A charming Victorian winter ice skating scene of Central Park, New York City, in 1874, a year after the park's construction was completed. The view has the winsome subject matter and black margins characteristic of the work of New York publisher, Henry Schile, a contemporary of Currier & Ives. In the scene, an elegantly-dressed little girl steps carefully through the snow, walking her dog near the ice-covered Central Park Lake, where numerous recreational skaters enjoy themselves. Nearby, a couple passes by in a horse-drawn sled. The bright blues, reds and golds of the clothing and the coach give the view a festive air.
Beyond the skaters is the cast iron Bow Bridge, completed in 1862 and connecting the Ramble to Cherry Hill. This same bridge is shown in a similar Victorian skating print by Currier and Ives, titled Central-Park Winter. Although the Bow Bridge, as depicted, includes its characteristic arched form with decorative spandrels and urns, it is proportionately shorter than the actual bridge -- presumably artistic license, or perhaps the artist based the image of the bridge on a secondary source. Schile also produced a companion print of the park in the summer from similar vantage point near the Lake and Bow Bridge, and showing two children supervised by their mother preparing for a ride in a goat-drawn carriage.
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 (a year before the publication of the Schile print).
Beginning in the late 1850s, in the winter, the Central Park Lake drew huge crowds of New Yorkers of all ages and social classes, male and female, seized by what one newspaper called "skating mania," some to skate and thousands of others just to watch. On some winter days upwards of 75,000 people showed up. As one of the few respectable vigorous athletic activities for women, the skating pond also became a popular hangout for young men and women to meet and flirt.
The skating craze caught the notice of Harper's magazine, which published an engraving after Winslow Homer of the throngs enjoying themselves on the "Ladies' Skating Pond" in 1860 (shown on the Smithsonian's web site, see References below). Meanwhile, the entrepreneurial Currier & Ives, always attuned to popular culture, published a color lithograph of Central-park Winter -- The Skating Pond in1862, which captured the light-hearted atmosphere. Henry Schile’s Central Park N.Y. Winter Sports showed skaters on the pond from a similar vantage point, in 1874.
Henry Schile was a German immigrant based in New York's Lower Manhattan, a prolific artist and publisher of colorful lithographs, generally in large sizes. His favored print themes were genre pictures, people in landscapes and dramatic scenes from American history. Indeed, he was a contemporary of the famed genre New York publisher, Currier and Ives, producing similar subject matter, though not nearly as prolific as Currier. Among his more famous prints are two Central Park scenes (also a favored subject of Currier and Ives): Central Park New York, Preparing for a Drive, a summer scene in the park with a mother and children by the Bow Bridge, and Central Park N.Y. Winter Sports, a companion lithograph showing skaters on the Lake in the Ramble. Another Schile print shows a train "Crossing the Continent" -- also reminiscent of a famous Currier print. Schile also produced both Christian- and Jewish-themed religious subjects and melodramatic spiritual allegories such as "Hope" as a woman rescued from the ocean by an angel. Schile’s prints were presumably designed to be affordable decoration for the middle class, including his fellow immigrants. Several extant examples of prints published by Schile are in the Prints and Photographs Collection of the Library of Congress, among other museum collections.
Full publication information: H. Schile 36 Division Street, N.Y. Ent'd accord'g to act of Cong's in the year 1874 by H. Schile in the Office of the Librarian of Cong's at Washington, D.C.
Condition: Image generally very good with only minor wear and toning. Few minor scattered abrasions, chips and short tears along the outer edges, all confined to the large black margins, now professionally restored, along with professional deacidification overall. This print is from the estate of a prominent New Yorker recently active in the Central Park Conservancy; full information available to purchaser.
Deák, Gloria Gilda. Picturing America: 1497-1899. Vol. 1. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1988. pp. 535-536.
Peters, Harry T. America on Stone. U.S.: Doubleday, Doran, 1931. pp. 358-359.
"Prints & Photographs Online Catalog." Library of Congress. 23 January 2004. http://lcweb2.loc.gov/pp/pgahtml/pgaAuthors08.html (23 February 2004).
Rosenzweig, Roy and Elizabeth Blackmar. The Park and the People: A History of Central Park. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1992. pp. 229-232. Online at Google Books. http://books.google.com/books?id=sp93FnkRKiIC (29 March 2011).
"Skating on the Ladies' Skating Pond -- Central Park, from Harper's Weekly, January 28, 1860." Smithsonian American Art Museum. http://americanart.si.edu/collections/search/artwork/?id=37052 (29 March 2011).
"Winter on the Skating Pond in Central Park." Super Stock. 2011. http://www.superstock.com/stock-photos-images/475-200 (29 March 2011).