"The Largest and Most Ambitious Print in Bennett's Series of American City Views."
Handsome hand-colored example of the Hill-Bennett-Clover view of Manhattan from Brooklyn Heights, among the best views of the city from the first half of the 19th century. According to the New York Public Library: "New York, from Brooklyn Heights, after a work by John William Hill, is the largest and most ambitious print in William James Bennett's series of American city views."
The view was taken from the rooftops over Furman Street in Brooklyn Heights. It covers the lower part of Manhattan, now largely the Financial District, the extensive traffic of the East River, the Hudson River, and the bluffs of New Jersey in the background. Hill rendered almost all of the major Manhattan landmarks of the time, noting them in the legend. He shows the domed building of the Merchant's Exchange, which in reality was still being rebuilt after its destruction in the Great Fire of 1835. Trinity Church is shown. Holt's Hotel and St. Paul's are nearby. City Hall's tower can be seen as well.
The original plate for the print passed into the possession of Currier & Ives, where it was surprisingly put to use as a floor plate under a stove in the shop. The plate was rediscovered around 1900, worn and with the sky damaged. The clouds were burnished out -- differentiating this edition -- and the plate was printed again.
The Village of Brooklyn occupies the foreground. At the time Hill drew his image, it had only been incorporated for some twenty years. A mother, father, and two small children stand in front of the viewer looking out at the harbor or Governor's Island with a spy glass. They, like Hill, have the benefit of a rooftop observatory -- a practice not uncommon in Brooklyn today. The Village would soon expand what we now consider the Borough of Brooklyn, but at that time it was not much more than a collection of buildings near the ferry.
John William Hill
J. W. Hill (1812-1879) was a British-born American artist who spent most of his career in the New York region. He had emigrated from England with parents in 1819, first settling in Philadelphia, before moving to New York in 1822. He apprenticed in his father's engraving shop where he learned aquatinting. He was an accomplished landscape artist, and worked with the New York Geological Survey before contributing to De Kay's Zoology of New York State.
William James Bennett
Bennett (ca 1784-1844) was the most accomplished printer of city views in early 19th century America. Bennett was a skilled painter and printmaker when he arrived in New York, from London, in the middle of the 1820s. He took little time establishing himself, becoming a member of the National Academy of Design in 1828. In the following two decades he produced a magnificent set of separately issued views of burgeoning American urban centers in deftly rendered aquatint. His other titles include:
Richmond, from the hill above the waterworks. 1834.
Baltimore from Federal Hill. 1831.
Boston from City Point near Sea Street. ca 1833.
Buffalo, from Lake Erie.
City of Detroit. 1837.
New Orleans, Taken from the Opposite Side a Short Distance above the Middle or Picayune Ferry. 1841.
West Point, from above Washington Valley, looking down the river. 1834.
West Point, from Phillipstown. 1831.
City of Washington from beyond the Navy Yard. 1838.
Mobile. Taken from the Marsh opposite the City near Pinto's residence. 1842.
Bennett's view of New York is typical of his others, with the sun pouring over a scene of water, architecture, and commerce. The luminous landscape reflects the optimism of America in that era.
Lewis P. Clover
The print was published by Lewis P. Clover, a Brooklyn resident with a fascinating life story. He was a publisher of prints and owner of a frame shop which he opened in lower Manhattan around 1817. Before setting up shop in Manhattan, Clover was a sailor during the War of 1812, when he was captured by the British and imprisoned at Dartmoor Prison. There he experienced deprivation and camaraderie with prisoners of other nations. According to his obituary in 1879, he was the last living American prisoner of Dartmoor from the War of 1812.