The informal library scene shows the elderly explorer looking up from writing at his desk, a large map of the world on the wall, books piled haphazardly on a table and dresser, and three large storage boxes on the floor, presumably containing specimens he had collected on his expeditions. A facsimile caption in von Humboldt’s handwriting in German is printed in the lower margin. Translated it says: “A faithful picture of my work room, as I wrote the second volume of Kosmos.” The artist, Eduard Hildebrandt, produced another popular portrait of von Humboldt that was also made into a lithograph (see Dekker and van der Krogt in References below).
Alexander Von Humboldt (1769-1859) was a prominent German scientist and world explorer of the 19th century. He embarked on one of the early expeditions to the interior regions of South America and Central America, charting the land and recording the flora and fauna, as well as the customs of native peoples. As a prototypical collector, Humboldt surrounded himself in his own study with books, maps, globes, natural history specimens, and artifacts of ancient Greece and Rome.
This particular example of the print is uniquely inscribed in the lower right corner in faded brown ink as a presentation to “Prof. A.D. Bache from T.R.” Alexander Dallas Bache (1806-67). Bache came from a prominent Philadelphia family (Benjamin Franklin was his great-grandfather) and was a major figure in the modernization of American science and the reform of the American educational system. In the 1830s, he undertook a European study tour of the curriculum of over 250 institutions of higher learning. He was profoundly influenced in his thinking by his conversations with European scientists and educators, including Alexander von Humboldt. Bache spent the rest of his life successfully promoting higher educational standards and increased support of original scientific research. He held leadership roles with the major institutions of the day, including the Franklin Institute, U.S. Coast Survey, American Academy of Sciences, Smithsonian Institution and National Academy of Sciences, and served as President of Girard College.
In the book Alexander Von Humboldt and The United States — Art, Nature, And Culture (Princeton University Press: 2020) that accompanies the Smithsonian exhibition of the same name, exhibition curator and author Eleanor Jones Harvey discusses the connection to Bache of this particular example of the print, given the aforementioned unique manuscript inscription to Bache:
Humboldt’s imprimatur on American discoveries remained valuable for American scientists’ careers. When the U.S. government considered cutting Alexander Dallas Bache’s funding for the U.S. Coastal Survey, he appealed to Humboldt, who wrote a letter in 1851 arguing for the importance of his work. In 1856 the aging Humboldt sent Bache a chromolithograph showing the explorer in his study (CAT. 107), surrounded by his travel diaries and manuscripts, in a room decorated with some of the souvenirs of his travels. On the wall hangs a large map of the world, conveying the global reach of his ideas and aspirations.
Eduard Hildebrandt was a German painter, best known for his landscapes. Born in what is now Gdansk, Poland, he studied painting there, and went to Berlin in 1838, where he studied with the marine painter Wilhelm Krause (1803–64). In 1840, he traveled in Scandinavia, England and Scotland, ended up in Paris in 1841, where he spent six months studying watercolor painting with Eugène Isabey, who had a lasting influence on his style. Returning to Berlin in 1843, he met Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859), who became a close friend. Through Humboldt, he received a commission from Frederick William IV of Prussia to paint a view of Rio de Janeiro which enabled him to travel to North and South America in 1844. He returned to Germany with a portfolio of landscape drawings and watercolors, which became the basis for a number of paintings. Today his paintings are in the collection of major world museums, notably the Hermitage, the Louvre, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
Alexander Friedrich Wilhelm Duncker (1813-97) was a German publisher based in Berlin. He apprenticed with his father’s publishing house beginning in 1829 and continued as an apprentice in Hamburg. In 1837, he founded Verlag Alexander Duncker and published fiction and visual arts. From 1841, he held the title of Royal Bookseller to the King of Prussia, and later had contacts with Kaiser Wilhelm. He also served as a reserve officer in the Prussian Army rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel. His major works were a series of 960 colored lithographs in 16 volumes of the castles and palaces of the Prussian aristocracy, and a collection of the political correspondence of Frederick the Great. By the time of his death in 1897, there were 24 volumes, and the project was continued thereafter until 1939, growing to 46 volumes. Over the years, Duncker also published his own poetry and fiction.
Full publication information: Verlag und Eigenthum von Alexander Duncker, Hofbuchhändler Sr. Majestat d. Königs von Preussen. Nach einer Aquarelle v. E. Hildebrandt lith.v. Bardtenschlager. Farbendruck d. Königl. Lith. Instituts zu Berlin v. Barth. [Publishing house and property of Alexander Duncker, Royal Bookseller to the King of Prussia. After a watercolor by E. Hildebrandt, lithographed by Bardtenschlager. Chromolithography by Royal Lithographers Institute at Berlin by Barth.]
German caption in Humboldt’s handwriting printed in the lower right margin: “Ein treues Bild meines Arbeith Zimmers, als ich den zweiten Theil des Kosmos schrieb. A.V. Humboldt.”
Condition: Generally very good with the usual overall light toning, wear, handling, soft creases. Some traces of light dampstaining and discoloration remaining after professionally cleaning and deacidification, generally in margins, unobtrusive. Inscription to Bache slightly faded. Blindstamp insignia of publisher Alexander Duncker, lower margin, as issued.
“A.D. Bache Collection.” American Philosophical Society. 2004. http://www.amphilsoc.org/mole/view?docId=ead/Mss.B.B123-ead.xml;query=;brand=default (4 June 2010).
“Alexander Duncker.” Wikipedia. 10 February 2010. http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Duncker (17 February 2010).
“Alexander von Humboldt in His Study.” Victoria & Albert Museum. http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O135603/print-alexander-von-humboldt-in-his/?print=1 (17 February 2010).
Dekker, Elly and van der Krogt, Peter. Globes from the Western World. London: Zwemmer, 1993. p. 147, plate 46.
“Eduard Hildebrandt.” The Grove Dictionary of Art. New York: Macmillan. 2000. Online at Artnet.com. http://www.artnet.com/library/03/0380/T038092.asp (17 February 2010).
Harvey, Eleanor Jones. Alexander von Humboldt and the United States: Art, Nature, and Culture. Smithsonian American Art Museum in association with Princeton University Press, Princeton: 2020. Cat 107, pp. 381-84.
“Letters of Alexander von Humboldt to Varnhagen von Ense. From 1827 to 1858. With extracts from Varnhagen’s diaries, and letters of Varnhagen and others to Humboldt.” Archive.org. http://www.archive.org/stream/lettersofalexand00humbrich/lettersofalexand00humbrich_djvu.txt (17 February 2010).
Werner, Petra. Himmel und Erde: Alexander von Humboldt und sein Kosmos. Akademie Verlag, 2004. p. 2. Online at Google Books. http://books.google.com/books?id=zIFItLGw3WgC&dq (17 February 2010).