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Denver, California?—Enigmatic European Copper Plate

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556.     [WESTERN SCENE]. MATHEWS, Alfred E. (after). Estados Unidos—Aspecto de una calle de una nueva ciudad de California [title at lower center below neat line]; Daguerre [lower right below neat line]; JL [lower left in image area]; Gauchard | Brunier [lower right in image area]. [Paris? ca. 1870?]. Original thin photo-etched copper plate showing a street scene. Neat line to neat line: 18 x 27 cm; overall plate size: 21.1 x 29 cm. Weight: approximately 400 grams. Surface lightly abraded and worn from use, upper left corner slightly bent, otherwise a fine example of a repeatedly used scene. The image is not reversed.

     The view is of a lively Western street lined by buildings and traversed by a phaeton, horsemen, and dray wagons. On the boardwalks, people promenade or converse in small groups. At the lower right oxen rest in the road. Business names visible include Cheney’s Billiard Rooms, M.L. Roods Gun Shop, T.S. Clayton, Partridge & Harrison, Hutton & Cornforth, Old & Tynon, Girnon, and L.C. Bartels. The perspective fades off into the distance.

     Part of the present scene started life as a lithograph in Alfred E. Mathews’ Pencil Sketches of Colorado ([New York], 1866; Howes M413 & Streeter Sale 2171), entitled “Blake Street, Denver, Colorado” and vaguely resembles the view here, especially in the foreground street scene, which depicts resting oxen at lower right, the dray wagon in the middle, a two-wheel carriage pulled by a cantering horse, and a few dogs. Numerous people crowd the original scene, including a group on the left attending an auction. Also, the overall general perspective is similar. On the other hand, the buildings and business names do not match the reworked rendition.

     The other aspect of the scene started life in the same publication as a lithograph entitled “F Street, Denver.” In that view, the foreground is only vaguely similar to the present work, having the resting oxen lying in the street on the left hand side, for example. On the other hand, the buildings and business names are identical, although the pedestrians shown are different. Also, at 23.2 x 40.4 cm, Mathews’ original views are much larger than the one on the present copper plate.

     At some point, those original views were reinterpreted, combined, re-engraved as a woodcut, and published with the German title “Strasse in Denver” in Leslie’s Illustrirte Zeitung, probably in the late 1860s; the woodcut was also apparently issued as a separate print. The reworking shows F Street near the intersections of Blake and Wazee Streets in Denver, as does Mathews’ original F Street view. To the contrary, the animals, pedestrians, and street traffic are basically taken from the Blake Street view, with some rearrangements and embellishments. In the present copper plate, the title has been rewritten into Spanish and purports to show a California street scene as opposed to one in Denver. We have been unable to determine where this Spanish-language view was published, although the plate condition indicates it was clearly used for printing at some point. The German print is attributed to Ange-Louis Janet (called Janet-Lange) (1815-1872), whose initials appear in the lower left of the image, and the engraving is credited to Félix-Jean Gauchard (1825-1872) and Brunier, which strongly suggests the German woodcut was engraved in Europe and sent back to the United States. Frank Leslie’s printing empire in the United States included a German-language newspaper.

     On the present copper plate, most of the attributions are the same as the German woodcut. Here the view is again credited to Ange-Louis Janet whose initials appear in the lower left of the image, and the engraving is still credited to Félix-Jean Gauchard and Brunier. Those people were all active in France. One Daguerre’s name has been added at the lower right.

     Alfred E. Mathews (1831-1874) was born in England but moved to Ohio at an early age. After practicing various trades, he enlisted in the Union army and during the Civil War gained some fame as a sketch artist, even earning flattering remarks from General Grant for his depictions of the Siege of Vicksburg. After the War he pursued a career exclusively as an artist, arriving in late 1865 at Denver. The series of original views he published by lithography are some of the earliest views of the city. He later published views on other Western locales, such as Montana and California. He remains one of the major early Western artists.

     Re-using a single city view multiple times for different places dates back to the Nuremberg Chronicle, a work well-known for that practice. The present copper plate is another interesting example of how views were morphed and adapted to whatever need a publisher had for new, fresh material about a Western locale that was at the time of vivid interest to readers, without regard to accuracy. Ironically, of course, the view is basically accurate in that it shows Denver’s F Street much as Mathews originally depicted the scene; it is just not accurate for what it purports to show. How Mathews’ views made it across the Atlantic to France, were combined into a new scene, and then reworked for a Spanish-speaking market remains a mystery worthy of further research.



Auction 22 Abstracts

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