Monday, May 14, 2012

1862 "Views of Norfolk and Portsmouth" Engraving

This is an engraving entitled, "Views of Norfolk and Portsmouth from the U.S. Naval Hospital."  It is currently on display in the museum's Civil War gallery.  At first glance, the print appears to be an illustration of the two cities and the Portsmouth Naval Hospital (at right) as they appeared before the war.  After all, everything looks calm and peaceful with U.S. Naval warships at anchor and people going about their daily routine. Upon closer inspection, however, the printmaker issued the work in 1862, the year Union forces occupied the region and when Confederate forces put the Gosport Navy Yard to the torch. One would expect to see a bit more evidence of the war in the print.

When one compares this print with the one below, we get an answer to why the print's looks are deceiving.  The printmaker took an older print (the one below), redrew the same city scenes, scratched out the civilian ships, and replaced them with U.S. Navy ships. 
The print-making firm of Edwars Sachse and Company of Baltimore drew, colored-in, and published both prints.  Sachse and his artists specialized in accurate urban landscapes and building scenes in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C., like this one of Norfolk and Portsmouth.  The firm published prints of various parts of Washington, D.C., Fort Monroe, the Virginia Military Institute, the University of Virginia, and the U.S. Capitol, among many others.  Many of their drawings are "bird's eye" or "aerial views" that gave the viewer a spectacular three-dimensional view.  The firm's print of Baltimore is considered to be its finest.  According to one art historian, Sachse's artists spent three years drawing nothing but buildings in Baltimore to construct the print.  Like many 19th-century lithographers and other forms of mass-produced art, Sachse was originally from Prussia, the birthplace of lithography.  He emigrated to the United States in the 1840s. 

The tag line, "Published,  C. Bohn, 681 Penn. Ave, D.C. and Old Point Comfort," also appears on the print.  Bohn appears to have been Sachse's marketing agent and writer.  It does not appear that he was an artist.  His most notable work is an 1856 tourist's guide to Washington, D.C. called Bohn's Hand-book of Washington, D.C.

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