Mystery abounds at the Robbins Hunter Museum. It seems that for every question we answer, three more arise. This month’s question pertains to who really donated several pieces of a rare black and white transfer English pottery.
William Cullen Bryant wrote in 1830, ”There is in our scenery enough of the lovely, the majestic, the romantic, to entitle it to be ranked with that of any other country in the world….” And yet, he continued, “It would be easier to find a series of good scenes of China or Southern India than of the United States.”
Five years later, an English topographical artist, William Henry Bartlett, sailed for America with the express purpose of making “lively impression of actual sights.” Between 1835 and 1852, he made four excursions to the US to draw the buildings, towns, and scenery of the northeastern states. He was accompanied by on his first adventure by Nathaniel Parker Willis, an American journalist who wrote the text for the first comprehensive picture book of authentic American scenes. That book was American Scenery, or Land, Lake, and River Illustrations of Trans Atlantic Nature. The book was published by George Virtue, who employed Bartlett as an artist, author, and editor for two decades. It was quickly translated and published in French and German editions.
This book, along with its companion Canadian Scenery, remain our best picture books of the landscape scene of America almost two hundred years ago. Bartlett made his images directly from nature and reproduced each with almost photographic accuracy.
These drawings were not only reproduced on paper. The potters of England promptly seized on the opportunity to decorate their wares with views of the Hudson River and drawings of buildings and towns. Some of the potteries to produce such wares include J. Ridgway; William Ridgway; William Ridgway & Son; Thomas Godwin; Charles Meigh; and Mellor, Venables & Co.
In 1984, the Robbins Hunter Museum received a generous donation of several pieces decorated with black and white transfer patterns including “Columbia Bridge on the Susquehanna,” “Undercliff near Cold Spring,” and “View from Ruggles House, Newburgh, Hudson River.”
We are delighted to hold these exquisite early picturesque renderings on china in our collection. Our records are incomplete in that the donor is only identified as “Mavis” with a donation date of May 19, 1984. If any of our readers might know who this Mavis is, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.