NEW YORK 1850 -BUSTLING WITH ENERGY
Lithograph by Auguste Bry after the design of Louis Le Breton, published in Paris by E. Savary around 1850. Coloured by a later hand. Size (image): 32,5 x 48,5 cm
Louis Le Breton (1818-1866) was a surgeon in the French Navy from 1836-48. During that period he made several very long expeditions including Dumont d’Urville’s second circumnavigation (1837-40) aboard the Astrolabe. During that journey and on subsequent trips, he made drawings and watercolour views of noteworthy places, including Sacramento and San Francisco, New Orleans and Boston, Rio de Janeiro, sites in Oceania, New Zealand and Africa, as well as this view approaching New York. Le Breton’s watercolours of the Astrolabe voyage were exhibited at the Salon de Paris during the years 1841-48.
The boat in this New York scene is a paddlewheel steamship-triple masted sailing ship: the smoky, dangerous transitional boats that ultimately became all steam and built of steel. We see it steam, pumping out a black funnel of smoke, towards the East River, Fort William on Governor’s Island on the right, Fort Clinton at the Battery on the left. As we look at the city, there are a number of fanciful architectural additions mixed with the buildings that were actually there. This is however clearly based on first-hand impressions. The scene the visitor to New York in the 1840s encountered would have been nearly overwhelming. There were far more boats in the harbour than there are today. The lower portion of the island was lined with piers and warehouses. There was an immense amount of activity , both import and export, rapidly establishing New York as the primary American port.
Le Breton, in a characteristically French way, added elegant turrets and spires and made the warehouses more evocative than they could have been, but in all communicating a true impression of a city exuding energy.