At Skinner we are privileged to be able to offer extraordinary items in all categories of antiques and fine art. Items of great historical importance are also regularly consigned for auction. Sometimes the objects are well known; often they are not or have not been seen for generations. The November 19 American Furniture & Decorative Arts auction features a beautiful watercolor panoramic view of the Town of Boston (Lot 2) that has been lovingly housed in a private collection since World War II.
Titled Boston Harbor and part of Charles Town with Bunker’s Hill and dated June 15, 1815, the work spans more than eleven feet across six joined sheets of paper. It was created by George Heriot (1759-1839). Heriot was active in Quebec and England which is the subject of most of his works, but he occasionally painted scenes in the United States. His American views are very rare and the largest group of Heriot’s known American views are housed in one of his sketchbooks in the collection of the New-York Historical Society. The sketchbook contains forty-six American views also sketched in 1815.
Heriot’s panoramic watercolor was last sold by Sotheby’s in 1943. Interestingly, the same auction also included the sketch book now preserved by the New-York Historical Society. Both items were the property of Reverend C.A. Machonochie who was a descendent of George Heriot. The panorama is a fascinating illustration that documents the Town of Boston less than forty years after the American Revolution when it was still a “colonial town” before significant city-wide changes and improvements were made beginning in the 1820s.
Each section of the panorama has been photographed in detail and is presented below with a description of what is illustrated on each panel based on research conducted by Charlestown, Massachusetts, photographer and historian, Reverend Wolcott Cutler.
Panel 1. Chelsea Bridge; long shed on this side of the bridge probably a structure connected with the rope walk.
Panel 2. Morton’s Hill, and across the harbor, Noodles Island [East Boston]. Rear view of the famous mansions build on the slopes of Breed’s Hill at the end of the 18th century. They front on Turnpike Street and reading left to right they are: N. Tufts, square wooden mansion; Breed, oblong three-story birck; and the N. Adams mansion, a square three-story frame.
Panel 3. In the foreground on the Charlestown side, there are four churches which can be identified, from left to right: 1) First Parish on Town Hill Street built 1783, steeple in 1803. 2) Universalist Meeting House in Church Court built 1811. 3) First Baptist built 1810, corner Austin and Lawrence Streets. 4) Abandoned First Baptist, built 1801 and later used by Unitarians and Methodists. Corner High Street and Salem Hill. In the right center of this panel is the Charles River bridge built in 1786 as a result of the efforts of John Hancock who had to guarantee Harvard College two hundred Pounds annually as compensation for the loss of revenue from the ferry. The most prominent building on the skyline at this point is the State House.
Panel 4. In the foreground and to the left of center, is the prison. Running off to the right and connecting with Craigie’s Bridge, is Prison Point Bridge. On the opposite bank at the right is Leechmore Point, Cambridge. The courthouse and jail are probably indicated in the buildings a this point.
Panel 5. Extreme right: The mill dam and the fresh water mill pond.
Panel 6. Looking across the mill pond to Cobble Hill one sees the site of the most important of the provincial fortifications during the Seige of Boston. In 1777 troops captured at Saratoga were quartered here. After the war when Josheph Barrell, the Boston merchant, built Poplar Grove, it became a showplace for many years. Three years after this drawing was made, the property was sold and became the McLean Asylum. The mountains in the background are obviously intended to be Wachusett, Monadnock, Kearsarge, and the beginning of the White Mountains, since all of these are visible from Bunker’s Hill on a clear day.