One of the great views of Washington, D.C., emphasizing the city’s magnificent natural setting at the junction of the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers. Executed in aquatint by William Bennett, one of America’s great landscape engravers.
The view depicts the capital as seen looking westward from the south bank of the Anacostia River. The city’s major landmarks are clearly visible, including, from right to left, the Washington Navy Yard (est. 1799); the Capitol Building prior to its expansion in 1850; the White House, with Georgetown behind; and, at far left, the Arsenal at the confluence of the Anacostia and Potomac. In the left background the Potomac River recedes into the distance. Contrast and scale are provided by the bucolic landscape in the foreground, much of which is today occupied by government facilities.
“… the city is placed at a distance from the viewer so as to allow the foreground to be dominated by a pastoral setting. Such an artistic arrangement, together with the flow of the Potomac, lends a softness to the urban scene while defining the extent of the pastoral surroundings of the capital…. But probably, what we admire has as much to do with the remarkable luminosity and soft, velvety textures achieved by Bennett in his transcription of the view into aquatint as with the scene itself.” (Deak)
“The view indicates that, despite four decades of efforts at municipal improvements, the capital city amounted to little more than an overgrown village spread loosely over its enormous site and dotted here and there with large but unrelated public buildings.” (Reps, Monumental Washington, p. 30, cited by Deak)
This is but one of 19 topographical views of American cities by engraver William James Bennett (1787-1844), praised by Deak as “the finest collection of folio views of American cities” (Picturing America, p. 252). Bennett produced the series in collaboration with a number of artists, in this case George Cooke (1793-1849), who also provided views of Charleston, Richmond and West Point.
Deak, Picturing America, 422. Stauffer, American Engravers, 149. Stokes, American Historical Prints, E-47, pl. 51-b.