Friday, July 5, 2013

1820 View of Norfolk and the Gosport Navy Yard

This print is entitled Norfolk, As Seen from Gosport, VA.  It is currently in storage, but hope to get it out on public display soon.  Originally painted by English artist Joshua Shaw and engraved by John Hill in 1820, M. Carey & Son of Philadelphia published the print in 1834.  The print presents a view of Norfolk and the Gosport Shipyard from the Elizabeth River, looking north.  On the building ways is a warship that is believed to be the ship-of-the-line Delaware.  Shaw and Hill produced the work as part of a book entitled Pictuesque Views of American Scenery.  This publication contained about twenty different landscape scenes from different places in the United States.  See the entire book here at the New York Public Library's website.

As Shaw's and Hill's goal was to show off the natural beauty of his subjects, Norfolk, As Seen from Gosport, VA produced a much softer view of the Gosport Shipyard, which even in 1820 was a major military instillation, than most illustrations of the yard.  The result is a depiction of Gosport not as a center of industrial activity, but more of a pleasant, peaceful vacation spot.  This interpretation was in line with a school of artistic thinking, that both men subscribed too, that called for detail and emphases on nature.

Joshua Shaw was more or less a self-taught artist.  Born into poverty, he worked as a mail carrier as a teenager to make ends meet.  On the side, he took art commissions such as a painting of the Ten Commandants for the local church.  Another artist took him on as a student.  But Shaw upstaged his master in talent and the teacher kicked him out of his house.   Forced to return to steady work again, this time in construction, he soon landed enough wealthy clients in London to be a full time artist.

Shaw also had talent as an inventor.  After immigrating to America, he invented and patented the world's first fulminated mercury percussion cap for rifled muskets.  The invention made discharging a firearm's blackpowder much easier and efficient.  Most of the world's armies, including the United States, adopted his invention for their rifles.  He also invented new firing locks for cannons, which the British Army adopted. 

His artistic partner, John Hill was a skilled artist in his own right.  Shortly after moving to America from England as a boy, his father taught him the engraving trade. He worked closely with many of the country's best known artists and print shops for over sixty years.  He also produced several original pieces of art work, specializing in landscape scenes. 

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