Nebel’s Lithograph of the Assault of Contreras

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418. [MEXICAN-AMERICAN WAR]. NEBEL, C[arl]. [Assault] at Contreras;[below image] C. Nebel fecit. | Bayot lith; [lower left in image within oval] Entered according to act of Congress. [New York: D. Appleton; Philadelphia: George Appleton; Paris: Plon Brothers, 1851.] Original full colored and toned lithograph on handmade paper, finished by hand applying gum arabic highlights (after art work by Nebel, printed and lithographed by Lemercier and Adolphe Jean Baptiste Bayot). Image area: 27.8 x 42.5 cm; overall sheet size: 38.4 x 53.5 cm. Old offsetting in blank margins touching image along top, moderate staining in upper blank margin, verso heavily browned, title scrubbed with minor loss, image fine.

     First printing. The plate is from Kendall & Nebel’s folio book The War between the United States and Mexico Illustrated... (see Kendall herein for the complete album). Kurutz & Mathes, The Forgotten War, p. 195. Sandweiss, Stewart & Huseman, Eyewitness to War: Prints and Daguerreotypes of the Mexican War, 1846-1848, Plate 17 (p. 91), No. 134 (p. 308): “Artist Carl Nebel, working in Mexico City during the American occupation, probably visited all of the nearby battlefields. One would thus expect a certain accuracy of topographical detail in his works depicting those battles, since he could check any details of which he was not certain. In his view of the battle of Contreras, Nebel chose a vantage point from behind Valencia’s camp, looking north-northeast across the Valley of Mexico.... On the previous day, the three brigades under Smith Riley, and Cadwalader had crossed from right to left, the area seen behind the hills in the middle distance of the print. Their probing attacks against the front of Valencia’s entrenched camp had been beaten back, and the Mexican general optimistically believed he had won a great victory. In the area at the far left in the print, just beyond the picture’s margins, the Americans discovered another Mexican army under the personal command of Santa Anna. Had Santa Anna and Valencia coordinated plans, Smith’s forces could have been crushed between the two.... Completely routed, the Mexicans fell back toward Mexico City, leaving more than a thousand prisoners, along with supplies and ordnance, in the hands of the invaders. Ironically, American printmakers paid little attention to this overwhelming victory”

     It was immediately after this battle that Robert E. Lee was brevetted to Lieutenant Colonel for bravery. Contreras is now the site of the Mexico City Airport.


Auction 23 Abstracts

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