‘Summertime 1944’

Frederick Boulton's watercolor "Summertime 1944) shows the back yard of a home on Chicago's north shore.

We saw this beautiful watercolor in an antique store and were immediately drawn to its vibrant color and technique.  Bob liked it because it was a ‘happy’ picture.  Its subject, the lush backyard of a suburban home in summer, was familiar.  The back yard turns out to have been on Chicago’s North Shore—perhaps in Lake Forest or Highland Park, where the water-colorist, Frederick William Boulton, lived for several decades.

Boulton (1904-1969) was born in Mishawaka, Indiana, the son of a Lutheran minister.  He came to Chicago to study at the Art Institute and the American Academy of Art, completing his studies in Paris at the esteemed Académie Julian.  Returning to Chicago, he embarked in 1923 on a career as a commercial artist with J Walter Thompson, the ad agency.

Boulton was successful, becoming an art director and vice president at JWT, while continuing to paint in his spare time.  He founded the Art Directors’ Club of Chicago and was honored as art director of the year by the National Society of Art Directors in 1955.  According to the Highland Park Public Library, which owns one of his paintings, he lived in the Braeside area of Highland Park from 1938 until the late 1950s.


‘Summertime 1944′ has a signed inscription—’As George remembers it.  And fondly dedicated to him’— that adds interest and charm to what we see.  The house and garden, if lifeless, are perfect.  The grass is manicured, the landscape and patio glowing with order and beauty.  Whether painted in the summer of 1944 or later, this elegant depiction of a place ‘George’ knew well may well have been intended to make him smile or laugh.

Does ‘Summertime 1944’ faithfully represent a place and a moment, or is it an idealized souvenir of a past that never was, or was no longer, as tranquil and perfect as memory deemed?  Whatever the case, its paean to the joys of home still sings.

American Scenes

1839 Engraving of Northampton, Massachusetts, based on a drawing by W. H. Bartlett (photo: Susan Barsy)

While I was out of town over Thanksgiving, I bought this hand-colored engraving in an antique shop in Milwaukee.  I’m not even sure why.  Partly because the print is so old—1839—and was made at a time when printed pictures were still something of a rarity.  This picture is a steel-engraved print to which color was added by hand after its printing.  It shows the town of Northampton, Massachusetts, a place that I see through this print for the first time.

Back when the print was made, ‘media,’ as we call it now, was at a simpler stage.  There were newspapers (without illustrations).  There were letters (which circulated privately).  Photographs were just coming into being, but they were laborious to make and couldn’t be reproduced—every photographic image was unique and singular, bound to metal or glass of some kind.  So this type of engraving, which was becoming increasingly viable as a ‘mass medium,’ was a spectacular technological breakthrough, enabling printers and artists to share visual information with a broad audience for the first time.  Short of traveling, looking at an engraving or lithograph was about the only way a person could glimpse a place far away.

This picture of Northampton was printed in London by George C. Virtue (1794-1868), whose publishing company specialized in such scenes.  He worked with the artist, William Henry Bartlett (1809-1854), also English, who traveled widely, depicting the sights, landscapes, and peoples of America, Europe, and the Middle East.  Various engravers then had the job of rendering Bartlett’s drawings; in the case of the Northampton print, the engraver credited was one “R. Sands.”  Virtue published black-and-white versions of the etchings in books, the most famous of these being the 1840 volume, American Scenery.  The engravings were exotic in that they depicted places most viewers had never seen.  Bartlett’s subjects included large American cities and the most famous US buildings (such as the White House and the Capitol), as well as many small towns and other spots of scenic interest.

How soothing yet tantalizing such limited glimpses would be!  Imagine if this were the whole of my knowledge of Northampton: a prosperous place, with decent buildings—a wide verandah to lounge on, a steeple to contemplate, birds fluttering on the baluster, noble trees like something out of a Longfellow poem.  A pink house gleaming at the end of the green.

Click on image to enlarge.