Scratch proof with engraved title and coat-of-arms, with artist’s, engraver’s and publisher’s credits and the lettering below the title in thin outline before completion. Trimmed outside the platemark, several marginal nicks and clean breaks not entering image and covered by mat, old mat stain all around (covered by present mat), otherwise in fine condition, the image deep, bright and unblemished. Framed archivally in a gilt molded frame with French mat and gilt inner bevel, 28-1/2 x 33-1/2 x 2 in. overall.
Benjamin West's famous painting depicting Penn's treaty with the Indians, first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1771 and now in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, was commissioned by Thomas Penn, William Penn’s son and the proprietor of Pennsylvania. In 1772 John Boydell’s prospectus (“The Proposals of John Boydell, … January 18, 1772,” see Brinton, op. cit., pp. 118-9) paired “Two Capital Prints painted by Benjamin West, Esq.,” being “The Death of General Wolfe Now engraving by Mr. William Woollett, and William Penn a Treaty with the Indians, Now engraving by Mr. John Hall.” The significance of this professional matching of the artist, publisher and engravers cannot be underestimated. With The Death of General Wolfe (1770) West became the champion of modern history painting. Woollett’s engraving launched Boydell into the publication of prints after contemporary English painters (as contrasted with his Most Capital Pictures from 1769), garnering fame and reward for all three men, not the least from George III. The King permitted West the new honorific "Historical Painter to His Majesty” (setting the stage for West's eventual election as second president of the Royal Academy, after the death of Reynolds in 1792) and likewise appointed Woollett, previously known for landscape, his engraver-in-ordinary with the title "Historical Engraver to His Majesty," a position to which Hall succeeded upon Woollett’s death in 1785. Hall’s engraving of 1775 is thus in the forefront of the breaking wave of large modern history prints as important and coveted works of art.
Brinton (op. cit., checklist 35, p. 146) lists three states of the engraving before its final completion: (i) picture incomplete (example: Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts); (ii) picture complete, no lettering but with the Penn coat of arms (example: Yale); (iii) picture complete as in (ii) but with letters only in outline (no copies located). The Academy’s bicentennial exhibition catalogue (op. cit., checklist 4) repeats this classification, referring to “a proof with the lettering roughed out and the Penn crest completed” among the states before final completion of the engraving.
In his City of Independence Snyder compares the engraving with the painting (op. cit., p. 252; cf. the painting, fig. 167, p. 250): "The engraving is one of the best known prints of a Philadelphia scene. Issued with the Penn coat of arms and a typical florid dedication, it is in the reverse aspect of the painting. A drawing for use in the transfer to copper was made by John Hall and is now at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. A number of trial proofs before letters also exist, some in the same institution. The persons involved in making and marketing the print were highly qualified. Hall engraved a number of works after West’s paintings and became historical engraver to George III. The prints were sold by John Boydell, said to have been the first truly prosperous English print publisher and later Lord Mayor of London.”
Provenance: Martin P. Snyder; Jay T. Snider
Snyder, Martin P., City of Independence: Views of Philadelphia before 1800 (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1975), no. 238, p. 252, and fig. 168, p. 251 (this example).
Abrams, Ann Uhry, “Benjamin West’s Documentation of Colonial History: William Penn’s Treaty with the Indians,” The Art Bulletin, vol. 64, no. 1 (March 1982), pp. 59-75.
Brinton, Ellen Starr, “Benjamin West’s Painting of Penn’s Treaty with the Indians,” Bulletin of the Friends’ Historical Association, vol. 30, no. 2 (Autumn 1941), pp. 99-189 and checklist 35, p. 146.
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Symbols of Peace: William Penn’s Treaty with the Indians (Philadelphia, 1976), exhibition catalogue, pl. 1 and checklist 4.
Rather, Susan, “Benjamin West, John Galt, and the Biography of 1816,” The Art Bulletin, vol. 86, no. 2 (June 2004), pp. 323-45.
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