When William Russell Birch (1755-1834) moved to Philadelphia in 1794, he was already well-known in his native England as an ingenious artist, producing both landscape prints and enamel portraits. The project that established his reputation in America was The City of Philadelphia in the Year 1800. It was the first color plate book produced in the United States, and it was enormously successful, in part because it caught the spirit of the city when it was both the political and the cultural capital of the new nation.
Birch’s next, smaller book of views, The Country Seats of the United States (1808), presented to the American public a vision of living the good life in a country house perfectly situated in a picturesque setting. Birch developed his own country estate, Springland, using these ideas. This view book was much less successful commercially, perhaps because it appealed mainly to an elite audience.
Even before Birch died, both the city views and the country views were beginning to appear in decorative art media. In the decades that followed, they were reproduced endlessly as nostalgic reminders of life in a simpler, pre-industrial age. Today Birch’s views provide us with the fullest and most authentic picture of life in and around any city in early America.
This exhibition and programming is supported in part by the Center for American Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art; Freeman’s; Pennsylvania Council on the Arts; The Philadelphia Cultural Fund; Terra Foundation for American Art; the Walter J. Miller Trust; and the Wyeth Foundation for American Art.
Davida T. Deutsch
Maude de Schauensee
Charles P. Keates
Howell K. Rosenberg
Richard Wood Snowden
Helen S. Weary
Wyeth Foundation for American Art
Center for American Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art
Pennsylvania Council on the Arts
Terra Foundation for American Art
The Walter J. Miller Trust
John C. Tuten
Lois G. & Julian A. Brodsky
Harry S. Cherken, Jr.
Nicholas D. Constan
Elizabeth H. Gemmill
Mrs. J. Welles Henderson
Randall M. Miller