A Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library Exhibition. Organized by William S. Reese and George Miles
Last Revised September 4, 1996
Many travel books were narratives of the author's participation in difficult or dangerous imperial enterprises: military campaigns, arduous explorations, or hunting trips. Color plate books detailing war and sport were central to European traditions of lavish illustrated books, and most of the items shown here fall neatly within that genre. Even a seemingly anthropological work such as George Catlin's North American Indian Portfolio was designed to appeal to the sporting interests of the aristocratic gentlemen who were the primary market for expensive plate books. Likewise, the hardships faced by explorers in remote places, narrated in visual formats, appealed to the same community of patrons.
Unless otherwise noted the author of the work is also the artist of the illustrated plate.
Jean-Francois La Perouse. A Voyage Round the World.... London, 1799.
Nicholas Ozanne, "Wreck of the Two Boats at Port des Francais." (Engraving)
Exploration has always been a hazardous business, and an accident in a remote place could easily shape the whole course of an expedition. When the French explorer La Perouse lost two small boats and a number of men to a freak wave on the Northwest Coast, the tragic event was worthy of visual commemoration in an atlas otherwise devoted to cartography, natural history and anthropology. Ozanne was a well-known French marine painter who was not on the expedition; he presumably made up the plate based on the written narrative. Shown here is the first English edition, after the French of the preceding year.
Thomas Anburey. Travels through the Interior Parts of America. In a Series of Letters. By an Officer. London, 1789.
"View of the West Bank of the Hudson's River...Upon which the Army under the Command of Lt. General Burgoyne, took post..." (Engraving)
Anburey was an officer with Burgoyne's expedition from Canada during the American Revolution in 1777. His narrative provides some of the relatively few accurately observed scenes of the war to be published. This engraving shows the encampment of Burgoyne 's forces on the shores of the Hudson, with a pontoon bridge on the left and some of Britain's Indian allies on the near bank. Anburey later published a view book of scenes in India.
Walter W. May. A Series of Fourteen Sketches made during the Voyage up the Wellington Channel in Search of Sir John Franklin. London, 1855.
"Division of Sledges Passing Cape Lady Franklin." (Colored lithograph)
A number of illustrated works depicted the ordeals of the many expeditions sent in search of Sir John Franklin, who disappeared on his third Arctic expedition in 1845. The search and relief efforts constitute an era of high Arctic exploration in themselves, from the first such voyage in 1848 until the fate of Franklin was fully discovered in 1859. In all some thirty-nine parties made efforts to find Franklin, a number of which left impressive visual records. Shown here is one of the dramatic scenes from Commander May's view book, depicting the laborious method of moving supplies by towing sledges across the ice.
Lord Charles Beauclerk. Lithographic Views of Military Operations in Canada. London, 1840.
"Back View of the Church of St. Eustache and dispersal of the Insurgents." (Colored lithograph)
Beauclerk's view book is in the best tradition of British military plate books, combining a narrative of the expedition with plates that show both military operations and the locale. The series shows the British Army campaign to crush the Canadian Rebellion of 1837, while this plate shows the climactic encounter of the campaign.
Patrick Gass. Journal of the Voyages and Travels of a Corps of Discovery, under the Command of Capt. Lewis and Capt. Clarke.... through the Interior Parts of North America to the Pacific Ocean, during the Years 1804, 1805, and 1806.... Philadelphia, 1812.
"An American having struck a Bear but not kill'd him escapes into a Tree." (Engraving)
Even at the beginning of the 19th century, the creation of a visual record was not assumed to be necessary for an expedition of discovery. While a series of major English voyages, led by those of Cook, had established a new standard for illustrating discovery in the 1780's, an expeditionary artist was still a luxury. Sadly, the Lewis and Clark expedition made no provision for illustration. The only contemporary images connected with it are the small engravings which appeared in the this fourth edition of Sgt. Patrick Gass' narrative, and the obviously invented Indian portraits in the 1809 collection of accounts published to satisfy popular curiosity. This plate shows Meriwether Lewis treed by a wounded grizzly.
Mary Eastman. The American Aboriginal Port Folio. Philadelphia, 1853.
Seth Eastman, "Emigrants Attacked by the Comanches." (Steel engraving)
Capt. Seth Eastman was, with Catlin and Bodmer, one of the foremost artists depicting American Indians in the 1830s and '40s. He created hundreds of images in the course of his frontier military service. Many of them were published in Henry Schoolcraft's massive work on Indians or, as here, in books written by his wife, Mary. Although Eastman preferred domestic scenes of Indian life, he occasionally let his imagination supplement experience. In this instance he created an image which popular culture transformed into an American archetype; a wagon train of settlers pulled into a defensive circle, surrounded by whooping Indians on horseback.
Valor and Endurance, Part II
An Analytic Eye
The Sublime and the Picturesque
The Spirit of Place
Encountering Native Americans
Customs of the Country
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