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THE ILLUSTRATING TRAVELER

George Catlin painting a Chief

The Sublime and the Picturesque
Part II of III


Frederick Catherwood. Views of Ancient Monuments in Central America Chiapas and Yucatan. London, 1844.

Idol at Copan

"Broken Idol at Copan." (Tinted lithograph)

Catherwood's view book depicts the ruins of Mayan civilization which he explored with John Lloyd Stephens in 1839 and 1841. On the latter trip the pair brought a camera and made daguerreotype views (none of which are known to exist today). This photographic experiment and the use of a camera lucida played an important part in Catherwood's illustrations for Stephens' works and in this series of views, which he published himself. Catherwood sought to capture the brooding mystery of the ruins, strangled in the jungle, as well as illustrating in painstaking detail the surviving monuments.


John Woodhouse Audubon. Illustrated Notes of an Expedition through Mexico and California.... New York, 1852.

Night watch

"The Night Watch." (Colored lithograph)

This is a great "might have been" of American color plate books. John W. Audubon had considerable experience as an illustrator for his father's Quadrupeds of North America, a project he brought to completion because of John James' illness. When the son joined the Gold Rush in 1849 he kept a detailed sketchbook, and having failed to find gold, sought to turn his experience into a profitable publication. Audubon contemplated a work issued in ten parts, with a total of 40 plates showing not only the trip across the continent, but life in the mining camps. Only the first part, shown here, was issued before the project collapsed for lack of subscribers. Audubon must have felt as lonely as the night watchman in his haunting image of the pre-dawn hours on the trail west.


Charles W. Webber. The Hunter-Naturalist. Romance of Sporting; Or Wild Scenes and Wild Hunters. Philadelphia, 1851.

Indian Horseman

Alfred Jacob Miller, "Indian Horseman." (Chromolithograph)

If Audubon depicted the sublimity of night on the vast plains, Alfred Jacob Miller exploited another aspect of Western scenery in this chromolithograph by Rosenthal of Philadelphia of an Indian, spear in hand, galloping across the prairie against a darkening sky shot through with lightning. The few Miller images to be lithographed are somewhat out of joint with Webber's text, which is largely devoted to other things. It is possible that Miller planned a much larger book of colored lithographs with James Ackermann of New York, who was reported to be at work on a volume depicting the adventures of Miller's patron, Capt. William Drummond Stewart, in the fall of 1845, shortly after Ackermann's edition of Catlin's North American Indian Portfolio appeared. Alas, only the small plates in the Webber volume translated Miller's work onto stone.


John C. Fremont. Report of the Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains in the Year 1842, and to Oregon and North California in the Years 1843-44. Washington, 1845.

Wind River Mountains

"Central Chain of the Wind River Mountains." (Lithograph)

Fremont's report was probably the most widely read and reprinted scientific work and travel narrative of the ante-bellum United States. Alternately scientific and romantic, Fremont provided both exact information and high adventure to his readers. Perhaps the most sublime moment of the expedition came when Fremont and several others ascended the highest peak of the Wind River Mountains in Wyoming. Convinced that they had ascended far beyond the elevation where any life existed, the mountaineers were astounded when they were joined by a high-flying bumblebee, striving like them against the constraints of gravity and the natural world. Fremont's depiction of the Wind River Chain is just as exalted; his plate shows a range of unclimable rugged crags.


Pacific Railroad Surveys. Reports of Explorations and Surveys, to Ascertain the Most Practicable and Economical Route for a Railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean..... Washington, 1855-60.

Desert Mirage

Charles Koppel. "Mirage on the Colorado Desert." (Tinted lithograph)

The scientific illustrations of the Railroad Survey project could also depict the sublime aspects of atmosphere and light. This sensitively executed lithograph captures the ethereal images of a desert mirage confronting harsh landscape of the southern California desert.


Joseph C. Ives. Report upon the Colorado River of the West, Explored in 1857 and 1858. Washington, 1861.

Black Canon

Frederick W. von Egloffstein. "Black Canon." (Engraving)

The Ives report on the exploration of the Colorado, like other exploration reports of the 1850's, employed a mixture of graphic forms including lithographs, woodcuts, and steel engravings. The latter was particularly effective in conveying the dark and dangerous Black Canon, where the expedition nearly came to grief when their boat struck bottom in the rapids. Ives reported "The naked rocks presented, in lieu of the brilliant tints that had illuminated the sides of the lower passes, a uniform sombre hue, that added much to the solemn and impressive sublimity of the place...with every mile the view became more picturesque and imposing..."


The Sublime and the Picturesque, Part III

The Spirit of Place
Encountering Native Americans
Customs of the Country
Valor and Endurance
An Analytic Eye

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