An Exciting New Acquisition: William Henry Bartlett’s Watercolor of Forest Pond

January 26, 2022

Above: William Henry Bartlett, Cemetery of Mount Auburn, ca.1836-1838. Watercolor and graphite on paper, 4 ¾ x 7 inches.

Mount Auburn’s Historical Collections & Archives is delighted to announce the recent acquisition at auction of a significant work of fine art in the history of Mount Auburn Cemetery. This small image is the original preparatory work by William Henry Bartlett (1809 – 1854) for his engraving of Forest Pond in Mount Auburn Cemetery. The sepia watercolor with highlights in white and annotations in graphite provides insights into the artistic process of Bartlett, a British artist known for his landscape drawings and steel engravings. The engraving made from this study became the first mass-produced image of Mount Auburn Cemetery, disseminated around the world and copied by other artists.

Engraving of same scene as watercolor above with greater detail including two tombs in the hillside at the far edge of the pond.
William Henry Bartlett, engraved by Robert Brandard, Cemetery of Mount Auburn, 1839. Engraving on paper, 4 ¾ x 7 inches.

Bartlett chose to paint Forest Pond, one of the most popular sites in the early history of Mount Auburn Cemetery and one commonly depicted by 19th-century artists. While the Cemetery filled in the pond at the turn of the 20th century, visitors can still trace its edge along Narcissus Path today.

Mount Auburn’s new acquisition makes it possible to compare Bartlett’s preparatory watercolor with his finished engraving. In his watercolor, Bartlett portrayed the lush landscape and the three most prominent lots around Forest Pond at that time: the obelisk monument for Justice Joseph Story on the far right and two hillside tombs in the distance. Three graphite marks in the center of the work, delineated by two “x”s and an arrow, mark the locations of three other monuments that were included in the final engraving.

Detail of watercolor with two “x”s and an arrow in pencil notated on the hillside in between the trees. Four figures walk around the edge of the pond.
Detail, William Henry Bartlett, Cemetery of Mount Auburn, ca.1836-1838. Watercolor and graphite on paper.

Bartlett created the watercolor on which the engraving is based during his travels through the United States from 1836 to 1838 when he produced illustrations for the book American Scenery: Or, Land, Lake and River Illustrations of Transatlantic Nature from Drawings by W. H. Bartlett. [1] Published in 1840 in London by George Virtue, the volume was the first publication where the finished engraving of Forest Pond, copyrighted 1839, appeared.[2] Prints of the original engraving were also distributed in Europe and the United States.

The accuracy of the depiction of the landscape and placement of the monuments in Bartlett’s original preparatory work provides a basis from which to trace other images that were inspired, copied, and even pirated from Bartlett’s iconic work. His detailed engraving, for example, was copied in various publications, including a German edition of American Scenery.[3]

Engraving copying Bartlett’s engraving with thicker lines and more pronounced outlines of the trees and leaves.
Engraved by Albert Henry Payne, Der Leichenhof. Des Berges Auburn, (German edition of American Scenery) ca. 1840s-1850s. Engraving on paper. Approx. 4 x 6 inches.

It is likely that an unidentified German artist also used Bartlett’s engraving to create their own imaginative view of Forest Pond. This engraving titled Auburn-Cemetery in Boston was published in Meyer’s Universum, a volume of landscapes and historical sites from around the world.

Engraving based on the same scene of Forest Pond. Added in foreground is a large weeping tree with an imagined monument of a seated angel and standing person.
Unidentified artist, Auburn-Cemetery in Boston, ca 1838-1840s. Engraving on paper, 4 ¼ x 6 inches from Meyer’s Universum.

In the United States, copies of Bartlett’s engravings of Mount Auburn circulated widely including an unattributed illustration in Robert Sears’s Pictorial Description of the United States.[4]

Oval-shaped copy of Bartlett’s engraving with less refined depictions of the monuments, hillside tombs, and figures.
Unattributed illustration of William Henry Bartlett’s engraving. Unsigned, Cemetery at Mount Auburn, 1852. Engraving on paper, 6 x 4 ¾ inches. From A Pictorial Description of the United States . . . 1855.

Other museum collections provide examples of Bartlett’s preparatory works on which engravings were based. These include Bartlett’s watercolor of Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and a watercolor of the newly completed U.S. Capitol at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston.[5] The recently acquired watercolor by Bartlett in Mount Auburn’s Historical Collections & Archives will contribute to the ongoing scholarship of Bartlett’s work and provide fresh insight into the myriad ways in which these early images of Mount Auburn were shared with a broad and interested public.

[1] Mary-Ellen Earl, William H. Bartlett and His Imitators: A Loan Exhibition Comparing Original Works by Bartlett with Copies of His Work by His Contemporaries, October 23, 1966-December 4, 1966 (Elmira, NY: Arnot Art Gallery, 1966), 9.

[2] The watercolor is the exact size as the final engraving, which is consistent with other known preparatory works by Bartlett. In this case, even the foliage and branches of the trees are precisely copied from the watercolor in the final engraving. Since many minute details match, this watercolor is likely to be the working image for the engraved plate.

[3] Alexander M. Ross and William Beattie, William Henry Bartlett: Artist, Author, and Traveller (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1973), 74.

[4] Robert Sears, A Pictorial Description of the United States, Embracing the History, Geographical Position, Agricultural and Mineral Resources … &c., &c., of Each State and Territory in the Union: Interspersed with Revolutionary and Other Interesting Incidents, Connected with the Early Settlement of the Country, New ed., rev. and enl. (New York, NY: Robert Sears, 1855), 99.

[5] William Henry Bartlett, New York from Greenwood Cemetery, ca. 1841. Watercolor and graphite on paper, (8 7/8 x 13 5/16 in.). The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York. William Henry Bartlett, The Capitol, Washington, D.C., 1830. Watercolor and graphite on buff-colored wove paper, (5 3/8 x 8 7/16 in.). Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Boston, MA.


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