A FANTASTIC AMERICAN IMAGE, "THE CITY OF NEW YORK," BY CURRIER AND IVES
Currier & Ives
"The City of New York"
New York, 1884
Paper size: 26” by 38”, Framed size: 38” by 39”
The publishing firm of Currier & Ives created the most popular and highly regarded lithographs of quintessentially American scenes ever produced. The quality, vast scope and engagingly populist style of their works have made their names synonymous with an idealistic vision of 19th-century American promise and optimism. Currier & Ives' broad productivity was accompanied by consistently high standards of printing and hand-coloring, and their ability to draw on original works by many of the finest American genre painters of the times, including (among many others) Fanny Palmer, Louis Maurer, Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait and George Durrie. Even (or perhaps especially) today, Currier & Ives prints are paragons of Americana. Indeed, to most Americans over forty years of age, their firm's name has the ring of a household word or familiar brand name, perhaps as recognizable as Proctor & Gamble or Arm & Hammer. It is a name that conjures up a particular view of America's past. When we speak about the art of Currier & Ives, we are talking of cultural patrimony, a vital part of this nation's identity, on a par with the Empire State Building, the Grand Canyon, and the Star-Spangled Banner.
When Currier & Ives emerged onto the popular scene, the public's appetite had been whetted by what amounted to a media boom that took place in the United States during the 1840s and 1850s. The introduction of photography, more rapid methods of picture printing (including lithography), and the rise of illustrated journalism exploited, among the urban bourgeoisie of the period, a strong interest in topical information, fine art, and plain amusement. Currier & Ives produced an unprecedented inventory of titles for this audience, a move that dramatically lifted the firm above its competition, and elevated their imagery iconic status.
Currier & Ives was founded in New York in 1835 by Nathaniel T. Currier, who had been apprenticed as a youth to the Boston lithographic firm of William S. & John Pendleton. In 1857, James Merritt Ives, the company's bookkeeper and Currier's brother-in-law, was made a partner. Generally, Currier supervised production while Ives handled the business and financial side. Currier & Ives prints were decorative and inexpensive, ranging in price from 20¢ to $3. Their subject matter ranged from rural life, ships, trains, animal and sporting scenes to religious images and spectacular news events. The firm produced more than 7000 titles and became the largest and most successful American lithographic publishing company of the 19th century. Vigorous marketing through published catalogues, a sales staff and agents throughout the USA, as well as in London, enabled Currier & Ives to capture approximately three-quarters of the American print market in the peak years of the firm's popularity. Both black-and-white and colored prints were sold; color was usually applied by a staff of women working in a production line from a model, although some prints were sent out for additional hand-coloring.
Although many of the large number of artists employed by Currier & Ives simply copied the designs of others on to the stone, original works were also commissioned. These occasionally included pictures by well-known artists, such as Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait and George Henry Durrie, but more often commissions went to artists closely associated with the firm.
By the time Currier retired in 1880 in favor of his son Edward West Currier, chromolithography and photography had already begun to challenge the Currier & Ives market. Broader cultural changes also hastened the decline in appeal of the company's products: exuberant self-confidence and belief in the simple values and homely virtues that the Currier & Ives image had come to symbolize had largely passed from the scene. Already in the 1940s, however, there was an enormous resurgence in popularity of Currier & Ives' prints, yet in the intervening years, neglect and disregard had led to vastly diminished numbers of their surviving works. Prints that once existed in thousands of examples were suddenly rare collectors' items, a situation that has only become more pronounced over time, to the extent that several of the most desirable Currier & Ives lithographs exist in just a handful of examples.
This breathtaking hand-colored bird's-eye view, The City of New York, is one of the most desirable views by the prominent American publishers, and is exceptionally hard to find in this large folio size. In the highly detailed image, Manhattan is pictured from the south over looking the business district. A steamer rounds the tip of the island while other boats scatter the surrounding waterways. New York stretches forth in its entirety, flanked by the Hudson River on the left and the East River on the right. On the right, the Brooklyn Bridge is shown just one year after its opening. Glimpses of New Jersey, Queens, and Brooklyn can been seen in the outskirts. Currier and Ives' City of New York is truly a magnificent work, and depicts the world's commercial center then in a boom of technological and economic progress.
Offered at $35,000.
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