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AUCTION 22

 

Iconic Print of the Mexican-American War

News from the War Front Arrives on the Home Front

 

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405.     [MEXICAN-AMERICAN WAR]. WOODVILLE, Richard Caton, Sr. (artist) & Alfred Jones (engraver). Mexican News. Engraved from the Original Picture by the American Art-Union 1851 [in image at lower left] R.C.W. 1848 [lower left below image] Painted by R.C. Woodville [lower left below image] Engraved by Alfred Jones. [below preceding] Printed by J. Dalton. [New York]: American Art Union, 1851 [not distributed until 1853]. Black and white line engraving with stipple etching, on heavy paper, image: 52.5 x 47 cm; image & title: 57.5 x 47 cm; overall sheet size: 62 x 54.9 cm. Professionally conserved (washed and stabilized, chipped blank margins repaired and restored). Browned and some waterstaining (latter mainly confined to blank margins). A print difficult to find in good condition because of the heavy, brittle paper on which it was printed.

     First edition, the print was available colored or uncolored. Due to legal problems of the American Art Union, the present print was not distributed until 1853 (see New York Times article “The American Art-Union. Proceedings of the Committee of Investigation…May 16, 1853” published May 17, 1853). The history of the print is almost as interesting as the print itself. At the time the print was to be distributed to members of the American Art Union, the New York State Supreme Court ruled that the yearly lottery of artworks was illegal and distribution was delayed. Christensen, The U.S.-Mexican War, p. 72 (illustrated). Garrett & Goodwin, The Mexican-American War of 1846-1848, p. 580. Kurutz & Mathes, The Forgotten War, p. 200: “The print depicts Americans eagerly reading news about the success of U.S. troops.” Libura et al., Echoes of the Mexican-American War, p. 222 (illustrated).

     This iconic image of United States’ citizens reacting to the success of their country in the Mexican-American War was created during the throes of its Westward expansion fueled by a passionate belief in its Manifest Destiny. The print was one of the more inspired and successful of the tsunami of popular prints relating to the Mexican-American War. The print is after an original oil painting on canvas by Richard Caton Woodville, Sr. (1825-1855) entitled “Reading the News (War News from Mexico).” Woodville painted the image in 1848, when he was an art student in Düsseldorf. His canvas was exhibited at the American Art Union gallery in 1849, and the image was selected for reproduction and circulation to AAU members throughout the country. George Austen, the AAU treasurer, purchased the painting and commissioned engraver Alfred Jones (1819-1900) to create two engravings of the scene—a large folio version, as here, and a much smaller print.

     Woodville’s image is a strong example of the development of genre and narrative painting in the U.S., reflecting so-called American traits and a sense of equality (even if illusory). The AAU membership cut across social and economic lines in all states, and strongly supported genre painting, particularly when refined, as in Woodville’s image. The AAU, whose artists included Bingham, Cole, Darley, Durand, Mount, and Woodville, contributed to the advancement of American art as a democratic tradition.

     Woodville’s image is a veritable melting pot, with a well-dressed man in a top hat and a small, animated crowd on the porch of the American Hotel, which also serves as Post Office, bar, public meeting place, and distribution point for newspapers. The centerpiece of the composition is a large folio newspaper extra from which the well-dressed man reads aloud to the small, rapt crowd of upper, middle, and working class persons (the clues to status are most noticeable in the hats or lack thereof). An elderly lady wearing a bonnet peers at the gathering from a window. Two Blacks are at lower right—an adult man seated on the porch steps in work clothes, and a child standing nearby in a very tattered rag of a shift. Details include a broadside nailed to a column calling for volunteers to join the war effort in Mexico. The image perfectly captures the enthusiasm of a highly engaged public ravenous for the war news that would change two nations forever. “Woodville gives credence to Alexis de Toqueville’s observations on newspapers’ vital role in American society, and the avidness with which American consumed them” (Vincent Virga & Alan Brinkley, Eyes of the Nation, Library of Congress, 2004, pp. 115-116).

     Englishman Alfred Jones (1819-1900), painter and engraver, came to the United States in 1834, studied at the National Academy of Design in New York, won first prize in drawing in 1839, and began engraving on his own in 1841. In 1846-1847 he worked in England under some of the best London masters of the art of engraving, and after 1851 he confined himself chiefly to bank note engraving. He invented the process for photo-reproduction directly on a plate which could be printed with type (the “half-tone” process). “As a line-engraver, Mr. Jones had few, if any, superiors in this country and his large plate of ‘The Image Breaker,’ published by the American Art Union in 1850, is deservedly recognized as one of the best engravings ever produced in the United States. Among other fine examples of his work published by the Art Union are ‘Mexican News,’ ‘The New Scholar,’ and ‘The Capture of Major Andre.’” (Mantle Fielding, p. 462).

     “Baltimore native Richard Caton Woodville, Sr. (1825-1856) had early access to and copied art work from the Robert Gilmore collection, then one of the best art collections in the U.S. In 1845 he abandoned his plan to practice medicine and went to Dusseldorf where he studied art for six years. He sent art work back to U.S. exhibits, including the American Art Union. After 1851 he lived in Paris and London, and died prematurely in London in 1856, possibly from an overdose of laudanum. “His painting ‘Reading the News’ is owned by the National Academy of Design and has been engraved” (Mantle Fielding, p. 1056).

($750-1,500)

Sold. Hammer: $750.00; Price Realized: $900.00

Auction 22 Abstracts

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