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Sketchbook with 50 Folios, 6 blank, and endpapers (Views of the Lake Champlain Region, Vermont, New York City, New Jersey, Philadelphia, the Delaware River, and Washington, D.C.)
Date: 1815
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Medium: Watercolor, brown, and gray ink and wash, and graphite with scratching out on paper
Dimensions: Overall: 4 1/4 x 7 1/2 in. (10.8 x 19.1 cm)
Description: Sketchbook--front endpaper with painted silhouette counted as folio number one.
Credit Line: Purchase, James B. Wilbur Fund
Object Number: 1944.430.1
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Inscribed: Inscribed inside front cover along upper edge above black ink bust silhouette in brown ink: "46 Sketches in America, by George Heriot Esq'r. 1st Postmaster General, Brit. America / Taken in 1815."; multiple brown ink inscriptions on the various folios

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George Heriot’s two American sketchbooks in the Historical Society’s collections contain more than one hundred drawings executed between June 5 and July 29, 1815, as Heriot traveled from Canada to Washington, D.C., and back, following the postal route. A skilled landscape watercolorist, as well as the deputy postmaster general of British North America from 1800 to 1816, Heriot was primarily active in Canada. Heriot’s American tour was ostensibly to investigate the possibility of reestablishing a regular passage for the British mail, although he may have been drafted to undertake intelligence work, obtaining information about American harbors and shipping during the War of 1812. While the majority of views are in watercolor and graphite, Heriot executed many in monochromatic grisaille, the earliest English watercolor palette, such as the view of James Hoban’s reconstruction of the White House after the British had burned the original building in 1814.

Both sketchbooks feature many panoramic double-page spreads—sometimes painted on the spot—that capture the artist’s excitement about exploring new territory. Heriot used the translucent tonal mode of late eighteenth-century watercolorists, but his broad masses of pigment and compositions akin to those of Claude Lorrain link him to an earlier tradition as well. Heriot’s sketchbooks and their inscriptions provide invaluable information about early America—its wilderness and its urban spaces—including institutions under construction, the Hudson Highlands, and Boston harbor. They also sketch an early example of the American Grand Tour route.


Stiles Stevens, Esq., London, 1944


"Drawn By New York: Six Centuries of Watercolors and Drawings," New-York Historical Society, September 18, 2008–January 07, 2009.