Luminous Robert Havell view of West Point

Robert Havell [Jr.], VIEW OF WEST POINT, UNITED STATES MILITARY ACADEMY. Painted by Robt. Havell, from Fort Putnam. Sing Sing, NY: Robert Havell; New York: W. A. Colman; New York: Williams & Stevens; London: Ackermann & Co., 1848.
Aquatint on wove paper, 16”h x 24”w at plate mark. Minor soiling. Mended edge tear just touching imprint. Very good or better.

A luminous 1848 view of the United States Military Academy at West Point set against the stunning backdrop of the Hudson River Valley.

Its historical significance and spectacular natural setting made West Point an evergreen subject for talented landscape artists such as George Catlin (1828), William Bennett (1830) and Robert Havell, Jr. Offered here is Havell’s 1848 rendering in aquatint, based on a painting he completed that year.

Havell’s view depicts West Point as seen looking east from Fort Putnam, a Revolutionary-era fortification with commanding views over the Hudson River. In the middle ground are the buildings of the Military Academy as it stood in 1848, many identified in a legend just below the view. In the background is the Hudson, with Constitution Island just across from the flat parade ground known as “The Plain”, while sheer cliffs lend drama in the background and the town of Newburg is visible upriver to the north (i.e., at left). The image is lovely and evocative, but also a bit misleading, as Havell maximized its visual impact by taking liberties:

“Both [Havell’s original painting and this aquatint] portray nonexistent rock face cliffs on the eastern highlands of the river. Additionally, the distance between West Point and Newburg is shortened and suggests views of the Hudson that cannot be seen from Fort Putnam.” (Fenimore Art Museum)

Born in Reading, Berkshire, England, Robert Havell, Jr. was trained in the aquatint technique by his father, though the two became estranged for some years. When the elder Havell was engaged by Audubon in 1827 to print the plates for his Birds of America, he and his son reconciled, and Robert, Jr. was engaged to perform the lion’s share of the engraving. During the production of Birds, Robert, Jr. became close friends with Audubon, and after the project concluded he moved to the United States, living for a time with the artist before moving on to Brooklyn, Ossining and finally Tarrytown, New York, where he spent the rest of his life and career. He increasingly turned to landscape painting, focusing on the cities, towns and countryside of the Hudson River Valley, some of which works he then rendered in aquatint.

Biographical information on Havell from