Picturesque Views of American Scenery. Philadelphia: Mathew Carey & Son, 1820
Broadsheets (22 1/4 x 15 in.; 565 x 381 mm) issued in 3 parts. 20 fine handcolored aquatint plates, including pictorial title-page, by John Hill after Joshua Shaw, title-page in state 2 with the Carey imprint and the date 1819 plainly evident beneath that of 1820, printed overslip "North" pasted over th word "West" in the Vignette caption; upper corners of 2 plates creased, marginal mottling to 10 plates with light to moderate paper discoloration, faint text offsetting to "View of the North River" and "Monument near North Point," dampstaining and soiling to upper corners of 3 plates, large spot touching top of platemark of "View on the Wisahiccon," some browning, light scattered foxing, and mottling affecting 13 text leaves (most pronounced on text for Lynnhave Bay), large dampstain to lower left corner of text for "View on the Wisahiccon." Printed blue wrappers; extremities frayed, backstrips perished, marginal staining and discoloration, substantial loss (8 x 3 1/2 in.; 203 x 90mm) to lower right corner of upper wrapper of second issue and long 6-inch tear on lower wrapper with minor loss.
Deák 315; Fielding 644–662; Howes S345; Koke, Checklist of John Hill 37–56; Reese, American Color Plate Books 5; Stauffer 1343; Stokes III:567; Sabin 79935
First edition and a "milestone in American printmaking ... a foundation book for American color-plate publication, being the first publication in the United States of larged colored landscapes essentially scenic in effect" (Koke). Familiarly known as the "Landscape Album," this appealing portfolio of scenery was the inspired vision of Joshua Shaw, an accomplished British landscape painter whose idyllic pictures were regularly exhibited at the Royal Academy and the British Institute in the early 1800s. In 1817, bearing a letter of warm introduction from Benjamin West, Shaw emigrated to America where he would play a seminal role in the development of the Hudson River School of landscape painting. After settling in Philadelphia, Shaw began to explore the rural areas of the northeast. The raw, powerful beauty of the untamed countryside thrilled Shaw's senses and imagination. In his introduction to Picturesque Views, Shaw emphatically declared that "in no other quarter of the globe are the majesty and loveliness of nature more strikingly conspicuous than in America." Yet he was baffled by the fact that few artists on either side of the Atlantic regarded American scenery as a subject of painterly merit.
Shaw set about the task of converting the general public to the aesthetic concept of the picturesque. He intended to travel "through the different states, for the purpose of taking on the spot, the best and most popular Views ... in the course of his tour, he will visit nearly every State in the Union." Shaw envisioned publishing his sketches as a series of some 36 scenic prints and "occasional vignettes," to be issued in six numbers by subscription. The Philadelphia publisher Thomas Moses first undertook the ambitious project in 1819 but relinquished control to Mathew Carey the following year. The British engraver John Hill had been retained to execute the plates. Like the Birches, Hill was expert in the difficult process of aquatint, and best known in London for his series of views after the romantically charged paintings of J. M. W. Turner.
For lack of subscribers, Shaw's work ceased production after the third number. Yet the compellingly poetic elements that typified his work––the breathtaking amplitude of his vistas and the evocative counterpoint of shadow and light––left an indelible mark on the depiction of nature in American art. His contemplative and atmospheric style was enthusiastically embraced by the Hudson River School of artists, whose landscapes would be in fashionable demand from the mid-1820s until well into the 1880s. Popular interest revived as well in Shaw's portfolio which Thomas Ash reprinted in 1835.
A fine, complete copy of a scarce work. Of the thirteen sets in American institutions, only nine are complete. In the past century, three––possibly four––copies with all the plates have appeared at auction: the first in 1915 at Anderson, the second in 1921 at American Art Auctions (but lacking the front wrapper to volume 1), the third in 1956 at Parke-Bernet, which is possibly also the fourth that also sold at Parke-Bernet in 1962 and at Sotheby's New York in 2000 (The Americana Library of Laird U. Park, Jr. 29 November 2000, lot 325).
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