Friday, March 18, 2005

large CPRR lithograph

From: "Quincy Williams"

... "Across The Continent." New York: H. Schile, ca. 1868. 17 3/4 x 24 1/4. Lithograph. Original hand color and black painted margins. ... Very rare.

A spectacular print glorifying the progress of "civilization" across the American continent. The print was produced by a New York printmaker, H. Schile, a competitor of Currier & Ives who supplied popular prints aimed mostly at the German immigrants so prevalent in New York in the late nineteenth century. Some of his prints were made in Germany, and much of his aesthetic was German in feel, but the subject matter was American, appealing to the immigrant's desire to embrace their new homeland. One of the most noticeable features of his prints was their black painted borders and bright hand color, setting off the primary images against a strong, dark background.

Schile obviously copied the idea and basic content for this print from Currier & Ives' print "Across the Continent." That image, representing America's western expansion, was drawn by Fanny Palmer in 1868 ... Schile took the content and concept of that print and modified it in interesting ways. Like the Currier & Ives print, this one shows a settlement consisting of log cabins, with a prominent "Public School," next to a river that flows down from majestic, snow-capped mountains. The citizens of the town have come out to greet a train steaming into town, in this print identified as belonging to the Central Pacific Railroad. The composition was completely changed, however, making it more dramatic in this print and adding some interesting features.

A copy of this print is in the Robert B. Honeyman Jr. Collection at the Bancroft Library, where it is suggested that scene may be intended to show the Humboldt River, with a thundering waterfall, though the scene could also be intended as a view of the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California or Nevada. The differences between this print and the Currier & Ives are quite interesting. In the latter men are shown clearing the wilderness, whereas here the men appear to be working on the railroad tracks, holding picks and shovels and with a pile of ties lined next to the track. In the Currier & Ives print, the civilization of the town is separated by the wilderness by the diagonal line of the rail line. In the Schile print, civilization is divided from the wilderness by the river, the train crossing the river to enter the town. In the Currier print, a pair of Indians are penned in by the train and the stream of its engine steam, but they sit passively looking on. In the Schile print, a larger group of Indians, including women and children, react in horror to the train, some stumbling or running away, while one of the horses rears back. Of interest is one of the women who is shown wearing a western-style, red dress. It is hard to tell, but perhaps her hands are bound together, adding a bit of further excitement by showing a Indian captive. While the Currier & Ives is a classic (included in the New Best 50), this print is as rare and fascinating, and really more dramatic. ...

Quincy Williams
The Philadelphia Print Shop, Ltd.
8441 Germantown Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19118
(215) 242-4750

Across the Continent