William James Bennett: Master of the Aquatint View

New York, from Brooklyn Heights, after a work by John William Hill, is the largest and most ambitious print in William James Bennett's series of American city views. The young Hill seems to have climbed onto a Brooklyn Heights rooftop above Furman Street to record this panorama of Manhattan, which encompasses both the East and Hudson rivers and, in the far distance, New Jersey. He captured nearly every Manhattan building of importance (identified in the print's legend) from Wall Street to Canal Street including the domed Merchants' Exchange (on the left), shown as completed though still being rebuilt after the 1835 fire; to its right, in shadow, is Trinity Church. Behind the six-story white building, Holt's Hotel (to the left of center), is St. Paul's, and at the water's edge, the Fulton Market. The tower of City Hall is directly above the ship on the East River carrying a large bale of hay. Amazingly, the plate for this print was discovered at the turn of the 20th century serving as a floor plate under a stove in the Currier & Ives shop. A damaged area of the sky was burnished out and the plate reprinted.

William James Bennett (ca. 1784-1844) was already a respected painter and printmaker, specializing in landscapes and city views, when he was elected a full member of the National Academy of Design in 1828, about two years after he arrived in New York from London. In the 1830s and early 1840s in a series of singly-issued topographical prints Bennett not only celebrated the beauty of the American landscape, he also recorded the young nation's growing urban centers, from Boston, Buffalo, and Detroit to New Orleans and Mobile, with a special focus on New York. Bennett recorded the bustling waterfront activity of thriving ports bathed in a luminous light that unified water, ships, and architecture. Capturing the optimism of the new nation, these magnificent aquatints have been regarded as the finest folio views of 19th-century American cities, which set the stage for an independent American school of city views.

William James Bennett. New York, from Brooklyn Heights. Colored aquatint with engraving and etching, 1837 (date depicted, probably 1836). Second state. Published by Lewis P. Clover.
The New York Public Library, The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, Print Collection, I.N. Phelps Stokes Collection.

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Related Publication: William James Bennett: Master of the Aquatint View

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