At 1,200 feet long, about 110 feet high, 25 feet wide and with 17 arches spanning 50 feet each, the massive Starrucca Viaduct was considered an engineering marvel when it was built in 1848, and hailed as the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” It is still admired for its engineering and construction. During a visit to the Susquehanna Valley in 1853, Cropsey made studies of this impressive structure, and returned to the subject in a series of paintings in 1864 and 1865. One large version was eight by fourteen feet and was one of the prizes offered in a lottery organized to raise money for the construction of the Chicago Opera House by the builder, Uranus H. Crosby, who was severely over budget and facing bankruptcy. Crospsey’s chromolithograph of the viaduct was also offered as a premium to purchasers of shares in the lottery. It was elaborately produced, in 19 colors printed with separate stones. The fate of the huge painting is unknown and there is some conjecture it disappeared in the 1871 Chicago fire. A smaller version, Starrucca Viaduct, Pennsylvania (1865), is in the collection of the Toledo Museum of Art and is probably the painting the lithographer worked from to make the print (shown above). That painting was exhibited at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in the exhibition The Great American Hall of Wonders (2011-12) which explored Americans’ relationship to technology during the 19th century. According to the curators, “Jasper Francis Cropsey chose to portray a railroad bridge that had provided safe passage for years, nestled within an autumn landscape where technology and nature have reconciled.” Another picture of the viaduct from a different vantage point is in the collection of the Newington Cropsey Foundation, an historic house and museum in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, dedicated to the life and work of Jasper Cropsey.
Jasper Cropsey was a first-generation member of the Hudson River School of landscape painters, a member of the National Academy of Design and founder of the American Society of Painters in Water Colors. He was especially known for bold and brilliantly-colored autumn landscapes such as this one. He worked from sketches done directly from nature. His works are in museum and university collections throughout the United States including the New York Historical Society, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and the Peabody Institute.
Thomas S. Sinclair (c. 1805-1881) was a lithographer in Philadelphia. His firm issued separately issued topographical views, Civil War scenes, fashion plates, and fine color plates for book publishers. Sinclair was awarded prizes for his work by the Franklin Institute in 1848, 1849, and 1851, and in later years for chromolithography. Sinclair was born in Scotland and learned lithography in Edinburgh and other European cities, before arriving in America around 1830. He worked in New York City for a few years, and opened his company in Philadelphia in 1839. From about 1850 he was assisted by his sons William and Thomas Jr.; after 1870 the firm was known as T. Sinclair & Sons. After the elder Sinclair’s death in 1881, the firm continued operating until 1889 when it was sold to George S. Harris & Sons. Perhaps Sinclair’s best-known lithograph is the impressive large chromolithograph American Autumn, Starucca Valley, after a painting by the American landscape painter Jasper Crospey. Lithography historian Harry S. Peters observes, “there is a refreshing variety to all his work; also, it has a certain crisp touch that raises it above many.”
Elliott, Susan Sipple. “Looking Down Yosemite Valley.” Birmingham Museum of Art. 9 March 2000. Traditional Fine Art Online. http://www.tfaoi.com/permc/perm4.htm (3 June 2003).
“Newington Cropsey Foundation.” 21 October 2002. http://www.newingtoncropsey.com/general.htm (3 June 2003).
Stratton, Fred. “Starrucca Viaduct Photo Site.” Fred’s Erie Railroad History Page. http://erierr.railfan.net/star2.html (3 June 2003).