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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Painting of the Day: "Georgetown and City of Washington." Beck, George Jacob (1748-1812).

Paper size: 15” x 20”
Framed size: 27” x 32”
Circa 1795

This incredibly rare watercolor by George Jacob Beck is the first view of Washington, DC and
Georgetown. Beck completed this work at approximately the same time as his views of the
Potomac River, commissioned by President George Washington in 1796 for his home in Mount

Washington was impressed by the artist’s ability to capture the beauty of his boyhood home and
the site of his many land surveys, and purchased two companion views of Beck's Great Falls of the
Potomac. As evidenced in his views of the Potomac and Georgetown, Beck’s careful attention to
light lends an ethereal quality to his landscapes. The figures in this view are bathed in the last light
of dusk while the creeping shadows blot out the trees in the foreground.

This work served served as the original drawing for the aquatint Georgetown and Federal City, or City of Washington published in 1801 by Atkins and Nightengale, as well as for the decoration on
Staffordshire china.

Lauded as one of the greatest predecessors of the Hudson River School and a favorite
artist of President Washington, George Jacob Beck’s artwork continues to be highly sought
after today.

Though listed in the 1806 Lexington directory as a "Portrait Painter," Beck is most famous for his
landscape work, which unquestionably contributed to the popularity of American views during the
late eighteenth and nineteenth century. He was the most experienced, if not the first of the early
landscape painters to work in the United States. Six of his American views, engraved and published
by T. Cartwright of London, have been collector's items for some time. This quote, taken from
Virgil Barker of American Painting in 1950, demonstrates Beck’s enduring influence within the art

"Among all the foreign-trained who came here in the Federal era, George Beck had
the most substantial and the best mastered landscape style...Beck's superiority in craft
enabled him to render the rocks with a strength sufficient to withstand the turbulent rush
and falling weight of water...[and] to construct the forms of rock and tree, to give the
solidity of earth, and even...to modulate values toward a distant horizon."

Beck’s early philosophy is accessible in the captions he wrote for two of his views published in the
European Magazine and London Review in 1785. In these captions he expressed his lifelong interest in
science and mathematics. “Portraits of men, things and places,” according to Beck, serve the same
purpose in the mimetic arts as experiments do in science. He added that the usefulness of drawing
is linked to its ability to provide insight into nature’s secrets.

A transitional figure, Beck was caught between eighteenth-century rational thought and nineteenth century Romanticism. With his pioneering depictions of the American wilderness, he formed a stylistic bridge to Cole’s romantic landscapes. He leaned toward the aesthetic of the picturesque, sacrificing
accuracy for pleasing effects and celebrating ruggedness over smoothness.
This view is taken from above Georgetown on the district side, and shows Analostan Island (the
former designation for Theodore Roosevelt Island) in the Potomac River, with the Georgetown in
the background on the left. In the far distance are the new boundaries of the city of Washington,
founded jest several years before Beck painted this view. In 1791, President Washington selected
the location for the new capital, establishing the new federal city several miles away from Georgetown on the opposite bank of the Potomac.

Georgetown, which had been established in 1751 when the Maryland Legislature purchased sixty
acres of land for the town during the reign of George II of Great Britain, was situated on the fall
line- the farthest point upstream to which oceangoing boats could navigate the Potomac River.
Georgetown eventually became a thriving port, facilitating trade and shipments of tobacco and
other goods from colonial Maryland. Georgetown was frequented by President Washington, who
worked out many deals there to acquire land for the Federal City. It was also home to Thomas
Jefferson while he served as United States Secretary of State under Washington.

Offered at $650,000

We intend to have the lowest prices on ABE, Alibris, Biblio, AE, and Artnet while maintaining the highest levels of quality in the business for every offering. To inquire or view the complete offering, please contact our curators at info@aradernyc.com or call our 72nd Street NYC gallery at (212) 628-3668.   

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