J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Yankee Prints at the NY Public Library

Through 23 June, the New York Public Library is offering an intriguing exhibit that it describes this way:

Prints of the American Revolution
Stokes Gallery (Third Floor), Humanities & Social Sciences Library on 5th Avenue and 42nd Street [that’s the famous building with the lions]

Printmaking in America expanded during the Revolutionary War to fulfill the increasing needs for visual reportage of current events, easily distributable political propaganda, and tokens of patriotism. This exhibition will feature prints and drawings of key figures, battles, and events of the Revolutionary era and will examine the roles these images played in the struggle for independence.

Drawn primarily from the Print Collection’s outstanding holdings of American historical prints, it will include such highlights as Paul Revere’s A View of Part of the Town of Boston in New England and Brittish Ships of War Landing Their Troops, Henry Pelham’s The Fruits of Arbitrary Power, and Amos Doolittle’s engravings of the Battles of Lexington and Concord.
I can’t help but note that all those featured prints come from Massachusetts. The show features a lot more, but not much from New York itself.

Mentioned but not shown in the online exhibit—alas!—are Royal Artillery officer Archibald Robertson’s perspective views of Boston and then of New York in 1776. The NYPL owns those sketches and published them in 1930 in Archibald Robertson, Lieutenant-General Royal Engineers: His Diaries and Sketches in America, 1762-1780.

An even larger section of the online exhibit concerns prints that show George Washington, including some rather funny fanciful portraits created for Londoners eager to learn what the rebel general looked like and therefore easily fooled. There are whole sections of political cartoons and allegorical and other symbolic prints like the one above for Washington’s American fans.

And for textile fanciers, there’s a section on “Early Textile Printing in Britain.”


Anonymous said...

Interestingly, today there is a statue of George Washington in front of the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. I don't know when it first appeared there or where it came from.

J. L. Bell said...

The photograph you kindly linked to looks like a bronze copy of Houdon's statue of Washington, made for the Virginia state capitol. Garry Wills's book Cincinnatus has some interesting things to say about that statue.

Wikipedia says the copy in London was a gift to the U.K. from the state of Virginia in 1921. The legislators also shipped over some Virginia dirt for the statue to rest on because Washington reportedly said he would never again set foot on English soil. Hmmm. That doesn't seem entirely neighborly to me.