Milo M. Naeve Revews
Architecture in The United States 1800-1850
| Architecture in The United States 1800-1850
Yale University Press: New Haven & London, 2002 ISBN: 0-300-09383-7
Reviewed by Milo Naeve, Field-McCormick Curator Emeritus of American Arts of the Art Institute
A new understanding of American architecture in the early 19th century is offered in William Barksdale Maynard’s Architecture in the United States, 1800-1850. Mr. Maynard is an independent architectural historian. The foundation of the book is Maynard’s dissertation at the University of Delaware in 1997.
The purposes of the book are offering new information about the period and correcting misunderstandings about it. Maynard identifies the half-century as appropriate for analysis because it is framed by a shift from the late 1780s, mainly to Adamesque interpretations, and the 1850s with changes in technology, especially use of iron, and styles, particularly Gothic and Renaissance. Students have neglected these years, judging by the statistics Maynard offers in his “Preface”, by writing half the number of dissertations for the period compared to those for 1851 to 1900. Among publications, the last major surveys of the era are William H. Pierson’s American Buildings and Their Architects: The Colonial and Neoclassic Styles (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1978) and American Buildings and Their Architects: Technology and the Picturesque, the Corporate and the Early Gothic Styles. (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1978).
Since these studies, researchers have produced serious books on architecture in most of the states, several cities, and about such major architects as Robert Mills (1781-1855), Andrew Jackson Downing (1815-1852) and Benjamin Henry Latrobe (1764-1820).
These sources and detailed analyses of 19th century books, periodicals from the late 18th century to the mid-19th Century, and such visual documents as drawings, prints, paintings and daguerreotypes are the firm foundation for Maynard’s survey. He organizes it on such themes as “The Role of Britain and the Picturesque” (pp. 50-110). Other chapters include discussions of the villa, cottage, and log house; the porches, and the Greek revival, among other styles. Comments include the evolution of suburbs and the role of the three major cities – Boston, New York and Philadelphia – for innovations in styles.
Discussion of such specifics are united by a broad theme: American reliance on British aesthetics. The relationship sometimes has been assumed in literature on the period. But, Talbot Hamlim mostly ignored it in a book Maynard identifies as “the most influential volume written about the era (p. vii) Greek Revival Architecture in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1944). The style owes, Maynard reveals, more to British precedent than the commonplace assumption of American sympathy with the Greek War for Independence from 1820 to 1830. Maynard’s conclusion is confirmed during the period by American reliance mainly on English exemplars in painting, sculpture and such decorative arts as furniture, ceramics or silver.
Readers should be alert to slight inaccuracies. The text refers, for example, inaccurately to the period of 1800 to 1850 as a half-century. Another instance is that the 31st illustration in chapter one (p.40) should be dated circa 1812 instead of “1810-12”; the title of John Lewis Krimmel’s picture is “View of Centre Square on the Fourth of July” instead of “Fourth of July in Center Square”; the subject of the picture “The Center Square Pump House” was built in 1798-1801 not 1799-circa 1803; and the name of the owner is the “Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts” (instead of the “Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts”). The specifics are in my monograph bearing the name of the artist and published by the University of Delaware Press in 1987 (pp. 67-69).
None of these errors significantly changes Maynard’s conclusions about Latrobe’s building. They do suggest caution if detail in another caption is significant to the reader.
The high standards of the Yale University Press are evident in other ways. The text is documented carefully. Two hundred illustrations support the text; the fifty in color are the result of a grant from the Graham Foundation for Advanced Study in the Fine Arts. The bibliography is comprehensive and will be a guide for studying many specific issues or kinds of buildings. The index is useful because it cites subjects under different headings and is detailed. The design of the book is visually appealing and it is exceptionally practical for the juxtaposition of illustrations with relevant text.
Maynard’s analysis of architecture in the first half of the 19th century is a major intellectual contribution to American architectural history. The clear organization and lively prose should contribute to a wide audience for it.