Enfilade

Exhibition | William Birch, Ingenious Artist

Posted in exhibitions, lectures (to attend) by Editor on May 3, 2018

From The Library Company of Philadelphia:

William Birch, Ingenious Artist: His Life, His Philadelphia Views, and His Legacy
The Library Company of Philadelphia, 1 May — 19 October 2018

Through watercolors, enamels, manuscripts, books, and prints—some of which have never before been exhibited—we will explore the life and work of one of the most important artists of the Federal period, William Birch (1755–1834).

Birch established himself in London as a miniaturist and a graphic artist before immigrating to Philadelphia, where he published the first two American books of engraved views. The City of Philadelphia in the Year 1800 captures the spirit of the cultural and political capital of the new nation and remains a cornerstone of Philadelphia iconography. His second book, The Country Seats of the United States (1808), brought to America the ideal of the country house in a picturesque landscape, a vision that persists to this day. Join us as we explore Birch’s transatlantic career as an enamellist, landscape architect, and artist of the British and American scene.

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With a symposium scheduled for October:

William Birch and the Complexities of American Visual Culture
The Library Company of Philadelphia, 5 October 2018

“This country is new and flourishing. The mechanical arts are at their highest pitch, but the fine arts are of another complexion. They are the last polish of a refined nation… From an insignificant conceit of merit we have generally no knowledge of or feeling for, our imitations of nature, however beautiful, are mechanical altogether. But [these limitations] may be considered as the first lesson necessary for the fine arts… I do not profess myself a member of the fine arts; I am a copyist only, but from my knowledge of them [I] have been allowed judgment and taste, which is competent to give me a relish for them …” –William Birch

In celebration of the tenth anniversary of the establishment of the Visual Culture Program at the Library Company of Philadelphia (VCP), a one-day symposium on Friday, 5 October 2018 will explore the visual, cultural, and social themes elicited from the work of Philadelphia artist William Russell Birch (1755–1834). Inspired by the Library Company’s 2018 exhibition about Birch and his art, the symposium aims to promote discussions that reflect broadly on the continual resonance in American visual culture of the work of this premier enamel miniaturist, aspiring gentleman, and artist of the first American viewbooks.

While British-born Birch’s Views of Philadelphia (1798–1800) was enormously successful, his second, smaller plate book, The Country Seats of the United States (1808), in essence failed. Yet both—promoted through subscription—remain cornerstones of Philadelphia iconography and American visual culture and its complexities. Birch’s body of work includes some of the earliest American visual records of the new nation’s preeminent city as well as expressions of picturesque landscape crucial to 19th-century American makers of art. At the same time, his work evinces political and cultural propaganda, aesthetics of the ordinary and the everyday, and innovation in design.

Presentations are intended to foster broad and interdisciplinary discussions about the aesthetic, political, social, cultural, economic, material, and technological themes in Birch’s art, in his own time, and in the two centuries that followed. We will ask: What can be learned from works conceived and executed by a non-native artist parallel to constantly (and infinitely) evolving fields and definitions of art, and means of art production, distribution, and appreciation?

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