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View of the Custom House, New York City: Study for an Aquatint
Date: ca. 1796-1799
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Medium: Black ink and wash with touches of graphite on paper
Dimensions: Overall: 8 3/4 x 12 5/16 in. (22.2 x 31.3 cm) mat: 14 3/4 x 19 1/8 in. (37.5 x 48.6 cm)
Place made: North America, United States, New York
Credit Line: Gift of Samuel V. Hoffman
Object Number: 1910.39
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Gallery Label:

William Rollinson’s wash drawing was preparatory for an aquatint of nearly identical measurements entitled Custom House New York, which he engraved and published after May 1, 1799 (an impression of is in the Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections). Although it was quite unusual for the same person to both design and engrave a print, Rollinson’s training as an engraver, button chaser, and silversmith is evident in the drawing’s linear style. While its exact date is unknown, Isaac Newton Phelps Stokes has compared details of the building to the same structure in a watercolor of 1797 by C. Milbourne (X.285) and posits that Rollinson’s view is earlier. In both his watercolor and engraving Rollinson also incorporated vignettes of quotidian activities near Bowling Green, among them a workman whipping a horse harnessed to an overturned cart, a black workman, elegant spectators strolling, and mongrels roaming the streets.

The Custom House was erected in 1790 as the U.S. president’s residence when New York City was the nation’s capital. It never served this function because the seat of government was moved to Philadelphia before the building’s completion. It was, however, the official residence of New York State governors, then the U.S. Custom House, and later, from 1809 until it was demolished in 1815, the second home of the N-YHS.

Provenance:

Edwin Babcock Holden; American Art Galleries Sale April 21, 1910, no. 2016

Exhibitions:

"Petropolis: A Social History of Urban People and their Animal Companions," New-York Historical Society, July 15–November 2, 2003.

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