Vue Générale de New-York.
18.5 x 24.5 in (46.99 x 62.23 cm)
This is a spectacular 2-color chromolithograph bird's-eye view of New York City by C. Wild, H. Walter, and Lemercier. The work represents New York as it attempted to establish itself as a premier global metropolis, comparable to London and Paris. The view looks south towards New York Harbor from a fictional high-point above Union Square (14th - 18th Sts.). The city's primary arteries, Broadway, University Place, and 4th Avenue are exaggerated in their width, giving them the aspect of broad Parisian-style boulevards. The foreground is occupied by Union Square itself, with its dramatic fountain, surrounded by impressive European style architecture.
Union Square, as good as London or Paris?When this view and the related view by Bachman were issued, the area around Union Square represented a fashionable, exclusive enclave, the crème de la crème of New York real estate. Union Square was the grandest park in the city. Its monumental fountain, hailed by some as unequaled anywhere on Earth, celebrated not only its own beauty, but the ample fresh water supported by the newly completed Croton Aqueduct. Horse-drawn trams, the beginnings of the Harlem Railroad, run up and down Fourth Avenue, offering quick access to the Battery, harbor, and business districts.
The developer of Gramercy Park, Samuel Bulkley Ruggles (1799 - 1881), owned most of the real-estate around Union Square. In addition to constructing his own impressive 4-story mansion on Union Square East, Ruggles leased and developed other properties around the square for the monied elite. The majesty of the area is apparent in this engraving. Wild, the lithographic engraver, employs a clever technique to highlight Union Square and the surrounded properties - practically bathing them in light. This is a two-color lithograph, black content on cream background. The cream color is reduced around the park and surrounding facades, allowing the stark white paper to show through, brilliantly highlighting this newly developed part of New York. The density of ships in the harbor and at dock also differ.
Bachmann vs. LemercierThis spectacular view is inspired by a very similar view of New York issued in 1849 by John Bachmann. That view was Bachmann's first American bird’s-eye view, as well as the first full-scale bird’s-eye perspective view of New York. Here Walter, Wild, and Lemercier have narrowed the east-west scope of the view, thus focusing more on Union Square and exaggerating the apparent length of New York. Some of the harbor buildings in Brooklyn, including large grain warehouses, are also drawn larger than life. The two-tone highlighting technique, mentioned above, is also a unique innovation evident only on the Lemercier edition.
ChromolithographyChromolithography is a color lithographic technique developed in the mid-19th century. The process involved using multiple lithographic stones, one for each color, to yield a rich composite effect. Oftentimes, the process would start with a black basecoat upon which subsequent colors were layered. Some chromolithographs used 30 or more separate lithographic stones to achieve the desired effect. Chromolithograph color could also be effectively blended for even more dramatic results. The process became extremely popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when it emerged as the dominate method of color printing. The vivid color chromolithography produced made it exceptionally effective for advertising and propaganda imagery.
Publication History and CensusThis view was engraved on stone in Paris by 'H. Walter', printed by Lemercier et Cie., and published by 'C. Wild'. Stylistically it is drawn from the work of John Bachmann in New York, but is a completely separate engraving. There were several different states. The present example, a 2-color chromolithograph, with the title 'Vue General de New-York'. A four-color chromolithograph also exists with the subtitle 'Prise de l'Union Square'. Rare to the market.
Rose-Joseph Lemercier (June 29, 1803 - 1887) was a French photographer, lithographer, and printer. One of the most important Parisian lithographers of the 19th century, Lemercier was born in Paris into a family of seventeen children. His father was a basket maker, and he even began working as a basket maker at the age of fifteen, but Lemercier was drawn to lithography and printing and soon entered into an apprenticeship with Langlumé, where he worked from 1822 until 1825. After working for a handful of other printers, Lemercier started his own firm in 1828 at 2, rue Pierre Sarrazin with only one printing press. He subsequently moved a few more times before arriving at 57, rue de Seine, where he founded the printing firm Lemercier and Company. Lemercier created the firm Lemercier, Bénard and Company in 1837 with Jean François Bénard. Lemercier bought out Bénard's share in the firm in 1843 and, since his two sons died at a young age, he decided to bring his nephew Alfred into the business beginning in 1862, who would progressively take on more and more responsibility in running the firm. Between 1850 and 1870, Lemercier's firm was the largest lithographic company in Paris. The firm began to decline in prestige in the early 1870s, and, after Lemercier's death in 1887, its descent only quickened. It is unclear when the firm closed, but Alfred directed the firm until his death in 1901.
C. Wild (fl. c. 1840 - 1860) was a French editor and publisher of view and prints active in Paris during the middle part of the 19th century. He was active at the Passage du Saumon, 38 from about 1844 to 1854. In 1854, he relocated to Banque 15, where he remained through at least 1860. He regularly worked with the firm of Lemercier et Cie.
Walter (fl. c. 1840 - 1866) was a French lithographer engraver active in Paris during the middle part of the 19th century. The name 'Walter Lith' appears on a wide variety of French prints and views. Some are signed Edouard Walter, others Charles Walter, and still others H. Walter, leading us to believe the firm represents a family enterprise. All 'Walter Lith' prints appear to be associated with the firm of Lemercier et Cie.
John Bachmann (1816 - May 22, 1899) was a Swiss-American landscape artist and viewmaker active in New York from the mid to late 19th century. Bachmann was born in Switzerland and apprenticed as a lithographer both in Switzerland and Paris until 1847. Like many Swiss and German printmakers, Bachmann was a Forty-Eighter, one of thousands who fled to the United States in the aftermath of the failed 'Springtime of the Peoples Revolutions of 1848'. He settled in Jersey City or Hoboken. His first publication, a spectacular view of New York City looking south from Union Square, appeared 1849. Although not the most prolific viewmaker, Bachmann is considered among the finest. He issued more than 50 views, two-thirds of which were of New York City. Bachman had a passion for New York and it's many civic advances and, unlike other viewmakers, some of his most interesting work of his work focused on these, including views of Greenwood Cemetery, Central Park, and Hoboken's Elysian Fields. He also has the distinction to be the first to use the term 'Bird's-eye' to describe his aerial-perspective views. During the American Civil War (1861 - 1865) he issued a series of innovative 'Seat of War' views illustrating the progress of the war in various theaters. These war views were revolutionary in their advanced use of perspective and orientation, to illustrate terrain and topography. His last known perspective view illustrated Havana. Bachmann's son, John Bachmann Jr. (1853 - 1927) (aka. Bachman) was also a lithographer.
Reps, John, Views and Viewmakers of Urban America (University of Missouri, Columbia, 1984), #2796.