Artists Fisher, Bartlett capture Baltimore’s charm
By Daniel Fulco, Ph.D., Agnita M. Stine Schreiber Curator
To mark the special exhibition Treasures of State: Maryland’s Art Collection (on view through Oct. 22), we hope that you enjoy these landscapes. If you visit the museum, these works are included in the exhibition.
Samuel Fisher (British, 1802–55)
after William Henry Bartlett, (British 1809–54)
View of Baltimore, 1839–40
Published in Nathaniel Parker Willis, American Scenery:
or Land, Lake, and River: Illustrations of Transatlantic Nature, vol. 2
(London: George Vertue, 1840)
4.6875″h x 7.125″w
Collection of Washington County Museum of Fine Arts
Gift of Judith Lippman, 1999, A3497,99.0308
This idealized view of Baltimore became one of the most renowned representations of the city during the mid-nineteenth century. Like the oil painting in the collection of the Maryland State Archives on which this engraving is based (see below), Samuel Fisher’s print shows Baltimore from Whetstone Point (now Locust Point) looking toward the Patapsco River and Inner Harbor. This canvas is among the few that William Henry Bartlett was known to have signed.
In what are likely conjectural views, Fisher and Bartlett depicted the city upon a hill with an unnatural promontory showing important buildings and landmarks highlighted in white. Most prominently featured are the Washington Monument, the first public building dedicated to this president, and Benjamin Henry Latrobe’s Baltimore Basilica, the first Catholic cathedral in the United States. The harbor, filled with sailing and merchant vessels, illustrates the bustling maritime economy of Maryland’s largest city, which was quickly becoming a principal port for international trade. The wheat farmers in the foreground of the print represent an aspect of everyday agricultural life while the numerous ships on the water allude to Baltimore’s economic growth.
Both landscapes exemplify Bartlett’s expert handling of atmospheric perspective and reflected light that closely draw upon comparable elements found in British Romantic landscape paintings. The billowing storm clouds are sharply contrasted with breaks in the sky and the sunlight that shines on the city, all of which convey a sense of hope and prosperity. In contrast to the engraving, no farmers appear in the foreground of the painting, which focuses our attention on the view of the city instead. Sometimes these scenes are referred to as the “Constantinople views” of Baltimore because the prominent, exaggerated height of the towers resemble the minarets of Istanbul, a city which Bartlett visited during his travels abroad.
Bartlett was one of the great draftsmen and illustrators of his time, and he became famous for his lively, dramatic impressions of different sights. Typically, he produced highly detailed sepia wash drawings which were made at the exact size to be carefully copied and engraved. Bartlett closely studied the work of British Romantic artists such as J.M.W. Turner (1775–1851), Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), and John Sell Cotman (1782–1842), from which he developed his own Romantic and picturesque style. Over the course of his life, Bartlett traveled extensively in Europe, the Middle East, and America. Many of his steel engravings (View of Baltimore included) were published as book illustrations, most notably for Nathaniel Parker Willis’ (1806–67) American Scenery: or Land, Lake, and River: Illustrations of Transatlantic Nature, published in thirty installments from 1837 to 1840. Unfortunately, Bartlett died of fever while on board a ship off the coast of Malta, having just completed his final trip to the Near East.
William Henry Bartlett
View of Baltimore, c. 1839
Oil on canvas
20 ¾ “h x 24 “w
Collection of the Maryland State Archives,
Peabody Art Collection, MSA SC 4680–10–0001
This WeekendArt is sponsored by Ms. Beth A. Rishel