THOMAS BIRCH (1779–1851)
View of Philadelphia Harbor, about 1835–40
Oil on canvas, 20 x 30 1/4 in.
Signed and inscribed (on the back, before relining): Philadelphia / Painted by / Th. [illeg.] Birch / Phila.
EXHIBITED: Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York, 1991, Neo Classicism in America: Inspiration and Innovation, 1810–1840, pp. 116–117 no 87 illus. in color
EX COLL.: Sandor Collection; to sale 1240, Parke–Bernet Galleries, New York, April 6–7, 1951, no. 271 illus.; to Dr. William Serri, Woodbury, New Jersey, until 1989; to [Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York]; to private collection, New York, 1994 until the present
View of Philadelphia Harbor is Thomas Birch’s homage to the port of Philadelphia, and, by extension, to the city he called home. In its celebration of the busy waters of the Delaware River and its precise rendering of distinctive landmarks near the city’s shoreline, Birch succeeded in evoking pride of place and recalling an earlier time when Philadelphia was home to the Continental Congress and then capital of the new nation from 1790 to 1800.
View of Philadelphia Harbor is one of a series of topographical views that Thomas Birch painted between 1835 and about 1840 documenting the varied traffic on the Delaware River. The canvas is chiefly composed of two horizontal bands—water in the foreground, sky above—divided by a narrow strip detailing the Philadelphia shoreline. In each of these three elements Birch offers a virtuoso performance of his mastery of his medium. The sky, taking up more than half the canvas, is a romantic painter’s tour de force, with fluffy pink, grey, and white clouds, harbingers of sunset, set against a cerulean sky.