Joshua Shaw. “Falls of St. Anthony on the Mississippi.” From Picturesque Views of American Scenery. Philadelphia: M. Carey & Son, 1819-21. 9 3/4 x 13 1/4. Aquatint with line etching by John Hill. Very good condition.
A rare view of the St. Anthony’s Falls in Minneapolis from the Shaw-Hill Picturesque Views of American Scenery. This wonderful series of American views combines the work of two of the most talented Americans of the early nineteenth century, Joshua Shaw and John Hill. Shaw (ca. 1777-1860) was born and trained in England, where he exhibited at the Royal Academy. With a recommendation of his work from Benjamin West, Shaw emigrated to Philadelphia in 1817. He was enthralled by his new country, and as a result conceived the grand scheme of producing a folio of prints based on “correct delineations of some of the most prominent beauties of notable scenery.” He planned to travel throughout the United States to make his drawings, and to issue the prints by subscription in six sets of six views each. This was the first systematic attempt to depict the American landscape, and it is a foundation work in the history of American color-plate works. Only nineteen of the intended thirty-six prints were produced, for either Shaw ran out of energy, or the public did not sufficiently support the venture.
The aquatinting of the prints was done by John Hill (1770-1850), who was another Englishman who had just settled in Philadelphia. This was Hill’s first major American commission, and the next year he moved to New York City where he further enhanced his reputation as the premier aquatinter in the country. The publisher of the series, Mathew Carey & Son, was no less illustrious than the others. Mathew Carey was perhaps the dominate American publisher of the first two decades of the nineteenth century, and the successor firms of Carey & Son, and then Carey & Lea continued to play an important part in the history of American maps, books and prints.
The prints from this series are rare, beautifully rendered and exquisitely aquatinted. The scenes are mostly of the eastern seaboard, ranging from New York to Georgia. They show America when the country was primarily rural, and they tend to focus on the inland waterways, which were the major routes of travel and major sources of energy at the time. These prints provide us with a precious snapshot of our land in its nascent age, when it would still have been recognizable to the colonists of the previous century.