A most unusual 1854 Bornet chromolithograph bird's-eye view of the Verrazzano Narrows and New York City harbor. In addition to illustrating the Narrows, the view also depicts the site of the Staten Island Quarantine, a marine hospital used to house sick sailors before admitting them to New York Harbor. The hospital was controversial, resented by the Staten Island elite, whose mansions also appear here, leading to the Staten Island Quarantine War just four years after this view was issued. The war fully destroyed the Quarantine.
A Closer Look
The view looks northward through the narrows towards Jersey City and Manhattan, which appear in the distance. Staten Island near Fort Wadsworth (Flagstaff Fort / Battery Weed) dominates the foreground, with multiple gracious gilded age mansions evident. Across the river, parts of Brooklyn, including Bay Ridge and Owl's Head, are evident. We can recognize Red Hook, Governors Island, Ellis Island, and Bedloe Island (Statue of Liberty). The Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge now crosses New York Harbor at this point, and most of the impressive private estates are now lost to the highway system.
American Bird's-Eye City Views
The tradition of the bird's-eye city view emerged in the United States in the middle part of the 19th century and coincided with the commercial development of lithographic printing. Before the rise of lithography, the ability to own and display artwork in the home was largely limited to the extremely wealthy, the advent of lithographic printing made it possible for everyone to own visually striking artwork. A robust trade developed in portraits of political leaders, allegorical and religious images, and city views.
City views were being produced in the United States as early as the 1830s, but the genre exploded after the American Civil War (1861 - 1865). Bridging the gap between maps and pictures, most 19th century American bird's-eye views presented cities to the public from high vantage points. Some were imagined, but others were drawn from hot-air balloons or nearby hills. The presentation, combining high elevation, commercial interest, and new printing technology, created a uniquely American art form, as described by historian Donald Karshan,
Some print connoisseurs believe that it was only with the advent of the full-blown city-view lithograph that American printmaking reached its first plateau of originality, making a historical contribution to the graphic arts. They cite the differences between the European city-view prints and the expansive American version that reflects a new land and a new attitude toward the land.
The vogue for bird's-eye city views lasted from about 1845 to 1920, during which period some 2,400 cities were thus portrayed, some multiple times. Although views were produced in many urban centers, the nexus of view production in the United States was Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The major American viewmakers were Stoner, Wellge, Bailey, Fowler, Hill, Ruger, Koch, Burleigh, Norris, and Morse, among others.
Chromolithography, sometimes called oleography, 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 product. 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 dominant method of color printing. The vivid color chromolithography produced made it exceptionally effective for advertising and propaganda imagery.
Publication History and Census
This view was drawn by John Bornet and published by Goupil and Company of New York. It was printed in New York by Nagel and Weingärtner. The view is rare by any measure. Reps notes just four institutional holdings. We are aware of one instance of it on the private market.
John Bornet (1810 - 1910) was a New York based landscape painter and lithographer active in the middle part of the 20th century. Bornet is best known for his New York City views, which range from bird's-eye perspectives to views of specific buildings. In America on Stone, (p. 100), Bornet is described as 'a very competent artist'. He appeared in New York directories between 1852 and 1856 and all of his existing work dates to this period. Little is known of his life beyond his work and after 1856 he appears in no records. We found only one record regarding his birth and death, suggesting he lived a prodigiously long life, uncommon at the time, but certainly possible. Learn More...
Jean-Baptiste Michel Adolphe Goupil (March 7, 1806 - May 9, 1893) was a French publisher and seller of art and prints during the 19th century. Born n Paris, he founded the company Goupil et Cie, which became one of the world's biggest art dealers during the 19th century. Goupil founded his first company in 1827 and then partnered with Henry Rittner (1802 - c. 1840), another Parisian print dealer, in 1829. Rittner disappears in 1840. Goupil found a new associate, Théodore Vibert (1816 - 1850), between 1841 and 1842 and the firm become Goupil, Vibert et Cie. Beginning in 1848, Goupil and Vibert embarked on an ambitious plan to create a worldwide network of associated dealers and opened branches in London and New York. Vibert died in 1850 and left several children, whom Goupil looked after. Starting in 1846, Goupil began to move away from dealing exclusively in prints and began buying and selling paintings. Over the next few decades, Goupil's firm became one of the largest art dealers in the world. Goupil, who lost two sons during his lifetime, slowly began to withdraw from working in 1884 and his associate Léon Boussod (1826 - 1896) took over the business in 1886 and renamed it 'Goupil et Cie - Boussod, Valadon et Cie successeurs'. The firm continued to operated until Vincent Imberti bought the company's archive in 1921. Learn More...
Louis Nagel (July 28, 1818 - August 10, 1870) was a German-American lithographer active in New York and San Francisco in the middle part of the 19th century. Nagel was born in Darmstadt, Germany. It is unclear when he emigrated to the United states, but he was active as a lithographer in New York as early as 1844. He exhibited the American Institute in both 1846 and 1847. He partnered with fellow Darmstadt-born lithographer Adam Weingärtner (1813 - 1883), creating the firm 'Nagel and Weingärtner'. Census records suggest he and his wife shared a residence with Weingärtner and his wife. The firm remained active until 1856, advertising as the only firm in New York to use the lithographic techniques developed by the Parisian Rose-Joseph Lemercier (1803 - 1887). This most likely refers to Lemercier's shading techniques. When the firm broke up, Nagel relocated to California, where he set up shop and continued to produce views and maps, at first independently (1858 - 1861), then in partnership with R. W. Fishbourne and Charles C. Kuchel (1862), then once again independently (1863 - 1865). He died in 1870.
Adam Weingärtner (October 10, 1813 - August 3, 1883) was a German-American artist and lithographer active in New York in the middle part of the 19th century. Weingärtner was born in Darmstadt, Germany. He partnered with fellow Darmstadt-born lithographer Louis Nagel (1818 - 1870), creating the firm 'Nagel and Weingärtner'. Census records suggest he and his wife shared a residence with Weingärtner and his wife. The firm remained active until 1856, advertising as the only firm in New York to use the lithographic techniques developed by the Parisian Rose-Joseph Lemercier (1803 - 1887). This most likely refers to Lemercier's shading techniques. Weingärtner served in the American Civil War (1861 - 1865) with the 98th Pennsylvania Infantry. He naturalized as a U.S. Citizen in 1874. He died in Hoboken, New Jersey, in 1883. Learn More...
Good. View has been extracted from the original sheet, trimmed to the printing and laid down on similar stock - likewise with the title, which appears on the same backing sheet below the view. Likely the work of a 19th century framer. Otherwise good.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, 42.125.11. Library of Congress, Control Number: 2003656960. New York Public Library, MEZN++ Eno 469. Symmes, M. F., Impressions of New York: Prints from the New York Historical Society, no. 50. Reps, John, Views and Viewmakers of Urban America (University of Missouri, Columbia, 1984), #2670.