Dramatic black-and-white engraving of the Passaic River falls plunging between two rocky cliffs, a pine forest in the background. Two tiny figures standing on a rocky promontory overlooking the waterfall on the left provide a sense of scale. The print is titled in both English and French, with a subtitle that provides these statistics: “The height of the Fall between Eighty and Ninety feet; the River about Eighty Yards broad.” The print was one of six engravings made by the esteemed British landscape painter Paul Sandby after sketches by Thomas Pownall, who drew this while serving as Lieutenant Governor of the colony of New Jersey between mid 1755 and early 1756.
As is often the case with 18th-century prints, this work has a complicated publication history. The first publication of the print was by Thomas Jefferys in 1761 as part of Six Remarkable Views in the Provinces of New-York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania in North America. It was reissued in 1768 under the imprint of John Bowles, Jefferys and three other print publishers as part of the collection Scenographia America, 28 engravings of North American scenes by various artists and engravers. Over time, Scenographia America was expanded to encompass a larger group of some 74 views used by the same publishers at about the same time made of separately issued prints and sets. Furthermore, as scholar Gloria Deák notes in her discussion of Pownall’s view of Boston from the series, sometimes Pownall’s name appears on the engravings as “Pownal,” which is the case with the Passaic River print.
The Great Falls of the Passaic River and surrounding area in New Jersey is today part of the Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park. The waterfall is one of the largest in the United States, currently estimated at 77 feet in height, and was significant in the economic development of the region from the late 18th century when Alexander Hamilton recognized its potential for powering mills. Another British 18th century engraving of the Great Falls, A North View of the Pisaiack Falls in the Province of New Jersey in North America, was based on a sketch by Thomas Davies, and published in the 1770s.
Thomas Pownall was born and educated in England. His main career was as an administrator and politician, though he also made sketches of the places where he served, some of which were turned into engravings. He began his career as a clerk at the Board of Trade before coming to the American colonies where he worked in a variety of government positions, first as secretary to the Governor of New York. In 1755, he was appointed Lieutenant Governor of New Jersey. He turned down the governorship of Pennsylvania to serve as “Secretary Extraordinary” to Lord Loudoun, commander of the British military forces in North America. In August 1757, he was appointed the Royal Governor of Massachusetts where he served until 1760. On returning to England, he was offered other colonial governorships, but chose instead to spend the rest of his life in England, first as an army colonel, then as a member of Parliament from 1767 to 1780. Pownall governed Massachusetts as a consensus builder and opposed some of the policies that offended colonists, such as taxation by the British Parliament and quartering soldiers in private homes. He remained interested in America throughout his life, collecting maps and engravings of it and promoting his policy recommendations in a work called The Administration of the Colonies, which was published in successive editions between 1764 and 1777.
Paul Sandby was an English draftsman, watercolorist, printmaker and architect, known for his topographical and military subjects, and for his naturalistic approach to landscapes. Sandby was born in Nottingham and obtained his early training in London. His first major commission was as chief draftsman for a four-year survey of Scotland for the British military in 1747 that included drawings, relief maps and designs for bridges and fortifications. His works achieved popularity during his lifetime, and the esteem of prominent patrons such as the explorer and naturalist Sir Joseph Banks. He accompanied Banks on a tour of Wales that resulted in the publication of a set of engravings, XII Views in South Wales (1775), followed by 12 more Welsh views the following year. Sandby is notable for having infused a more naturalistic style into his landscapes, rather than relying on conventions of picturesque views. He was also an early adopter — possibly the first in England — of the aquatint technique in printmaking. Sandby served as chief drawing master at Woolwich Military Academy from 1768 to 1799 and was a member of the Royal Academy of Art. His works are in the collections of a number of British museums, and in 2009-2010 he was the subject of a major retrospective shown at the National Gallery of Scotland and the Royal Academy in London.
Full publication information: Sketch’d on the SPOT by his Excellency Governor Pownal. Painted and Engraved by Paul Sandby. London: Printed for John Bowles at No. 13, in Cornhill, Robert Sayer at No. 53, in Fleet Street, Tho’s. Jefferys the Corner of St. Martins Lane in the Strand, Carington Bowles at No. 69, in St. Pauls Church Yard, and Henry Parker at No. 82 in Cornhill. [Numbered lower right C.2.]
Condition: Generally very good with the usual overall light toning and wear. Recently professionally cleaned and deacidified.
Colley, Linda. “Paul Sandby: Picturing Britain.” The Guardian. 6 November 2009. http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2009/nov/07/paul-sandby-exhibition-linda-colley (1 October 2013).
Deák, Gloria Gilda. Picturing America. Princeton University Press: 1989. 106.
“Thomas Pownall.” Mass.gov. 2013. http://www.mass.gov/portal/government-taxes/laws/interactive-state-house/historical/governors-of-massachusetts/royal-colony-of-massachusetts-1692-1774/thomas-pownall-1722-1805.html (1 October 2013).
“Thomas Pownall.” Wikipedia. 28 September 2013. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Pownall (1 October 2013).
Williamson, George C., ed. Bryan’s Dictionary of Painters and Engravers. London: G. Bell and Sons: 1930. Vol. 5, p. 15.