Creating a World on Paper

Creating a World on Paper: Harry Fenn's Career in Art

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 408
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  • Book Info
    Creating a World on Paper
    Book Description:

    Harry Fenn was one of the most skilled and successful illustrators in the United States in the latter half of the nineteenth century, a time when illustrated periodicals and books were the primary means of sharing visual images. Fenn’s work fostered pride in America’s scenic landscapes and urban centers, informed a curious public about foreign lands, and promoted appreciation of printed pictures as artworks for a growing middle class. Arriving in New York from London in 1857 as a young wood engraver, Fenn soon forged a career in illustration. His tiny blackandwhite wood engravings for Whittier’s SnowBound (1868) surprised critics with their power, and his bold, innovative compositions for Picturesque America (1872–74) were enormously popular and expanded the field for illustrators and publishers. In the 1880s and ’90s, his illustrations appeared in many of the finest magazines and newspapers, depicting the places and events that interested the public—from post–Civil War national reconciliation to the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893 to the beginnings of imperialism in the SpanishAmerican War. This handsomely designed volume documents Fenn’s prolific career from the 1860s until his death in 1911. Sue Rainey also recounts his adventurous sketching trips in the western United States, Europe, and the Middle East, which enhanced his reputation for depicting farflung places at a time when the nation was taking a more prominent role on the world stage.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-222-6
    Subjects: Sociology, Art & Art History, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiii)
    Sue Rainey
  4. 1 Early Life in England and New York
    (pp. 1-21)

    Harry Fenn was a conspicuous presence in the world of American art in the latter half of the nineteenth century. In this period before photographs could be printed on the same page as type, a wide public looked to him and his colleagues for depictions of scenery, cities, and social and political life reproduced in periodicals and books. Fenn’s dynamic and appealing compositions set a high standard. They built pride in America’s scenic landscapes and urban centers, informed a curious public about foreign lands, and fostered an appreciation of printed pictures as artworks accessible to a growing middle class.


  5. 2 Gaining Recognition as an Illustrator and Watercolor Painter
    (pp. 23-47)

    Fenn was able to fulfill his intention to abandon wood engraving and establish himself as a sought-after illustrator in the last years of the Civil War and the period immediately after. At this time, many Americans endeavored to find solace for their grief, honor the lost, lay animosities to rest, and focus attention on the reunited nation and its outstanding scenery, improved urban amenities, and abundant natural resources. They desired pictures of these subjects and expected to find them in periodicals and books, having grown accustomed to seeing timely images of battle scenes and other current events in the illustrated...

  6. 3 Poetry and “Picturesque America”
    (pp. 49-105)

    Fenn continued to devote most of his time to preparing designs for illustrations, a surer means of supporting his growing family than completing paintings that might or might not sell. His projects in the late 1860s and early 1870s, commissioned by various publishers, ranged from one page for a periodical to hundreds of images for a book so successful that it gave rise to a series of large-scale illustrated books offered by subscription. In a few years, his approach evolved from highly conventional compositions to bolder, more dynamic designs. Furthermore, his works contributed in many ways to building or reinforcing...

  7. 4 Years Abroad—“Picturesque Europe” and “Picturesque Palestine”
    (pp. 107-157)

    From 1873 to 1881 Fenn lived abroad and traveled as the quintessential artist in search of the picturesque. Soon after Appleton began publishingPicturesque Americain parts in mid-1872, it became clear that the book’s combination of text and images was a winning formula. In fact, it was so successful that the firm involved Fenn in two successors—Picturesque EuropeandPicturesque Palestine, Sinai and Egypt—produced in an identical format and using the same printing technologies. With their expensive steel engravings—among the last to appear in any major publication—and more numerous wood engravings in the picturesque mode,...

  8. 5 New Clients, New Technologies, and a New Home—The 1880s
    (pp. 159-215)

    As Fenn worked to complete his illustrations forPicturesque Palestineand his daughter Hilda neared her first birthday, the family returned to the United States. Although a second transatlantic move must have been difficult and their loyalties divided between England and America, Fenn apparently anticipated many commissions and wished to establish a permanent home where he could spend most of his time. By late September 1881, the family was settled with Mary Fenn’s parents on Adelphi Street in Brooklyn. Their three-story house, with the dining room and kitchen in the basement, a porch and garden in the back, and at...

  9. 6 Challenges and Triumphs—The 1890s and Beyond
    (pp. 217-279)

    As the end of the nineteenth century approached, the United States was greatly changed since Fenn’s arrival in 1857. It was now one of the most prosperous and powerful nations on earth. Its population of more than seventy million, which stretched from coast to coast, was in closer contact than ever before thanks to the railroads, the telegraph, and the telephone. Experiments with a new mode of transportation, the automobile, were also under way. Cities located on railroad lines in the middle of the country were booming, and much of the nation’s wheat, corn, and cotton was being shipped overseas.¹...

  10. 7 Continuity and Change—1900–1911, and an Assessment
    (pp. 281-308)

    The last decade of Harry Fenn’s life coincided with the first decade of the twentieth century, with its accelerated pace of innovation and growth in communications, transportation, and industry. Fashions in the art world and in illustrated publications continued to change in ways that positioned Fenn among the more conventional rather than the more innovative. As the technology for making and reproducing photographs improved, the need for artists to accurately depict all aspects of life diminished. They would instead claim different tasks and new roles, encouraged by art critics who increasingly devalued literal representation.¹ Some artists had embraced this change...

  11. APPENDIX 1. Additional Illustrations by Harry Fenn
    (pp. 309-324)
  12. APPENDIX 2. Harry Fenn’s Works Included in Exhibitions
    (pp. 325-330)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 331-380)
  14. Index
    (pp. 381-392)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 393-396)