Friday, January 19, 2018

Not New Jersey

Yesterday, Sotheby's sold at auction a painting of a waterfront. It was a 19th-century American primitive watercolor, believed to have been painted circa 1830 and identified as "A View of Fort Lee or Hoboken, New Jersey." The painting is of interest to us because it is not a view of Fort Lee or Hoboken. It is a view of Hudson, New York.

In the center foreground, there's the "canal through the flats" begun in 1816 and completed in 1817 to provide a direct route for the horse ferry between Hudson and Athens. At the far left, on the bluff, there's a round structure which has to be the "attraction" on Promenade Hill described by Franklin Ellis in the History of Columbia County:
After the hill was donated [in 1795] to the city (but we have been unable to ascertain how long after that time) there was built upon it a house of octagonal shape, two stories high, the upper one being used as a lookout or observatory, and the lower one as a refreshment-room, which latter was never a desirable addition to the "attractions" of the place.
This house on the hill is the structure that gave Promenade Hill its earliest name: "Round-House Hill." Beneath what was then Round-House Hill appears the familiar rock face of Ordovician shale.

Then there is the church building at the center of the painting, which is, of course, the original First Presbyterian Church, located at Second and Partition streets. In the church tower can be seen a clock--the town clock--which was installed in the tower of the First Presbyterian Church in 1801, a tradition that continues today.

Perhaps the detail most persuasive in identifying the place as Hudson appears at the far right, only partially in the painting.

This distinctive-looking building can only be Captain Samuel Plumb's house, which we now know as the Dr. Oliver Bronson House. The house in its original 1812 configuration, before it was re-imagined in the Picturesque style by Alexander Jackson Davis in 1839, appears in this c. 1819 painting by William Guy Wall.

There is reason to believe that the person who acquired the painting at auction yesterday may have known it depicted Hudson and not New Jersey.



    would love to have a copy

  2. Amazing!

    Perhaps the anonymous buyer who "may have known" the picture depicted Hudson would supply, anonymously, a high-resolution scan of the image. Only then can individual buildings, vessels, and other details be studied properly and dated.

    The amount of free research to be had will only increase the value of the work.

    1. For example, what is that strange-looking vessel or structure in the foreground, on the Athens side of the dredged cut?

      In William Guy Wall's painting from Mt. Merino, there's an object in the same location which I always assumed was a boat. Maybe it's something else though?

      In the new picture, a steamboat at the base of Promenade Hill may only be a barge, but even that distinction would tell us something.

      Such details are indecipherable at 72 dpi.

    2. The roundish looking vessel is the old ferry, either exiting or entering the flats.

  3. Just beautiful !! And isn't that the Academy on Academy Hill? Amazing detail on the Bronson House Carole.

    1. I believe it is, David, just sketched out in pencil on the ridge. According to Ellis, Hudson Academy was built in 1806.

  4. Replies
    1. Thanks, Tad, but hardly my discovery. The painting was discovered among the items being offered and its true subject matter recognized by someone else, who prefers to remain anonymous.

  5. Great find. Hope the new owner will share it with interested parties.