Dramatic mid 19th century New York City street scene in the present day Soho neighborhood on lower Broadway between Spring and Prince Streets. The engraving was a production of Michael Knoedler, the New York associate of the major French art dealer Goupil, and engraved after a group of paintings made by the French artist Hippolyte Victor Valentin Sebron in New York in 1854-55.
Although the print documents the actual buildings of the period such as the Prescott House hotel and the “Chinese Buildings” (then a concert hall), the emphasis is on the swirl of action of horses and people from various walks of life in the snow-covered street. A firefighter blowing a horn leads a fire engine on the left, while a horse-drawn sleigh serving as public transportation rumbles down the center of the street and an African-American coachman drives a sleigh carrying an affluent family on the right. On the sidewalk, Chinese immigrants carry advertising signs for P.T. Barnum’s nearby museum amidst two uniformed officers with swords, workers with a ladder, a pair of women in hoop skirts and men in top hats. Another example of this famous print is in the collection of the New York Public Library (see References below).
Scenes of firefighters responding to an alarm were popular in the U.S. during this era, including Currier & Ives The Life of a Fireman series of lithographs (1854) and Harrison & Weightman’s series The Fireman (1858). In an article for the magazine Antiques, DeCourcy E. McIntosh states that this particular engraving was calculated to stand out in the competitive print market during the 1850s:
In 1857, however; just as he was assuming ownership of Goupil's New York branch, Knoedler came forth with something different -- an image that aspired to rise above documentation and express the dynamism of New York City. This was probably a response to Sleighing in New York, a large, popular lithograph of 1855 by Thomas Benecke, which depicts a crowded, chaotic scene in front of Barnum's Museum on lower Broadway. It was published by Emile Seitz, agent of Goupil's Parisian rival, Bulla Freres. Not to be outdone, Knoedler in New York and Goupil in Paris issued the equally hectic and even larger print, New-York. Winter Scene in Broadway. Scene d'Hiver dans Broadway, interpreted in the more venerable and upscale technique of aquatint (in this case, combined with mezzotint engraving) by Paul Girardet after a painting by Sebron. Set farther uptown than Seitz's, Knoedler's Broadway conveys a sense of buildings reaching higher into the sky and urbanity galloping northward. The rapid pace of development in New York in fact made Knoedler apprehensive. On May 26, 1857, he wrote Adolphe Goupil:
“Pray, hasten the view of Broadway. There are so many new buildings in construction that it will soon not be recognizable. That is the great inconvenience in this country -- everything goes ahead with a rapidity so marvelous that if a thing is not done up to date it loses much of its interest.”
Hippolyte Victor Valentin Sebron was a French painter of architecturals, landscapes and portraits. A student of Louis Daguerre, he began his career as a painter of dioramas, mural-sized paintings of spectacular scenes that were entertainments in the 19th century. Sebron traveled extensively in Europe and the Mediterranean and made an extended visit to the U.S. between 1849 and 1855. From his travels, he produced oil paintings of interesting landscapes and buildings, including detailed depictions of church interiors and festive pageants. Among his best-known works are a view of Niagara Falls in winter at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Rouen, and winter scenes of Broadway in New York City, one of which is in the Museum of the City of New York. His paintings are also in the collections of the Louvre and many other French museums.
Paul Girardet was a French engraver from a large family of artists that included his father Charles-Samuel Girardet, who trained him, as well as his brothers and sons. He exhibited at the Paris Salon from 1842 to 1877 and published numerous engravings after paintings by artists such as Vernet, Brion, Dubufe and his brother Karl Girardet. He also illustrated L’Histoire de lat Révolution, du Consultat et de l’Empire by Thiers.
Condition: Generally good with the usual overall light toning and wear. Some minor scattered abrasions and short marginal tears, professionally restored. Laid on stable vintage supporting sheet.
Bénézit, E. Dictionnaire critique et documentaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs. France: Librairie Gründ, 1966. Vol. 4, pp. 281-283 (Girardet); Vol. 7, p. 689 (Sebron).
“Chutes du Niagara en Hiver.” Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rouen. http://www.rouen-musees.com/Musee-des-Beaux-Arts/Les-collections/Le-paysage-Chutes-du-Niagara-en-hiver-44.htm (7 October 2009).
McIntosh, DeCourcy E. “19th Century AD.” Antiques. September 2004. Online at BNet. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1026/is_3_166/ai_n6190031/pg_6/ and /pg_7/
“Painting the Town.” Museum of the City of New York. http://www.mcny.org/museum-collections/painting-new-york/pttcat31.htm (7 October 2009).
“New York. Winter Scene in Broadway. 1857.” New York Public Library. 2009. http://www.nypl.org/research/chss/spe/art/print/exhibits/movingup/no47b.htm (6 October 2009).
“Section VIII (including Broadway and hotels and businesses).” New York Public Library. 2009. http://www.nypl.org/research/chss/spe/art/print/exhibits/movingup/labeviii.htm (6 October 2009).