A fine, rare, and important large panorama of Central Park by John Bachmann, one of the leading producers of bird's-eye views in the late 19th century. The print is the same size, style, and format as Bachmann's View of New-York and Vicinity, also published by Bencke during the same period. In her major reference work Picturing America, Gloria Gilda Deák describes this print from the example in the collection of the New York Public Library, and compares it with the slightly earlier lithograph, Martel's New York Central Park:
Artist John Bachmann presents Central Park as an expansive, aesthetic oasis teeming with luxuriant gardens and fairy-tale structures in the midst of New York City. Bachmann reduces the city itself to a thin line of background buildings so as to give weight and focus to the beauty of the park. Although New York lies at 42° latitude, the foliage appears to be of almost semitropical lushness.
The observation tower at the southwest corner of the lower reservoir is visible in the left foreground. In the center are the Water Terrace, the Bethesda Fountain, and the Mall. Fifth Avenue is seen at the top of the image, where the turrets, domes, and steeples of the city's dense line of buildings lend a further touch of enchantment. The old Lenox Library, built from 1871 to 1877 and taken down in 1912, is at the extreme left.
Bachmann's presentation makes an interesting comparison with an earlier image of Central Park drawn by Pierre Martel. There, the orientation is north – rather than east as in Bachmann's print – and toward the west we can see as far out as the Hudson River and the New Jersey palisades. Martel depicts the park just six years after the work of landscaping had begun; his high perspective allows us to see the vast open space in relation to the city. In Bachmann's view, we can appreciate the enormous progress that had been made in ornamenting the park in the intervening decade.
New York must have been particularly conscious of its appearance in 1875, for there were busy plans afoot that year to celebrate the upcoming Centennial. The New York headquarters for that celebration opened on January 29th in the St. Nicholas Hotel, and on May 22nd a great public demonstration was staged at Steinway Hall to awaken "popular sentiment in behalf of the National Centennial celebration.” In the final month of the year the Board of Aldermen adopted the following resolution: "Resolved, That in commemoration of the important event in the history of our country, and as an appropriate inauguration of the centennial year, the Commissioner of Public Works cause the national standard to be displayed from sunrise to sunset on every public building in this City on Jan. 1, 1876; that the owners and occupants of private buildings, the proprietors of hotels, places of amusement and other public places controlled by individuals, and also the masters of vessels in the harbor…are hereby requested to display their flags on that day; and be it further Resolved, In order, if possible, that this commemoration may be general in every portion of this extended country from the St. Lawrence to the Rio Grande, it is hereby respectfully suggested and most earnestly recommended that the newspaper press of this City cause this recommendation to be published in or telegraphed to all parts of the country, in the hope that our patriotic people may enter into the spirit of the occasion, and thereby, while honoring our national emblem, inaugurate, in the most appropriate manner, the centennial year of the Declaration of American Independence.” The resolution was carried in the New York Times of 28 December 1875.
Herman Bencke lithographed several other views of New York City drawn by John Bachmann. The latter was an artist of considerable talent who established himself as an iconographer of New York City, although he also portrayed other cities from time to time. Most of his urban views (a fair number are shown in these volumes) are from imaginary viewpoints far above the roof or steeple of the tallest existing structure. (pp. 573-574)
The period from after the Civil War to about 1910 was the heyday of promotional bird’s-eye views of American towns. Historians estimate that approximately 4,500 different ones were produced nationwide during this period. In an era before aviation, the creation of these panoramic maps was an act of imagination, combining information from city maps, ground-level sketches of buildings and the rules of Renaissance perspective into a convincing aerial view. Some were commissioned to promote settlement and development of towns, especially as part of the Westward Expansion of the United States. They were also purchased by residents as emblems of civic pride. American bird’s-eye views were largely supplanted by aerial photographs in the 20th century. Few records remain of the size of the press runs for panoramic maps, but it has been surmised that they were perhaps as few as 100 for a small town, though a typical edition was about 500 copies. Given these small editions and their ephemeral nature, many are now quite scarce.
Central Park came into being beginning with an act passed on July 21, 1853 by the New York City Common Council authorizing the construction of a public park bounded by 59th and 106th Streets, Fifth and Eighth Avenues. The park was conceived to provide recreational open space for citizens of the growing city, which then had few open squares. The site that was destined to become Central Park was then “a bleak, rubbish-strewn area littered with squatters' shacks.” (Deák) Central Park opened in 1857, and in 1858, the job of improving and expanding it, transforming the area into a pastoral oasis for the “toiling masses,” was awarded to Calvert Vaux, a young British architect, and Frederick Law Olmstead, an American farmer and magazine editor. Reconstruction began that same year and was completed in 1873.
John Bachmann, a German immigrant to the United States, was an artist and lithographer, credited with coining the term bird's-eye view, and was a prolific and prominent creator of such views. His first such panoramas were of Civil War battle areas in 1861. Bachmann produced a variety of bird's-eye views of New York City from different vantage points, a few of which can be found on our web site.
Herman Bencke was a New York City lithographer, who operated from a shop on Broadway in 1867 and at 207 Fulton Street c. 1875-1880. He lithographed several New York City panoramic views by John Bachmann and also published lithographic portraits, genre prints and advertising for the stage. One of the genre prints is in the collection of the Library of Congress.
Full publication information: Herman Bencke, 207 Fulton Street, New York.
Condition: Generally very good with the usual overall light toning and wear. Full margins. Small abrasion in sky, and few marginal tears and creases, professionally restored. Professionally cleaned and deacidified.
"Commercial Mapping." Civil War Maps. http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/gmdhtml/cwmhtml/cwmcm.html (6 May 2002).
Deák, Gloria Gilda. Picturing America, Vol 1. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1989. Item 844 and pp. 535-536.
"MAP #: 361B5." Maryland State Archives. 23 May 1996. http://www.mdarchives.state.md.us/msa/speccol/1399/reports/html/361b5.html (6 May 2002).
Peters, Harry T. America on Stone. U.S.: Doubleday, Doran, 1931. p. 92.
"View of Central Park, New York." Collection Database, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. 2000-2010. http://www.metmuseum.org/Works_of_Art/collection_database/drawings_and_prints/
objectview.aspx?OID=90055036&collID=9&dd1=9 (27 January 2010). (Example of this print in the Metropolitan Museum, from the Edward W.C. Arnold Collection of New York Prints, Maps and Pictures, Bequest of Edward W.C. Arnold, 1954. Accession Number 54.90.1269.)
Wise, Donald A. "Bird's-Eye Views of Oklahoma Towns." Originally published in The Chronicles of Oklahoma, vol. 67, no. 3 (Fall 1989): 228- 247. Online Compilation of Historical Documents by Don Wise. 4 June 1998. http://home.earthlink.net/~dawise/view.htm (7 December 2004).