The Bank of Philadelphia was incorporated in 1804 as the unofficial bank of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and this building was designed by the renowned architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe (1764-1820) and erected at the southwest corner of Fourth and Chestnut Streets in 1808. It was razed in 1836, not long after this print was made. This lithograph is unusual in a few respects: it is the only known American horizontorium print; one of only two known views of the bank building; and one of the few known works by John Jesse Barker.
Horizontoriums are a type of anamorphic optical illusion, typically a print of a tall architectural structure, that became popular in the 19th century. When viewed horizontally, the structure appears to be three dimensional, almost as if standing up from the paper it is printed on. In a letter to London Mechanics’ Magazine in 1835, a British mathematics teacher named William Shires claimed to have invented and named the horizontorium in 1821, along with a different device he called a “simple perspective delineator” for making perspective drawings.
William G. Mason was a Philadelphia engraver and landscape painter. He was listed in the Philadelphia directory from 1829 to 1860, and exhibited a landscape at the Pennsylvania Academy in 1843. He made the illustrations for Joshua Shaw’s United States Architecture and drew several views of buildings for Cephas G. Childs’ Views of Philadelphia from Original Views Taken in 1827-1830.
John Jesse Barker was a portrait, landscape and animal painter and drawing master, active in Philadelphia and New Brunswick, New Jersey. He studied with the painter Thomas Sully, and is described by the Smithsonian Institution as an “itinerant artist” whose best-known pupil was the painter George Inness. Barker exhibited at the Apollo Association in New York City in 1839. His oil painting View of the New Brunswick Railroad Bridge is in the collection of the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University.
Richard H. Hobson was a Philadelphia fancy-goods dealer and print publisher, who often published engravings in partnership with Childs & Inman in the early 1830s.
Full publication information: Horizontorium. From the original Drawing by Wm. Mason, in the possession of Charles N. Bancker Esq’r. Philadelphia. Published by R.H. Hobson 147 Chestnut Street. Entered according to act of Congress in the year 1832 by R.H. Hobson in the District Court of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Drawn on Stone by J.J. Barker.
Condition: Generally good, recently professionally cleaned and deacidified, with some remaining light toning, wear, handling. Also professionally laid on Japanese paper to flatten and to restore a few horizontal short tears and creases, now unobtrusive.
“George Inness.” Smithsonian American Art Museum. https://americanart.si.edu/artist/george-inness-2392 (14 May 2018).
Groce, George C. and Wallace, David H. The New-York Historical Society’s Dictionary of Artists in America 1564-1860. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1969. pp. 29 (Barker) and 429 (Mason).
“Horizontorium.” The Library Company of Philadelphia. https://digital.librarycompany.org/islandora/object/digitool%3A64880?solr_nav%5Bid%5D=3f5edd33986b408114c7&solr_nav%5Bpage%5D=0&solr_nav%5Boffset%5D=0 (14 May 2018).
“Horizontorium.” World Digital Library. 8 January 2018. https://www.wdl.org/en/item/9274/ (14 May 2018).
Made in America: printmaking, 1760-1860: an exhibition of original prints from the collections of the Library Company of Philadelphia and the Historical Society. Philadelphia: Library Company of Philadelphia, 1973. 47.
Shires, W. “Simple Perspective Delineator.” Mechanics’ Magazine, and Journal of the Mechanics’ Institute. Vol. 6. 1835. p. 277. Online at Google Books: https://books.google.com/books?id=gBw4AQAAIAAJ&pg=PA277 (14 May 2018).
“View of the New Brunswick Railroad Bridge.” Wikipedia. 20 February 2017. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:John_Jesse_Barker_-_View_of_the_New_Brunswick_Railroad_Bridge_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg (14 May 2018).