John W. Casilear after Daniel Huntington, “A Sibyl,” 1881 (originally 1847): Part 3 of 3

This is the third and final post in a series documenting my research into John Casilear’s engraving after Daniel Huntington of A Sibyl, an 1881 impression of which is in the museum’s collection. In the first post, I discussed the print’s origin as a commission by the American Art-Union in 1847. In the second, I delved a little more deeply into Casilear’s own career, and the tension he felt between pursuing a financially stable career in reproductive engraving and an aesthetically and personally satisfying one in landscape painting. Today, I want to trace the print on its journey from the Art-Union to the pages of Sylvester Rosa Koehler’s short-lived but influential magazine, the American Art Review.

John W. Casilear, “A Sibyl,” 1847/1881. Engraving, Oklahoma State University Museum of Art, Gardiner Permanent Art Collection, 98-0067.

John W. Casilear, “A Sibyl,” 1847/1881. Engraving, Oklahoma State University Museum of Art, Gardiner Permanent Art Collection, 98-0067.

When I began to investigate this print, I knew very little about it. I visited with Carla Shelton, the museum registrar, to see it in person, and I took photographs of the engraved inscriptions: at lower left, “Danl. Huntington, Pinx.”; at lower right, “J. W. Casilear, Sc.”; and in the center, “A SIBYL, Estes and Lauriat, Publishers.” What does all that mean? “Pinx.” is an abbreviation of the Latin pinxit, or “painted”—so we know that Daniel Huntington was the painter of the image after which this engraving was made. “Sc.” is an abbreviation of the Latin sculpsit, “sculpted”—or actually, in this case, engraved—so we know that J. W. Casilear engraved the image we are looking at. Finally, the publishers are listed underneath the title of the print: a company called Estes and Lauriat.

Immediately, I had questions. Original Art-Union prints were clearly labeled as such in engraved inscriptions beneath the image (we saw an example of that in the Art-Union print after Bingham’s Jolly Flat Boatmen, in my first post about this print). I turned to the British Museum’s online collection catalogue to see if I could find out more. Not only is the British Museum’s print collection enormous, it is also very thoroughly documented—a researcher’s dream. Sure enough, I found an original Art-Union impression of A Sibyl:

John W. Casilear after Daniel Huntington, “A Sibyl,” 1847. Engraving, British Museum.

John W. Casilear after Daniel Huntington, “A Sibyl,” 1847. Engraving, British Museum.

Like The Jolly Flat Boatmen, the engraving of A Sibyl included an extensive inscription detailing the print’s production for the Art-Union. Interestingly, where our impression notes the identity of the painter and engraver with Latin terminology, the Art-Union print is inscribed “Painted by Danl. Huntington” and “Engraved by J. W. Casilear.” Was the Art-Union’s choice of English rather than Latin a consciously populist move, in keeping with their desire to spread awareness and love of art to the widest possible audience?

But I was still left with a mystery: who exactly were Estes and Lauriat, and how did they get hold of Casilear’s plate? A close comparison confirmed that the inscription didn’t lie: the second image was not a copy, but an impression from the same engraved copper. Again, the British Museum’s online catalogue came to my rescue. Although there’s no image online, a second impression of A Sibyl in their collection appears to be the same edition as ours. According to the museum’s catalogue record, it is from an 1880 issue of the American Art Review, a magazine edited by the German-American art historian and curator Sylvester Rosa Koehler and published by Estes and Lauriat.

The publishing firm Estes and Lauriat was a joint venture between Charles Lauriat (1842-1920), a Bostonian who had apprenticed with a bookseller and continued working in book sales for the first part of his career, and Dana Estes (1840-1909), who had been working in publishing. At first, they called the company Estes and Lauriat Bookselling, Publishing, and Importing, but in 1876 they abbreviated it simply to Estes and Lauriat Publishing. Their partnership lasted until 1898.[1]

I turned to the Archives of American Art to learn more about Koehler and the American Art Review, which ran from 1879 to 1881. Koehler’s work on the American Art Review contributed to his prominence as an historian and critics of American printmaking, and firmly established him as an authority on the American Etching Revival. In 1885, he became the curator of prints at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and a year later he was appointed honorary curator of graphic arts at the United States National Museum, part of the Smithsonian.

Before Koehler began editing the magazine, he had been working as the Technical Manager of Louis Prang and Company, a lithograph publisher. Prang, himself a German immigrant, opened his firm in 1860, and soon thereafter began publishing a magazine called Prang’s Chromo: A Journal of Popular Art. As the title suggested, the goal of the magazine was to print copies of original paintings using the color lithography process that allowed for mechanical reproductions of color images. Unlike Art-Union editions, which were distributed as black and white prints that only had color if it were added by hand, Prang’s “chromos” were printed in bright full color.

L. Prang and Co., after Carducius P. Ream, “Dessert No. 4,” 1872. Chromolithograph, private collection.

L. Prang and Co., after Carducius P. Ream, “Dessert No. 4,” 1872. Chromolithograph, private collection.

Like the Art-Union’s editions before them, Prang’s prints were intended to decorate middle-class homes. “Our fruit and flower pictures,” their 1868 catalogue announced, “are admirably adapted for the decoration of dining-rooms and parlors.”[2] In creating reproductive prints after paintings by well-known artists, both Prang and the Art-Union were seeking to democratize art by bringing imagery created for an elite set of patrons to a mass audience.

In the first issue of the American Art Review, the editors offer a similarly populist explanation for their endeavor, which likewise included producing prints intended for display. “Within the last ten years,” they wrote in 1879, “a great change has taken place in public sentiment. … Together with these signs of general interest in art, we have significant evidence of the growth of individual taste.” They continued, “All these indications of aesthetic progress on the part of the public would, however, be hardly sufficient to warrant the establishment of a periodical exclusively devoted to art, it art itself had not made an equal advance among us.”[3]

We then hear Koehler’s direct influence in the description of a special project advanced by the magazine: “An especially noteworthy sign of artistic progress in this country is the steady development of the art of etching. The publication of a series of plates by American etchers in the Review will, as we hope, aid in fostering the growth of this peculiarly painters’ art, which, though born in the seventeenth century, may, by reason of its remarkable revival in our own day, be regarded as equally the child of the nineteenth. … No periodical hitherto published here has afforded a fitting place for the display of their work. This the American Art Review now proposes to do.”[4] In striking contrast to Prang and the Art-Union, both of which offered reproductions, the American Art Review was going to publish original works of art.

Robert D. Andrews, “Rembrandt,” 1879. Wood engraving [?], header illustration for “American Art Review” Volume 1, Number 1 (November 1879): 1.

Robert D. Andrews, “Rembrandt,” 1879. Wood engraving [?], header illustration for “American Art Review” Volume 1, Number 1 (November 1879): 1.

Of particular note in this regard is the phrase, “this peculiarly painters’ art.” Koehler and other proponents of the Etching Revival were eager to mark the difference between etchings, considered to be original works of art created directly by the hand of the artist, and reproductive prints such as those from the Art-Union and Prang and Co., which were produced by copyists after the work of others. Rembrandt, as the issue’s opening illustration by Robert D. Andrews suggested, was the historical hero of the Etching Revival. Robert Swain Gifford, whose etching, The Path by the Shore, was the first in the magazine’s “published series of plates,” was a prominent printmaker who had co-founded the New York Etching Club that very year.

Robert Swain Gifford, “The Path by the Shore,” 1879. Etching, published in the “American Art Review” Volume 1, Number 1 (November 1879): frontispiece.

Robert Swain Gifford, “The Path by the Shore,” 1879. Etching, published in the “American Art Review” Volume 1, Number 1 (November 1879): frontispiece.

Looking at Gifford’s print, we can see some of the characteristics that his contemporaries considered unique to so-called painter-etchings. The scene is loosely sketched, with irregularly curving lines that look like pen and ink drawing. Gifford’s flowing, hasty lines create a sense of immediacy that encourages us to imagine him working en plein air, seated at the side of the path that curves toward the shore while he quickly captures the moving figure of the hunter. The individual care taken during printing is visible in the preservation of plate tone—ink selectively left on the surface of the etching plate while it is being prepared for printing—in the shadowy area beneath the imposing central tree. All in all, Gifford’s etching communicates clearly that it is an original work of art, etched and printed by the artist in order to maximize his intended aesthetic effect. The print is supposed to convey mood and emotion as well as visual information.

John W. Casilear, “A Sibyl,” 1847/1881. Engraving, Oklahoma State University Museum of Art, Gardiner Permanent Art Collection, 98-0067.

John W. Casilear, “A Sibyl,” 1847/1881. Engraving, Oklahoma State University Museum of Art, Gardiner Permanent Art Collection, 98-0067.

Comparing this etching to our Casilear engraving, the difference is striking. Casilear’s print is precise, and uses conventional patterns of lines and dots to mimic the textures described by Huntington’s original painting. The goal of the reproductive engraver was not to express an individual artistic vision, but to recreate, as far as possible, the visual information of his source image. By the late 19th century, reproductive engraving had become extremely codified, with specific patterns denoting different materials, such as textiles, fur, skin, metal, etc. Educated viewers could look at an engraved reproduction and get a clear sense of the qualities of the original—indeed, the engraver’s intent was to be as invisible as possible in the process of translating a painting into print.

If Koehler and his colleagues were so invested in the painter-etchings of the Etching Revival, why did they reproduce Casilear’s engraving of A Sibyl? Later in the introduction to the magazine, the editors make an argument for the importance of art history to the understanding of contemporary art. “An artistic periodical which aims at satisfying present wants should not confine itself solely to the art of the day,” they wrote, claiming that it is “our duty, as it will be our endeavor,” to present the latest research into the history of art alongside contemporary art and criticism.[5]

Casilear’s engraving, A Sibyl, was reprinted in American Art Review to illustrate an article about Daniel Huntington, written by Samuel Greene Wheeler Benjamin and published in the April 1881 issue of the magazine. Intriguingly, Benjamin presents Huntington as an artist “on the boundary between the school of the past and the school of the future now clamoring for recognition.”[6] American Art Review was itself on a similar boundary, between the reproductive printmaking of the past and the original print movement of its present and future.

At this point, I was back to my original question. How did Estes and Lauriat, and/or the American Art Review editors, get hold of Casilear’s plate?

The American Art-Union folded in 1852, thanks to a lawsuit that ended the distribution of paintings (which had been done from the beginning by lot, a process the state eventually determined to be an illegal lottery), and falling subscription numbers. Their holdings—paintings, engravings, plates, etc.—were sold at auction in December of 1852. (Curiously, the only painting that stayed with the skeletal remaining Art-Union organization was Huntington’s A Sibyl, which was described in the organization’s accounts as “an heirloom.”) “The American Art-Union is standing now with her face toward the past, and not toward the future,” wrote the Management Committee in their report to the membership.[7]

After the auction, the remainder of the collection went to the New-York Gallery of the Fine Arts, an association founded to purchase the collection of prominent New York art patron Luman Reed, with the intention of building a permanent art museum.[8] Somewhat ironically, the Gallery sublet space from the American Art-Union after the latter institution failed. In 1858, the association governing the New-York Gallery of the Fine Arts was dissolved, and their collection was transferred to the New-York Historical Society.

Ultimately, the records are unclear at this stage. Was Casilear’s engraved plate for A Sibyl sold in the Art-Union auction? Was it among the material transferred to the Gallery of the Fine Arts, and thence to the New-York Historical Society? A footnote in Benjamin’s article in the American Art Review says simply, “This engraving is reprinted herewith. It will not be necessary to apologize for its republication, as the readers of the Review will be glad to possess a copy of so good a piece of American engraving. Besides, having been originally issued a generation ago, it will be new to many. The impressions show that the plate is still in excellent condition. —Editor.[9]

The provenance of the impression at the OSU Museum of Art is, unfortunately, equally mysterious. Acquired by the Art Department before conscientious records were kept, we can only guess that it came into the collection along with several other prints we have from the American Art Review. But visitors to the collection can confirm that the Editor of the Review was correct: Casilear’s plate, printed thirty-four years after he engraved it, was still in excellent condition. Today it offers us a window into the complex world of nineteenth-century American printmaking.

The entire run of the American Art Review is available in digitized form to the public through JSTOR.


[1] Donald C. Dickinson, Dictionary of American Antiquarian Booksellers (Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1998): 120-121.

[2] quoted in Katharine M. McClinton, The Chromolithographs of Louis Prang (New York: C.N. Potter, 1973): 180.

[3] “Introduction,” American Art Review 1.1 (November 1879): 1-2.

[4] Ibid., 2.

[5] Ibid.

[6] “Daniel Huntington: President of the National Academy of Design,” American Art Review 2.6 (April 1881): 223.

[7] “The American Art-Union: Proceedings of the Committee of Investigation, Tenth Day,” New York Daily Times 17 May, 1853.

[8] Jane Aldrich Dowling Adams, “A Study of Art Unions in the United States of America in the Nineteenth Century,” MA thesis, Virginia Commonwealth University, 1990: 20; Archives of American Art, “Minutes of the New-York Gallery of the Fine Arts records, 1844-1858.”

[9] “Daniel Huntington: President of the National Academy of Design,” American Art Review 2.6 (April 1881): 226, note 1.


About osucurator

Louise Siddons is Associate Professor of Art History at Oklahoma State University and founding curator of the Oklahoma State University Museum of Art. She maintains this blog as a record of her students' work with the Museum's permanent collection as well as more generally with topics related to museum studies.
This entry was posted in faculty research, faculty writing, permanent collection. Bookmark the permalink.

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