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Thursday, April 9, 2009

If I were a rich girl, part 4

I apologize for the small size of this week's installment in pipe dreams and wishful thinking, but it's the only image available so bear with me. I am utterly charmed by this oil on board for several reasons: 1. It's an early nineteenth-century landscape; 2. It's a Philadelphia scene, and 3. It includes a depiction of one of my favorite works by the noted Philadelphia sculptor, William Rush (1756-1833). A hat trick, if you will.

Although the auction house identifies the scene as Philadelphia's City Hall, it's actually the Centre Square Waterworks, which was formerly located where the current City Hall now stands. Hidden behind its neoclassical exterior, which had been designed by the renowned architect, Benjamin H. Latrobe, was a steam engine that pumped water from the Schuylkill River into a holding tank, where it was later distributed throughout the city by gravity via wooden pipes. The Centre Square Waterworks supplied Philadelphia with clean drinking water from 1800 until 1829 at which time it was supplanted by the Fairmount Waterworks. The Centre Square Waterworks was a point of pride for many Philadelphians and its picturesque setting made it a favorite subject for many of the city's artists: John Lewis Krimmel, William Birch, and John James Barralet are among those who recorded its features for posterity.

Speaking of Barralet, check this out:
Look familiar? It's the 1815-1825 print source for the oil on board that I'm currently lusting after! (Ok--I admit it. I'm a dork with way too much free time in the evenings.)

So now that that's all cleared up, on to William Rush, the father of American sculpture and how he's tied up in all of this. In 1809, the city of Philadelphia commissioned Rush to create a fountain for Latrobe's building (Latrobe had originally envisioned a fountain on every street corner, but that was deemed a tad much). Working in the prevailing mode of drawing inspiration from classical antiquity, Rush created an allegorical figure of the Schuylkill River that was based on the Venus de Medici and the Venus surtant du bain (or, Venus after the bath). Unfortunately, all that is left of Rush's Water Nymph, as she is also known, is her head and portions of her hand; most of Rush's public works were executed in wood painted to resemble marble, which was not exactly suited to the rigors of unrelenting water exposure. Oops. Fortunately, though, Thomas Eakins (1844-1916), the seminal artist and fellow Philadelphian, painted a romanticised, yet painstakingly researched, depiction of the creation of the fountain in the late nineteenth century that makes it possible for us to enjoy Rush's long lost masterwork today.


Gretchen said...

Context is so important and this made me appreciate that little painting!

Gretchen said...

Just don't start footnoting your posts. I'd have to delete you from my blogroll in defense of my personal-time sanity ;)

L. said...

If I ever start footnoting my blog, I give you full permission to slap some sense into me.

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