Drawing on the Susquehanna :
Four Centuries of Artistic Inspiration and Commerce

 

Curated by Rob Evans

Page 1:
Curator's Statement
Page 2:  
1600 - 1830
Page 3:  
1830 - 1850     
Page 4:  
1850 - 1899
Page 5:  
1900 - present

George Catlin's Water Hunting for Deer: Variations on a Theme

American artist George Catlin (1796-1872), best known for his sensitive and detailed studies of Native American culture, grew up near the Susquehanna in Broome County, NY. In a childhood memory, he recalls suddenly coming upon an Oneida Indian while playing in the woods. The Indian, towering over the terrified boy, raised his hand in friendship, a gesture of kindness he never forgot which likely shaped his lifework.

Catlin painted several versions of the Susquehanna night hunting painting, first depicting Indians in canoes hunting by torchlight along the river’s edge. Later, in the mid 1850’s, Catlin was commissioned by Colt Firearms, for their Colt Revolver and Rifle Series, to paint a version with himself in the boat firing a Colt rifle. This version was made into a color lithograph which was sold widely to promote Colt. The lithograph was subsequently reproduced as a full page wood engraving in the April 11, 1857 issue of the "Illustrated London News" in an article featuring Catlin and Colt firearms.

 

 

George Catlin (1796 - 1872)

Deer Hunting by Torchlight in Bark Canoes

oil on canvas, circa 1846-48

Collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum,

Washington, D.C. (not in the exhibit)

 

 

George Catlin (1796 - 1872)

Water Hunting For Deer, A Night Scene

on the River Susquehanna, Pennsylvania

oil on canvas, circa 1854-55

Collection of the Wadsworth Athenaeum, Hartford, CT 

(not in the exhibit)

Two decades later the image was copied by Currier & Ives as part of their lithographic catalog and was printed in several variations—the one included here was printed twice from the stone, giving it an extra dark night effect. The image was again pirated by George Stinson and Company, a competing lithographic publisher in Maine. Interestingly, as the image evolves and is interpreted by different artists using different printing processes for primarily commercial purposes, it seems to lose some of its potency, becoming almost cartoonish, as it incrementally moves away from the subtlety of Catlin's original painting. 

 

 

After George Catlin (1796 - 1872)

Water Hunting For Deer, A Night Scene

on the River Susquehanna, Penn

hand colored lithograph, circa 1855-56

drawn on stone by J. McGahey, printed by

Day & Son, Ltd., England for Colt Firearms

(a digital reproduction of this print is

included in this exhibit)

 

 

After George Catlin (1796 - 1872)

Water Hunting For Deer, A Night Scene

on the River Susquehanna, Pennsylvania

From April 11, 1857 issue of the

"Illustrated London News"

wood engraving, 1857

 

 

Nathaniel Currier (1813 - 1888)

and James Ives (1824 - 1895)

After George Catlin (1796 - 1872)

Hunting on Susquehanna

hand colored lithograph, circa 1872

 

 

George Stinson and Company

(after Currier and Ives)

After George Catlin (1796 - 1872)

Hunting on the Susquehanna

hand colored lithograph, circa 1875

Commerce, Entrepeneurism and the Rise of an American Landscape School

 

Catlin was not the only artist to engage in commercial partnership during this period. As a new school of purely American landscape painting, or the "Hudson River School" as it became known, gained international prominence, opportunities arose for those artists to profit from partnerships with a rapidly expanding American business sector and publishing industry. Many of the best known landscape artists of the day created commissioned illustrations for essays and articles about scenic travel and vacations, promoting railways and other businesses in the numerous trade periodicals, newspapers and books being published mid-century. Considered one of the nation's premiere picturesque destinations at the time, the Susquehanna was often featured prominently. In 1861, Thomas Moran, along with his three brothers, traveled to Catawissa, a small town on the Susquehanna River in the mountains of northeast Pennsylvania, to produce sketches and photographs as reference for wood engravings commissioned to illustrate an essay promoting the Catawissa Railroad in the June 1862 issue of "Harper's Monthly Magazine". Moran would subsequently create several large easel paintings inspired by this trip as well, such as Summer on the Susquehanna in the collection of the Gilcrease Museum and his large panoramic painting Valley of the Catawissa in Autumn owned by the Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, AK (both pictured below).

 

 

Thomas Moran (1837 - 1926)

View From the Bluffs at Catawissa

From June, 1862 issue of the "Harpers Monthly Magazine"

wood engraving, 1862

 

 

Thomas Moran (1837 - 1926)

Summer on the Susquehanna

oil on canvas, 1862

Collection of the Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa, OK

(not in the exhibit)

 

 

Thomas Moran (1837 - 1926)

Valley of the Catawissa in Autumn

oil on canvas, 1862

Collection of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AK

(not in the exhibit)

 

Another commercial venture which included the promotion of a railway, along with celebrating the rising American landscape school of artists, was the elaborate gift book, "Home Book of the Picturesque." Published in 1852 by George Putnam, with gold-stamped, royal blue linen covers, this elegant book contained essays by notable American writers like Washington Irving, James Fenimore Cooper, and William Cullen Bryant and high quality steel engravings of paintings by artists including Frederick Church, Thomas Cole, Jasper Cropsey, and Asher B. Durand. The book argued for the importance of nature as a spiritual resource and source of moral and patriotic inspiration, a sentiment that would later become one of the definitive themes of the conservation movement. At the same time, the book often presents the landscape framed in the context of its visibility being facilitated by human construct and intrusion from railroads, canals, bridges and roads. The title page of the book features an engraved view, after Jesse Talbot, of the Erie Railroad's Cascade Bridge which spans the North Branch of the Susquehanna, and is an illustration for an essay in the book promoting the Erie Railroad. Two of the 13 engraved plates in the book feature branches of the Susquehanna, the other being On the Juniata, also after Talbot.

 

 

After Jesse Talbot (1806 - 1879)

Cascade Bridge, Erie Rail Road

title page from The Home Book of the Picturesque

published by George P. Putnam, New York

steel engraving,1852

 

 

After Jesse Talbot (1806 - 1879)

On the Juniata

from The Home Book of the Picturesque

published by George P. Putnam, New York

steel engraving,1852

Renowned Hudson River School painter Jasper F. Cropsey  was one of the most prolific painters of the Susquehanna Valley. In 1853 Cropsey visited The Starucca Viaduct, an impressive stone structure located on the Erie Railroad along the Susquehanna in northern Pennsylvania near the New York border. It was considered an engineering marvel when it was built in 1848, and hailed as the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” Cropsey made numerous studies of the viaduct and surrounding landscape, and returned to the subject in a series of paintings in 1864 and 1865. One large version was eight by fourteen feet and was one of the prizes offered in a lottery organized to raise money for the construction of a Chicago opera house by the builder, Uranus H. Crosby, who was severely over budget and facing bankruptcy. A chromolithograph by Cropsey of the viaduct was also offered as a premium to purchasers of 4 or more shares in the lottery. It was elaborately produced, printed in 19 colors with separate stones. The fate of the huge painting is unknown and there is some conjecture it disappeared in the 1871 Chicago fire. A smaller version, Starucca Viaduct, Pennsylvania (1865), is in the collection of the Toledo Museum of Art and is probably the painting the lithographer worked from to make this print.

 

 

After Jasper F. Cropsey (1823 - 1900)

American Autumn, Starucca Valley, Erie R. Road

signed by the artist

19 color chromolithograph, c.1867

The American landscape movement, led by the Hudson River School of painters, rose to its full peak in the mid-nineteenth century. By the late 1860's its leading proponents such as Frederic Edwin Church, Jasper F. Cropsey, Thomas Moran, Sanford Robinson Gifford and George Inness had large followings, critical acclaim and many wealthy patrons. While their Hudson River paintings, as well as imagery of the West and New England, received the most attention, many of them also visited the Susquehanna as subject matter at various times, creating major works for public exhibition or private commission. Although not the focus of this particular exhibition, below is just a sampling of notable examples of Susquehanna easel paintings produced by some of these celebrated artists:

 

 

Russell Smith (1812 - 1896)

Mahanoy Mountain on the Susquehanna River

oil on canvas, 1840

Collection of Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts,

Philadelphia, PA (not in the exhibit)

 

 

Frederic Edwin Church (1826 - 1900)

Rapids of the Susquehanna

oil on canvas, circa 1846

Collection of the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT

(not in the exhibit)

 

 

Louis Remy Mignot (1831 - 1870)

Sources of the Susquehanna

oil on canvas,1857

Collection of the National Academy of Design,

New York, NY (not in the exhibit)

 

 

George Inness (1825 - 1894)

The Juniata River

oil on canvas,1856

Collection of the Haggin Museum,

Stockton, CA (not in the exhibit)

 

 

Paul Weber (1831 - 1870)

The Susquehanna Valley

oil on canvas,1858

Private Collection (not in the exhibit)

 

 

Jasper F. Cropsey (1823 - 1900)

The Valley of Wyoming

oil on canvas, 1865

Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

New York, NY (not in the exhibit)

 

 

William Trost Richards (1833 - 1905)

Valley of the Susquehanna

oil on board, n.d.

Private Collection (not in the exhibit)

 

 

Herman Herzog (1823 - 1880)

Old Ferryboat at McCall's Ferry

oil on canvas, circa 1875 - 80

Collection of the White House Historical Association,

Washington, D.C. (not in the exhibit)

 

 

Sanford Robinson Gifford (1823 - 1880)

An October Afternoon on the Juniata River

oil on canvas, 1879

The Huntington Library, San Marino, CA

(not in the exhibit)

Before Photojournalism: Artist as Correspondent

 

The 19th Century gave rise to many large format newspapers, magazines and publications, lavishly illustrated, often with full page engravings. Monthly and weekly periodicals such as "Harper’s," "Collier’s," "Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper," "Gleason's Pictorial," "Scientific American," "Scribner’s," "The Aldine," and many others featured engraved works after prominent American artists such as Thomas Doughty, Thomas Moran, Winslow Homer, Frederick Remington, and many others. Their works often accompanied articles about picturesque American scenery or prominent landmarks as well as documenting news events of the day before the advent of photojournalism.

Many of the articles featured American rivers, and the Susquehanna was a frequent subject. Numerous illustrated stories chronicled the expansion of industry and settlement along its shores - its bridges, canals, railways, viaducts, timber industry, ice jams, floods, and sublime scenic vistas all attracting the attention of writers and artists. Artist correspondents, whose on-the-scene sketches were translated into wood engravings, were also dispatched to cover significant historic events along the river, such as the 1869 Avondale Mining disaster in the Wyoming Valley, or the burning of the Wrightsville/Columbia bridge in 1863 to prevent the advancement of Confederate troops during the Civil War.

These war correspondents had the difficult challenge of creating sketches on the battlefield, often in dangerous circumstances. Their drawings then had to be swiftly couriered out to the newspaper offices in the cities where they were published so that they could be engraved by teams of artists in preparation for publication and printing. It is interesting to note that the lag-time between the actual event and the publication of this particular article below was approximately 20 days - a far cry from the instant news feed on our phones today.

 

 

Sample newspaper covers featuring Susquehanna

related imagery

Left: Avondale mining disaster, "Harper's Weekly," September 25, 1869

Right: Wyoming Valley, "Gleason's Pictorial," June 24, 1854

After Albert Berghaus

(active 1860 - 1880)

Occupation of Wrightsville, Pa., 

by Lees Army...

From July 18, 1863 issue of 

"Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper"

wood engraving, 1863

Artist Unknown

Invasion of the North - Destruction of the

Bridge Over the Susquehanna,

at Columbia, PA

From p. 453 of the July 18, 1863 issue

of  "Harper's Weekly Newspaper"

wood engraving, 1863

Theodore R. Davis (1840 -1894)

The Graves of Avondale - Shupp's Hill

Graveyard, Near Plymouth, Pennsylvania

From p. 629 of the October 2, 1869

issue of  "Harper's Weekly Newspaper"

wood engraving, 1869

Picturesque America: Postwar Re-branding of America as a Destination  

 

"Picturesque America" was a two-volume set of books describing and illustrating the scenery of America, which grew out of an earlier series in "Appleton's Journal." This ambitious work was published by D. Appleton and Company of New York in 1872 and 1874, and edited by the Romantic poet and journalist William Cullen Bryant (1794 - 1878). It was delivered to subscribers in semi-monthly parts. Once complete, the subscription would be bound into volumes ranging from cloth-bound with leather corners at the low end, to full Morocco leather bindings with elaborate tooling and gilded lettering. The stately, bound two volume set was proudly displayed in the parlors of subscriber's homes as a show of status. The book was widely reprinted in subsequent editions as well as translated into foreign versions such as the elaborate French edition included here.

The work's essays, together with its nine hundred wood engravings and fifty steel plate engravings, are considered to have had a profound influence on the growth of tourism in the aftermath of the Civil War as well as boosting the historic preservation movement in the United States. The illustrations provided a tour of nineteenth century America, unspoilt and pastoral, its centers of commerce, ports, architecture and natural treasures. Historian Sue Rainey writes, "As the first publication to celebrate the entire continental nation, it enabled Americans, after the trauma of the Civil War, to construct a national self-image based on reconciliation between North and South and incorporation of the West." The Susquehanna River is featured in its own lengthy chapter, as is its tributary, the Juniata, demonstrating the continuing importance of the river to artists and writers at the time.

The volumes display both steel and wood engravings based on the paintings of some of the best American landscape painters of the nineteenth century, including John Frederick Kensett, William Stanley Haseltine, Thomas Moran, Worthington Whittredge, Homer Dodge Martin and Thomas Cole among others.

 

 

Display showing 2 volume set of "Picturesque America,"

deluxe red French edition (upper right) and

single installment packet (upper left)

edited by William Cullen Bryant

published by D. Appleton and Company, New York, 1874 

 

 

After Granville Perkins (1830 - 1895)

The Susquehanna (at Hunter's Gap)

From William Cullen Bryant's "Picturesque America"

steel plate engraving, 1874

 

 

After Granville Perkins (1830 - 1895)

Wyoming Valley

From William Cullen Bryant's "Picturesque America"

wood engraving, 1874

 

 

After Granville Perkins (1830 - 1895)

The Susquehanna

From William Cullen Bryant's "Picturesque America"

wood engraving, 1874

 

 

After Granville Perkins (1830 - 1895)

Tyrone Gap, View From the Bridge

From William Cullen Bryant's "Picturesque America"

wood engraving, 1874

 

 

After Granville Perkins (1830 - 1895)

Duncannon, Mouth of the Juniata

From William Cullen Bryant's "Picturesque America"

wood engraving, 1874

 

 

After Granville Perkins (1830 - 1895)

Glimpse of the Susquehanna, From Kittatinny Mountains

From William Cullen Bryant's "Picturesque America"

wood engraving, 1874

Another extravagant publication produced during this time was "National Gallery of Landscape Painters," published by William Pate and Company, New York in 1869. This portfolio of large steel engravings brought together many of America's best known artists and featured images of some of the country's most scenic natural landscapes. The quality of the artists and the engravers was outstanding – making them among the best steel engravings ever made. The large folio volume featured 24 engravings including an image of the Susquehanna after George H. Smillie. 

 

 

After George H. Smillie (1840 - 1921)

On the Susquehanna (Near Great Bend, NY)

From "Gallery of Landscape Painters - American Scenery"

steel plate engraving, 1869

Art for the Masses: Currier and Ives  

 

From 1835 to 1907 Currier & Ives was one of the most successful and prolific printing firms in America. Based in New York City, it was headed first by Nathaniel Currier, and later run jointly with his partner James Merrit Ives. The firm produced black and white lithographic prints that were hand colored, often by teams of women working in the firm's warehouse or at home. Lithographic prints could be reproduced quickly and purchased inexpensively, and the firm called itself "the Grand Central Depot for Cheap and Popular Prints." The aim was to provide original fine art at prices most people could afford.  The Currier and Ives firm built a vast sales enterprise, branching out from its central shop in New York City to sell prints via pushcart vendors, door to door peddlers, and book stores. The firm sold retail as well as wholesale, establishing outlets in cities across the country and in London. It also sold work through the mail, and internationally through a London office and agents in Europe.

During their 72 years of operation the firm published at least 7,500 lithographic images at an astonishing rate of two to three new images a week, resulting in the publication of more than a million prints by hand-colored lithography. For the original drawings, Currier & Ives employed or used the work of many celebrated artists of the day including George Inness, Thomas Nast, and Eastman Johnson. They produced a wide variety of prints, including images of newsworthy events as well as depicting every subject relating to American life: sports, games, home life, religion, entertainment, views of cities, and picturesque American scenery and natural landmarks. The prints also catered to the darker curiosities of the American public including Civil War imagery, shipwrecks, fires and other disasters. Currier & Ives published a number of images featuring the Susquehanna, several of which appear to have been pirated from depictions of the river produced by other artists such as George Catlin (see Hunting on the Susquehanna discussed previously) and William Bartlett. 

 

 

Nathaniel Currier (1813 - 1888) and James Ives (1824 - 1895)

The Valley of the Susquehanna

large folio, hand colored lithograph, c.1870s

Nathaniel Currier (1813 - 1888) and

James Ives (1824 - 1895)

A Scene on the Susquehanna

hand colored lithograph, c.1875

Nathaniel Currier (1813 - 1888) and

James Ives (1824 - 1895)

On the Owago

hand colored lithograph, c.1875

Nathaniel Currier (1813 - 1888) and

James Ives (1824 - 1895)

Drawn by Fanny Palmer (1812 - 1876)

Harrisburg and the Susquehanna

hand colored lithograph, 1865

(not in the exhibit)

Nathaniel Currier (1813 - 1888) and

James Ives (1824 - 1895)

On the Juniata

lithograph, c.1869

(not in the exhibit)

Close of the Century: The Waning of the Romantic Landscape  

 

As the 19th century came to a close, with the industrial era in full swing, the romantic school of American landscape painting gradually found itself becoming out of fashion as the seeds of European modernism took root in America. Abstract Expressionism and other modernist styles would dominate the American art scene for the next fifty years, creating an atmosphere hostile to almost any traditional form of pictorial representation. Photography and photo-mechanical reproduction processes replaced hand-drawn prints in newspapers, magazines and other publicatons bringing an end to the grand era of hand-produced lithography and engraving. While the art world moved on, a few regional Susquehanna Valley based artists of some renown, including LLoyd Mifflin and Julius Augustus Beck, continued to keep the romantic landscape tradition alive as they painted the river in their back yard.

Lloyd Mifflin, a student of Thomas Moran and Herman Herzog, followed in their tradition of working in a luminous Hudson River School style. Considered the "artist squire" of the rivertown of Columbia, PA, he was a prolific painter of the Susquehanna. Mifflin traveled the length of the river, from its source in Cooperstown, NY all the way to its mouth at Havre de Grace, MD, sketching and painting, producing a significant number of major works, many of which were eventually acquired by the State Museum in Harrisburg, PA after he passed away in 1921. He was also well known for his poetry and published a small gift book in 1872 featuring nine of his hand pulled etchings bound into a book of verse. The book featured two Susquehanna prints, one of which is depicted below.

 

 

Lloyd Mifflin (1846 - 1921)

Rocks of the Susquehanna: Low Water

oil on canvas, 1891

Private collection (not in the exhibit)

 

 

Lloyd Mifflin (1846 - 1921)

The Susquehanna

From Aldornere: A Pennsylvanian Idyll

A Selection of verse bound with nine etchings by Mifflin

published by John Pennington & Son, Philadelphia, PA, 1872

 

 

Lloyd Mifflin (1846 - 1921)

Sketch of the Columbia Bridge on the Susquehanna

pencil and ink on board, c.1878

Lititz, PA based artist Julius Augustus Beck was a prominent portrait and landscape artist in his day as well as an accomplished sculptor, doing commissioned work for the White House and Washington Monument. This watercolor (below) portrays the view from Marietta, PA toward Chickie’s Rock with the iron furnaces at full blast along the river.

 

 

Julius Augustus Beck (1831 - 1917)

Chickies Rock

watercolor, c.1898

© 2018 by Rob Evans