Like everyone else, I was thinking about Boston a lot yesterday and as it was a non-teaching day I was very vulnerable to the drip drip of media “updates” while at home. So I turned off everything and looked through some books about Boston: its history, its architecture, its culture. Much better! Then I began assembling some of my favorite images and impressions of the city, and as that seemed like a somewhat productive enterprise I began to feel even better. So what I have today is a very random sample of my “collection”, including old favorites, new discoveries, and images of past and near-present. Boston is a dynamic city which has experienced a lot of change in the past few decades, but when I look at these images I still see a recognizable city, with the exception of the harbor views–visual reminders that Boston’s first and foremost identity for several centuries was that of a port. Paul Revere would draw on these prints a few decades later for his pre-revolutionary depiction of the occupation of Boston by British ships.
Two James Turner etchings of Boston’s wharves in the mid-eighteenth century from The American Magazine (Boston: Rogers and Fowle, 1743-46) and a hand-colored etching by John Carwitham of “A South East View of the Great Town of Boston in New England in America” (London: c. 1730-60), American Antiquarian Society, Worcester.
A century later, it’s more about the streets of Boston, the emerging “hub of the universe” and “Athens of America”. The mid- to late-nineteenth century were heady days for Boston, which of course had left Salem in the dust. During my hunt yesterday, I was particularly surprised to find that my favorite British pioneering photographer, Francis Frith, had included several images of Boston in his “Universal Series”. Artworks of varying mediums–watercolor, oil, another photograph–to depict other city scenes at around the same time.
Francis Frith photographs of Boston Common and the Massachusetts State House, 1850s, Victoria & Albert Museum, London; Benjamin Champney, Washington Street, Boston, 1850, Princeton University Graphic Arts Department; William Sharp, Railroad Jubilee on Boston Common, 1851, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Tremont Street, 1860, Halliday Historic Photograph Company, New York Public Library Digital Gallery.
And then there are the novel views of the city, created by creative and entrepreneurial publishers, cartographers, and balloonists! The nineteenth century loved the “big picture”.
James Black, “Boston, as the Eagle and Wild Goose See It”, 1860, Metropolitan Museum of Art; a Birds Eye View of Boston Triptych, 1903, ArtHouseGraffiti.
Of the later nineteenth- and early twentieth-century “Boston painters’, I think Arthur Clifton Goodwin was particularly adept at capturing Boston streetscapes in his impressionistic way. There are lots of Goodwin paintings to choose from (in auction archives and the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, which gave him his own posthumous show in the 1970s), but I went with Copley Square (1908). Of course I had to include a painting from his fellow Boston Impressionist, the more well-known Childe Hassam, so I went for Mount Vernon Street (1919) one of the most beautiful, and reproduced, streets of Boston. Jump forward thirty years, and you’re looking at “old” Beacon Hill with the financial district rising above it from across the Charles River in Cambridge in an amazing (oil!) painting by Thomas Adrian Fransioli. I love the “modern” look of this painting, although I believe that Fransioli is referencing the present, the past, and the future. Boston looks like the “shining city on the hill” that it has always been.
Arthur Clifton Goodwin, Copley Square, London , 1908, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Childe Hassam, Mount Vernon Street, Christies; Thomas Adrian Fransioli, Beacon Hill, 1947, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.