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Bird’s-Eye View of New York in 1848—Among the Finest American Views

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49.     [BIRD’S-EYE VIEW]. BACHMANN, John. New-York Published by John Bachmann, 5 Rector St. N. York. [below border] Drawn from Nature and on Stone by C. Bachman. | Entered according acct [sic] of Congress in the year 1849. By J. Bachman in the Clerks office of the District Court of the Southern District of New York. | Lith. of Sarony & Major 117 Fulton St. N.Y. New York, 1849. Lithograph on heavy paper, original tinting and hand coloring, view of New York City from high above Union Square looking south to the Battery and harbor; image within borders: 47.5 x 70.5 cm; border to border: 48.7 x 72.6 cm; image, border, and text: 54.8 x 72.6 cm. Professionally washed and stabilized. Lightly browned along bottom, several closed tears consolidated by archival backing sheet, lower blank left corner skillfully reattached, a few minor voids (no substantial losses), lower blank margin lightly chipped, overall fine with excellent color and a good impression. Matted and framed, under Plexiglas.

     First edition, first state (with Bachmann identified as publisher). Deak, Picturing America 573 (second state): “Probably every important building standing between Union Square and Wall Street can be distinguished in this large Bachmann lithograph, which gives us a very comprehensive view of New York City below the oval, tree-lined 14th Street park.” Peters, American on Stone, pp. 82-84: “Very scarce view.” Reps, Views and Viewmakers of Urban America 2645, Plate 16, pp. 160-161. Stokes, American Historical Prints: Early Views of American Cities 134 (second state). Stokes, The Iconography of Manhattan Island 135, Vol. III, pp. 702-705 (second state): “The first state...reads: ‘Published by John Bachmann, 5 Rector St. N. York.’ The print is otherwise identical except for a fine line framing the rectangle. Impressions of the Williams & Stevens issue exist with the date in the copyright line changed to 1850.”

     This famous view is astonishing for its completeness, minute detail, and sweep, which extends to the far horizon and is based on a typical Bachmann perspective, which in many ways is impossible to achieve except in the imagination. That Bachmann has grasped and illustrated so well this part of the city is one of the characteristics of his lithographs for which he is justifiably celebrated. In discussing this view in some detail, Stokes (The Iconography of Manhattan Island 135, Vol. III, pp. 702-705) makes the following detailed observations:

This is a very comprehensive and clear view of the city below Union Square. Practically every important building standing at the time between Union Square and Wall Street can be distinguished.... Union Square was created under the Commissioners’ Plan of 1807, on which it appears as “Union Place,” and extended from 10th Street to 17th Street.... An application to the Legislature resulted in the passage of an act, on April 5, 1832, enlarging Union Place to its present size. The iron fence and other improvements were added in 1835 and 1836, and the fountain was constructed in 1842 at the time of the completion of the Croton Aqueduct, and first put in operation on October 14th, the day of the Croton Water Celebration. The iron fence was taken down in 1871.

In 1835 Washington Square and the surrounding streets formed the most fashionable residential quarters of the town. By 1849 this centre of fashion had moved still farther north, and Union Place had become a beautiful residential section. In New York Past, Present and Future (1849), Belden describes Union Place as “surrounded by splendid private mansions, some of which are of costly magnificence, and its vicinity is the most fashionable portion of the city.”

In the block west of Broadway, on the south side of 16th Street, shown in the lower right corner of the view, were the residences of Theodore Putnam, James Suydam, Oswald Cammann, S. F. Tracy, and others. On 15th Street, at the corner of Broadway, which was then called Union Place, was the Church of the Puritans, designed by James Renwick, south of which was a collegiate Institution for young ladies, maintained by the Reverend Gorham D. Abbott in the old Spingler Institute. For a time, 15th Street between Broadway and Fifth Avenue, was called Spingler Place after this institute.

The detached Gothic “villa,” in the middle of the block on the north side of 15th Street is still standing [1917], and is known as No. 21 East 15th Street. In 1849, as No. 20, It was in the possession of Oscar Coles, under lease from the Spingler estate. The house was probably erected by Dr. Daniel W. Kissam, a well-known physician, shortly before his death, in December, 1834. The property is now held, partly on lease and partly on deed, by Mr. Richard H. L. Townsend.

The large double house on the north side of 15th Street, just west of the “villa,” was owned by George Washington Browne, proprietor of a hotel at 123-5 Water Street, who sold it, in 1875, to James Stokes and Morris K. Jesup. Two years later the property was transferred to the Y.W.C.A., which occupied the site until June, 1917. The residence on the north-east corner of Fifth Avenue and 15th Street was owned by Daniel B. Fearing. His heirs sold the house, in 1871, to James H. Banker, who in turn sold it, in 1873, to Cornelius Vanderbilt.

South of Washington Square, on Amity Street, near McDougal, is St. Clement’s Episcopal Church, while on Fifth Avenue, north of l0th Street, may be seen the Church of the Ascension and, in the block between 11th and 12th Streets, the First Presbyterian Church. Between 12th and 13th Streets, on Fifth Avenue, at this period, were the residences of Robert B. Minturn, James Lenox, and Mrs. Robert Maitland. Between 13th and 14th Streets were the homes of L. M. Hoffman, August Belmont, and Benjamin Aymar, Residents in the block between 14th and 15th Streets, on Fifth Avenue, included Myndert Van Schaick, Abraham Van Buren, James Brooks, and Henry G. Stebbins.

At No. 71 West 14th Street (north-west corner of Sixth Avenue) was established, in the early 50’s, the school of William Forrest (later Forrest and Quackenbos), where so many well-known New-Yorkers of the past generation were educated.... On the corner of l0th Street and University Place is seen the steeple of the Presbyterian Church, erected in 1845.

The block on 14th Street between University Place and Broadway contained the houses of Charles H. Marshall, James F. Penniman, Frederick Bronson, Robert Kermit, and Cornelius V. S. Roosevelt, who had the house on the corner of Broadway. The tall building in the next block east was the Union Place Hotel, leased at this time to John C. Wheeler. Sheridan Shook leased it in 1871, and called it the Maison Dorée. In 1881 it became known as the Morton House. This building, as well as the one on the south-east corner of Broadway and 14th Street, was owned by Cortlandt Palmer. The corner house on Fourth Avenue was occupied, in 1849, by Francis Mercier, an upholsterer, whose shop was at 156 Fourth Avenue. Between the hotel and the corner house stood the livery stable of Paul D. Burbank.

On the south-east corner of 15th Street and Fourth Avenue was the school of Madam H. D. Chegaray. In the block to the north were the residences of John Griswold, S. B. Ruggles, G. W. Coster, William Kent, John Hicks, Richard Tighe, and, on the corner of 16th Street, J. Fisher Sheafe. The residence of Richard Tighe, still standing in 1896, is shown in a view In Pelletreau’s Early New York Houses, where it is described as the “Last Dwelling on Union Square.”

This entire block (as well as the double houses in which Madam Chegaray’s school was maintained) was erected as a speculation by Samuel B. Ruggles, who had a thirty years’ lease of the property from the Cornelius T. Williams estate. One of the conditions of the lease was that a ten-foot set-back should be left for court-yards. These courts show very plainly in the view.

Grace Church, erected in 1846 on Broadway and l0th Street, is a conspicuous feature; south-east of it appears the steeple of the 9th Street Collegiate Dutch Reformed Church, while St. Mark’s can be seen to the east, surrounded by trees.

The reservoir, on the south side of 13th Street, east of Fourth Avenue, and the Washington Institute, to the left of it, are plainly seen.

Reps, discussing Bachmann’s technique and reputation, states (Views & Viewmakers pp. 160-161):

No finer artist of city views worked in America than John Bachmann.... His name and its first appearance on a city view in 1849 strongly suggests that he was a German and one of the many artists who came to America from that country in the mid and late 1840s as a result of political disturbances in their homeland. Bachmann brought with him fully developed artistic, lithographic and printing skills, for his earliest prints reveal a high level of competence and complete command of the lithographic medium. He began his American career, however, as a publisher of a splendid view of New York City as seen from a point high above Union Square looking south to the Battery and the harbor....

Taken together, Bachmann’s views offer a rich sampling of lithographic achievement in this country. Those he executed during the 1850s are particularly outstanding and justifiably regarded by collectors and museum curators as among the finest American views to be found.

Swiss-born lithographer and artist, John Bachmann, Sr. (1814-1896) worked as a journeyman in Switzerland and Paris before emigrating to the United States in 1847. He created the first major bird’s-eye views of U.S. cities (the focus of most of his work was New York City). Bachmann’s visionary eye and his ability to translate his inner vision to the lithographic stone were remarkable. The present print and his Civil War panoramic views are his most famous works. See Items 50-52 following.


Sold. Hammer: $10,000.00; Price Realized: $12,000.00

Auction 22 Abstracts

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