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Rare Lithograph Portrait of David Crockett

Printed on India Proof Paper


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153.     [CROCKETT, DAVID]. OSGOOD, S[amuel] S[tillman](artist) & [Cephas G.] Childs & [George] Lehman (lithographers), [Albert Newsam] (attributed as drawing Osgood’s portrait on stone). David Crockett. [below lower neat line] Printed by S.S. Osgood. | On Stone. | Childs & Lehman. Lithry. Philadelphia. Lithograph bust portrait printed on India proof paper, mounted (as issued) on beige wove paper support sheet, with lithograph facsimile of Crockett’s handwritten statement: I am happy to acknowledge this to be the only correct likeness that has been taken of me. David Crockett [below facsimile signature] Entered according to act of Congress in the year 1831 by S.S. Osgood in the Clerks Office of the District Court of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia, 1834. Portrait: neat line to neat line: 23.6 x 19.2 cm; overall sheet size of portrait: 37 x 30 cm; mounting sheet: 37 x 30 cm. Professionally conserved. Mild foxing and staining, a few tears expertly mended (no losses). Overall very good. Rarely offered. Known locations: National Portrait Gallery (Smithsonian), Center for American History (University of Texas, Austin), San Jacinto Museum of History Association (Houston), Library of Congress. With the print is a Xerox copy of a letter to the former owner indicating the print came from Joseph A. Heckel, print dealer of New York City, documenting that the collector paid $10.00 for it in 1949. We traced another offering (Dr. Rosenbach in 1948 for $10.00).

     An extremely rare and handsome portrait of the iconic American frontiersman and indelible hero of Texas who perished at the Alamo and caused generations of young and old boys to be afflicted with Crockett-mania. Catalogue of American Portraits in The New-York Historical Society I, pp. 176-177. Dictionary of American Portraits, p. 140. Mitchell, The Unequalled Collection of Engraved Portraits belonging to Hon. James T. Mitchell…. (Philadelphia, 1908) #285. Peters, America on Stone, Plate 33, p. 42: “The Crockett portrait is interesting as a type—with endorsement lithographed on the paper on which the print is pasted, apparently to catch the trade of those who would think the autographs original”; pp. 136 & 139: “[Childs is] one of the outstanding American lithographers…an able man at all his crafts, entangled with many others over a period of time, producing a very great amount of extremely important Americana. His work in book illustrating alone is pioneer and of utmost importance”; p. 138 (in the historical sketch on the firm of Cephas G. Childs and George Lehman, with an amusing assessment of Crockett): “The facts in the life of David Crockett are about as unimportant as the facts in the life of Robin Hood—if there ever was such a person. Yet it is interesting to note what it was that so caught the fancy of young America. Crockett was a Tennessee frontiersman—strong, independent, frank, generous, footloose, and almost illiterate. He married at eighteen, and failed dismally as a farmer and Mississippi flatboat man, but was a brilliant scout in the Creek War of 1813-1814, a mighty hunter of bears in western Tennessee, and a local hero. He was sent to Congress, almost as a joke (showing that Americans liked this kind of a joke as early as 1827), but found himself out of his métier and finally went to fight for the independence of Texas. He was killed at the defense of the Alamo, in 1836, at the age of fifty.”

     As usual, Ron Tyler provides the best overview and even-handed historical details in his unpublished manuscript on Texas lithographs of the nineteenth century:

Crockett was a famous figure by 1833. He was the obvious subject of playwright James Kirke Paulding’s 1831 The Lion of the West, featuring Colonel Nimrod Wildfire, a just defeated congressman who was clearly patterned after Crockett. In 1833, Matthew St. Claire Clarke, clerk of the House of Representatives, published his Life and Adventures of Colonel David Crockett of West Tennessee, and when Crockett returned to Congress in the fall of 1833, he undertook an autobiography with his friend Thomas Chilton and sat for his portrait in 1833 and 1834 at least five times. While in Boston, on a political tour of the East Coast in the spring of 1834, Crockett attracted a crowd of two or three thousand people, who heard that the Tennessee frontiersman was on his way to city hall.

The portraits might have been intended to help satisfy the demand for popular images or as illustrations for his autobiography. The first of them, painted by New York artist James Hamilton Shegogue, was not used, probably because it did not make Crockett look “western” enough. The second portrait [present portrait], by New York-based Samuel Stillman Osgood, was more successful. The image was drawn on the stone by the prolific Albert Newsam, probably in May and June, 1834. It was lithographed by the Philadelphia firm of Childs & Lehman, whose main principal, Cephas Childs, had earlier announced a series of portraits of distinguished Americans, which he hoped would take advantage of the growing popular print market. While the portrait is a recognizable Crockett, the compliment written underneath—the “only correct likeness”—was impugned by Crockett himself, who commented… “Dare say it’s like enough, because it’s like all the other painters make of me, a sort of cross between a clean-shirted Member of Congress and a Methodist Preacher. If you could catch me on a bear-hunt in a ‘harricane,’ with hunting tools and gear, and team of dogs, you might make a picture better worth looking at.” A reporter for the Boston Transcript apparently liked it a bit more. “We have an excellent portrait of the Colonel…. The outline of the nose is rather faulty, but the features are well delineated, and the expression, which is the life of portraiture, admirable….”

The life of traveling author and celebrity offered such appeal to Crockett that he was not as effective a congressman as he might have been; at any rate, he was defeated in his bid for reelection in 1835. He had promised that he would continue to serve his constituents if reelected, but if not, “they [could] go to hell, and I would go to Texas,” where he would help in what he perceived to be a battle for freedom and opportunity.

Crockett and his friends traveled westward to Memphis, then southwest to Little Rock, Clarkesville, Texas, and on to Nacogdoches, arriving early in 1836, where he thought he might find his friend Sam Houston…. Texans welcomed Crockett and his fellow Tennesseans, who, finding that Houston was in the field trying to raise an army against an expected Mexican invasion, swore allegiance to Texas and marched on to San Antonio to help defend the Alamo, an act which cut short their brave adventure but forever established their fighting credentials. Crockett is one of the few heroes of the battle of the Alamo, along with James Bowie, for whom a life portrait exists.

     Regarding the makers of this print: The image is after an original art work by Samuel Tillman Osgood (1808-1885), a portrait painter born in New Haven who studied in Europe, settled in New York, and is thought to have died in California (Mantle Fielding, p. 685). Lithographer Cephas G. Childs (1793-1871) is discussed by Peters above (Mantle Fielding, pp. 150-151), as is Childs’ partner George Lehman (d. ca. 1870), noted for his series of views of Pennsylvania towns (Mantle Fielding, p. 531). The transfer of the painting to the lithograph stone is attributed to Albert Newsam (1809-1864), the celebrated deaf-mute artist and lithographer who studied with George Catlin and Hugh Bridgport (Peters, America on Stone, pp. 296-300 & Mantle Fielding, p. 664)

     This handsome print of David Crockett, above and beyond its Texas implications, is a fairly early example of a lithograph portrait created in the United States. Bass Otis’ portrait of Abner Kneeland, which appeared in 1818 as the frontispiece to his Series of Lectures, is widely conjectured to be the earliest U.S. lithographed portrait. (It is not fully established whether Otis actually used a lithograph stone or some other method.) The most notable early use of lithography for portraiture in the U.S. was John and William Pendleton’s series of portraits of the first five U.S. Presidents (1828). The present 1834 Crockett portrait is noteworthy and desirable for its highly sophisticated technique at such an early stage of American lithography. It was printed on thin, high-quality India proof paper, providing a finer image with more depth than could be obtained on ordinary paper. Because the technique of printing on India proof paper is extremely time-consuming, expensive, and challenging, images were seldom printed in this way. It is refreshing to find such a technically proficient and aesthetically pleasing image of David Crockett, given the flood of cheap, excessive popular culture material on him, from the lurid Crockett almanacs to modern comic art.

     Included with this lot is Thomas B. Welch’s (1814-1874) stipple-engraved print on heavy wove paper of Crockett after Osgood’s painting: Oval bust portrait with facsimile of Crockett’s autograph below, in lower portion in image: Painted by S.S. Osgood | Engraved by T.B. Welch. Oval: approximately 11.3 x 8.5 cm; oval set in shaded rectangle: 12.3 x 8.8 cm; overall sheet size: 30.4 x 23.8 cm. A few minor stains The engraved portrait is illustrated on p. 140 of Dictionary of American Portraits. For more on Welch see: Groce & Wallace, p. 670 (biography of Welch). Mantle Fielding, p. 1009. Frank Weitenkampf, American Graphic Art, New York: Henry Holt, 1912, (pp. 117-118, discussing Welch’s use of mezzotint and stipple engraving).


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

Auction 22 Abstracts

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