of the Great Miami River, it seemed unlikely. Eventually, I broke down and gasp read the accompanying text, hoping to figure out where this was.

The text indicates that the location was near Fort Miami. On reading further, it is noted that Miami and Maumee are variant spellings - Maumee being the one that remains in use today. The drawing above is of a scene likely in the vicinity of modern day Maumee, Ohio, in Lucas County.

The painting, however, is what I'm more interested in. There's very little early material dealing with northern Ohio - northwest Ohio especially. The state was, primarily, settled first in the south. So to have such an early painting of northern Ohio is exceptionally special. (It's in the British Library, by the way, if anyone would care to pay to have them photograph the painting. I'm sure we'd all love to see it in full color.)

I worked for a summer on South Bass Island, so I have some idea of the lay of the land. I couldn't think of any place on the island, to the extent that I'd seen it, where this painting could have been made. That said, there's a good chunk of the north shore for which there is no public access - so it's not automatically a scene of Middle Bass Island or North Bass Island.

I asked Roy Larick, historic geologist, of Bluestone Heights, if he had any ideas as to the location depicted. His eye for the historic landscape has often revealed things that I and many others have missed.

Still, I was surprised when, a little more than an hour after I emailed him, this picture, of South Bass Island, showed up in my inbox.

Roy Larick suggested that the view was "due east from Peach Orchard Point, across Put-in-Bay, to the north peninsula (monument location)." (As indicated by the arrow on the image.) He added "there are few other places where this configuration can be found in approximation with the painting distances."

This painting is significant and deserves more research. If you find yourself on a boat in the area, consider taking a photograph from approximately the same position and sharing it here.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Answering your questions: Exterior colors

Recently, a reader purchased a house built circa 1900-1910 in the Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood. When she removed the vinyl siding that had been installed by a previous owner, she discovered a considerable amount of original detail hidden underneath. Some areas had clapboard siding, while others had wooden shingles. Trim was present around the windows that had been covered by the siding. Overall, the house had quite a bit more detail and character than one might have initially recognized.

The wood underneath the vinyl siding was in good shape, so she decided she would paint it. She came to us because she wanted to know what historically correct colors for the neighborhood or the city would be.

For most of the neighborhoods in the greater Cleveland area, there aren't any resources that give a good idea as to what historically appropriate colors for the houses of a given style would be. There are resources, however, that will tell you what would be historically for a given style, but just not specific to the Cleveland area. Different colors would have been historically more popular in different parts of the country, just as now you'll see a different concentration of automobile colors in, say, Miami that you will find here, even though the set of color choices available from the automobile manufacturers is the same.

The easiest thing to do is to figure out which colors your house was originally. Unless your house is in really bad shape and all of the exterior paint has peeled away, this should be relatively easy to determine. Take a utility knife or razor blade and cut through the paint at an angle. This will reveal the various layers of color on the house. The bottommost layer will be the original color of the house - it might just be a color you would like.

Some neighborhoods do have guides that provide some ideas as to historically appropriate colors. Shaker Village Colors lists appropriate original colors for Shaker Heights houses. One might be surprised to see how intense some of the colors are - the "emerald green", suggested for trim for some houses, or the "Tudor brown" suggested as a trim color, which is much darker than the brown one often sees on Tudor-style houses. For Ohio City and some of the neighborhoods of a similar age, the book Those Wonderful Old Houses : a Handbook for Homeowners can provide some very useful information as well. Cleveland Public Library has several copies that can be checked out or sent to your local branch at your request.

For other styles and areas, Cleveland Public Library can often supply books that provide some idea as to historically accurate colors, even if that information is not specific to this region. Paint in America: the colors of historic buildings by Roger W. Moss would be one example. Books on individual styles, say, Victorian or Queen Anne or bungalows will provide many ideas about possible color palettes.

The librarians in the Fine Arts department of Cleveland Public Library can help you locate books about houses in styles similar to yours and send them to your neighborhood branch. The Fine Arts department can be reached at (216) 623-2848.

We would like to compile a more complete set of information regarding historic home colors. If, when you learn what color your house was originally, you could share this information, through a photograph or other means, we would appreciate it.