When John Anderson, Jr. (1773-1798) entered the City Tavern on Broadway the afternoon of February 22, 1798, it was to view the Lansdowne portrait of the former president George Washington, painted by the lauded artist Gilbert Stuart. “The painting […] is masterly done”. His diary marks the occasion along with his other activities for the day: drawing and walking, but mostly drawing — a pastime he frequently indulged during the span of his diary from 1794 to 1798.
Brother to Alexander Anderson, the first wood engraver in the United States, John Anderson, Jr. was likewise drawn to art. Were it not for his untimely death to yellow fever, it is likely he would have contributed, in whatever small way, to art in the Early Republic. Anderson, Jr. dedicated much of his time to artistic pursuits and to its significant societal value, all the while studying and practicing law. He often penned, in his curling script, the words “sketch’d”, and “paint’d” in the few hundred pages he wrote — at times more than he wrote of being a student or a lawyer.
Art both informed and drove this pivotal moment in United States history. The United States’ first masters of the craft, like Stuart, were gaining popularity and renown; portraiture and history paintings celebrated the important figures and events of the new country. Gentlemen and women, like the Anderson brothers, celebrated and created art not only for the pleasure of it, but to express and advance the worthiness of the country’s society. One such example is in the October 1795 issue of The New-York Magazine, or, Literary Repository. This engraving etched by John Scoles (1772?-1853), done after Anderson, Jr.’s drawing, is of St. Paul’s Church.
Anderson, Jr. attended church perhaps even more than he “sketch’d”. In the September 1795 diary page below, he visited the Episcopal “Christ’s Ch.”, newly erected in 1794 on Ann Street. The next day, he finished the view of St. Paul’s Church and then attended “the Methodist meeting”, likely at the John Street Church, the first Methodist church in New York City. On the 24th, he leaves his drawing with “Mr. Scoles, the engraver”.
While Anderson, Jr. drew regularly, he records only a handful of instances in which he shared or sold his work. He painted, on commission, a depiction of “Werther contemplating on Charlotte’s wedding ring”, likely after the painting by Henry Kingsbury, for a Miss Davis. The scene, from the novel The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, was enormously popular in Europe. Despite the United States’ desire to be seen as cultural equals in talent and taste, influence from Europe was inescapable and instructive. Mary Ledyard Cuyler paid for this painting and perhaps for others.
The new country would continue to find its own voice. The future-writer and father of American folklore Washington Irving, then 11-years-old, visited Anderson, Jr. in 1794. Anderson, Jr. lent the young boy some of his drawing books to “look over” and also gifted him a small volume. Irving’s impressions of the drawings are a mystery, as is the fate of that small volume — did he draw in it as well? Did he write? Or did he simply keep it to admire and study? Yet there is no doubt how the love of art in the Early Republic was intertwined among all.
This post is by Crystal Toscano, Reference Librarian for Printed Collections.