Category Archives: prints and drawings

prints and drawings

Sports of a Country Fair or Watching People Fall Down

Thomas Rowlandson (1757–1827), Sports of a Country Fair, 1810. Hand colored etchings. Oversize Rowlandson 1807.51f


Thomas Rowlandson (1757–1827), Sports of a Country Fair, 1810. Hand colored etchings. Oversize Rowlandson 1807.51f

Thomas Rowlandson (1757–1827), Sports of a Country Fair, 1810. Hand colored etchings. Oversize Rowlandson 1807.51f


In 1810, Thomas Rowlandson etched four plates with the title: Sports of a Country Fair, which were published in Thomas Tegg’s Caricature Magazine or Hudibrastic Mirror. At least one has its own date, October 5, 1810, and the rest are presumed to correspond. The first three are listed as part the first, part the second, and part the third but the fourth is again only presumed to be in that sequence. People struggling to escape a fire is not as humorous as the others.


What is interesting is that the following year, Rowlandson used the same scene of visitors falling down a set of stairs to lampoon visitors to the annual spring exhibition of the Royal Academy. Anyone who has tried to climb the steep spiral staircase at Somerset House on the Strand can appreciate the difficulty. Together the two etchings represent a wonderful juxtaposition of rich verses poor; high culture verses low popular fun; a rush to safety verses a rush to be seen.


Thomas Rowlandson (1757-1827), Exhibition Stare Case, ca. 1811. Hand colored etching. Graphic Arts Collection GA 2014.00789.

We assume the crowd is there to see the Spring exhibit, the highlight of the social season, although they might also be attending one of the popular lectures held in 1811, including talks by Henry Fuseli on painting; John Soane on architecture; Anthony Carlisle on anatomy; J. M. W. Turner on perspective; and John Flaxman on sculpture. Or they might also be attending the exhibit of the Society of Painters in Water-Colours, held annually beginning in 1804, where Rowlandson exhibited.


Bartholomew Fair drawn by John Nixon

Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827) after a drawing by John Nixon (ca. 1759-1818), Bartholomew Fair, no date [ca. 1807]. Hand colored etching. Grego II, p. 92. Graphic Arts Collection Rowlandson 1785e vol. 8. Gift of Dickson Q. Brown, Class of 1895.



Dickson Q. Brown, Class of 1895, gave Princeton University Library a bound set of Thomas Rowlandson caricatures, with approximately 300 sheets pasted into 10 volumes. These should not be confused with the similarly bound sets of Rowlandson prints in Caricature Museum and/or Caricature Magazine, also donated by Brown.

Volume 3 includes John Nixon’s teaming scene at Bartholomew Fair, which took place each year on August 24 in West Smithfield, London. At the center of the print, etched by Thomas Rowlandson, are sideshow attractions including Miles’ Menagerie, Saunder’s Tragic Theatre, Gingle’s Grand Medley, Polito’s Grand Collection, and Punch. Of particular interest, just to the right of Gyngles booth and below a tightrope juggler, is a banner advertising Miss Beffin (also spelled Biffin or Beffen), an artist born without arms or legs.

The Graphic Arts Collection holds several watercolors painted by Biffin (1784-1850), which she made by holding the brush with her teeth. Biffin’s family contracted with Emmanuel Dukes, a traveling showman, to present her as one of his sideshow attractions. She traveled from town to town, painting or writing for the public’s entertainment. Dukes publicized her as “The Eighth Wonder!” and pocketed all the proceeds from the sale of her watercolors. Thanks to the patronage from George Douglas, the sixteenth Earl of Morton (1761-1827), Biffin was finally released from her contract and established a studio in the Strand, London, where she painted miniature portraits. For more:

[above] Sarah Biffin (1784-1850), Portrait of Captain James West (1808-1884), 1844. Watercolor on paper. Graphic Arts. 2011- in process. Gift of W. Allen Scheuch II, Class of 1976, given in honor of Meg Whitman, Class of 1977. Graphic Arts Collection GA 2011.01448


On the far left side of the print are carnival rides with an early Ferris wheel and three boat swings, one dumping its passengers in piles on the ground. The scene relates to a preliminary drawing by Nixon [below]  of the Sydney Gardens in Bath, which shows a standing version of the boat swing, invented by John Joseph Merlin (1735-1803).


A 21st century version called the Coney Clipper entertains the masses at Coney Island in Brooklyn:



“Saint Paul enlevé jusqu’au troisième ciel” for Paul Scarron

Guillaume Chasteau (1635-1683) after Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665), Saint Paul Raised to the Third Heaven [Saint Paul enlevé jusqu’au troisième ciel], 17th century. Graphic Arts Collection GA2012.01350

When you travel to Paris this summer, don’t forget to go to room 826 in the Richelieu Wing at the Louvre, to visit Nicolas Poussin’s The Rapture of Saint Paul, painted mid-17th-century (1649 – 1650) [seen below]. The Graphic Arts Collection has only the engraving after Poussin by Guillaume Chasteau.

“After moving to Rome from his native France in 1624, Nicolas Poussin made his reputation with paintings of subjects from classical literature. In contrast to the extravagance of Baroque art, Poussin developed a way of framing moments on drama and extreme emotion in harmonious, beautifully balanced landscape and architectural settings.

In 1640, summoned by King Luis XIII he returned to Paris where he was courted by French art patrons, such as Paul Fréart de Chantelou. Through Chantelou, the well-connected poet and playwright Paul Scarron commissioned a painting from Poussin—a commission he did his best to defer, since he despised Scarron and his burlesque plays.

In 1649, however, now once again settled in Rome, he finally started work on the painting that became The Ecstasy of St Paul (Musée du Louvre, Paris)….—Michael Bird, Artists’ Letters: Leonardo da Vinci to David Hockney (2019).

French poet and dramatist, Paul Scarron (1610-1660) studied at the Sorbonne and acquired the patronage of Charles de Beaumanoir, Bishop of Le Mans. In 1652, he married Françoise d’Aubigné, (later Madame de Maintenon) who patiently cared for him when he was forced to use a wheelchair and eventually became bedridden due to his crippled spine. Scarron wrote many comedies, among them “Jodelet, ou le maître valet” (1645); “Les trois Dorothées” (1646); “L’héritier ridicule” (1649); “Don Japhet d’Arménie” (1652); “L’Ecolier de Salamanque” (1654); and “Le gardien de soi-même” (1655).

This anonymous portrait of Paul Scarron is owned by the Musée de Tessé.

Poussin, Nicolas (1594-1665), The Rapture of Saint Paul [or The Ecstasy of Saint Paul], 1649-1650. Oil on canvas. Painted for the writer Paul Scarron (1610-1660), the work was acquired by Louis XIV from the Duke of Richelieu in 1665. See more:

The copper plate for this engraving is held at the Louvre, as noted in Catalogue des planches gravées composant le fonds de la Chalcographie et dont les épreuves se vendent dans cet établissement au Musée National du Louvre (1851)


It is interesting that the painting Scarron commissioned from Poussin, would come to be owned by Louis XIV, who also secretly married Madame de Maintenon, once married to Scarron.

Paul Scarron (1610-1660), Le Virgile travesty en vers bvrlesqves… (Paris: G. de Lvyne, 1648- ). Vol. 1 of 7. Frontispiece by F. C.,  Junius Morgan Collection 2945.311.Fre648.2


Roscoe “Roc” R. Semmel Identified

Thanks go to Eric White, who identified a pen and ink drawing in the Graphic Arts Collection as the work of cartoonist Roscoe “Roc” R. Semmel (1888-1913). Semmel was the oldest of three children born to Robert J. and Hattie Semmel in Washington, PA. His father is listed as a “coach painter.” For more about that, see: F.B. Gardner, The Carriage Painters’ Illustrated Manual: containing a treatise on the art, science, and mystery of coach, carriage, and car painting including the latest improvements in fine painting, gilding, bronzing, staining, varnishing, polishing, copying, lettering, scrolling, and ornamentation (New York: Fowler & Wells, 1882).

Roc Semmel went to Slatington High School and then, the School of Industrial Art in Philadelphia before taking a job of a school teacher in Slatington, PA. “… his love of art was strong, and after moving to this city, a couple of years ago, he did some cartoon work for the Chronicle & News. His work attracted attention and he was offered a berth with the Harrisburg Telegraph and while there the Rochester Herald made a bid for his services and he is now doing great work on this paper.” —The Allentown Morning Call October 5, 1911

In 1911, Semmel married Florence C. Lentz (1893-1954) but sadly, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis and they moved almost immediately to Tucson, Arizona, for his treatment. Roc Semmel died there in August of 1913 at the young age of 25. Below is another example of his work:

Roscoe “Roc” R. Semmel (1888-1913), “Well I think the fans are convinced…”, ca. 1910. Pen and ink drawing. Graphic Arts Collection

Opere del signor Piranesi, che sono state pubblicate fino all’anno 1762

Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778), Opere del signor Piranesi: che sono state pubblicate fino all’anno 1762. E che si vendono presso il medesimo nel palazzo del sig. conte Tomati, a strada Felice vicino alla Trinità de’ Monti, a’ seguenti prezzi (Roma: Piranesi, 1762). 1 letterpress sheet, Italian and French. 31 x 21 cm. Graphic Arts Collection.

The Graphic Arts Collection is fortunate to have acquired an early printed catalogue of works published “until the year 1762” by Giovanni Battista Piranesi. Making it even more of a treasure is a handwritten addition (presumably Piranesi’s own hand) in the right column list of the “Views of Rome” up to n. 60 “Del Pantheon, paoli tre.” The following view “Del Tempio della Sibilla in Tivoli” [“Of Sibyl’s Temple in Tivoli”] has been added in manuscript.


This catalogue is not unlike the later sheet in the collection of the Getty Research Institute. Each catalogue, at Princeton and the Getty, has text in Italian and French to expand Piranesi’s audience and hopefully his sales.Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778), Opere del cavalier Piranesi: che si vendono sciolte il medismo nel palazzo del. Sig. Conte Tomati a strada Felice … [Rome : G. Piranesi, 1778?]. 1 letterpress sheet, Italian and French; 33 x 22 cm. Getty Research Institute


Whether or not Piranesi studied printmaking in Venice, it is certain that soon after his arrival in Rome in 1740, he apprenticed himself briefly to Giuseppe Vasi, the foremost producer of the etched views of Rome that supplied pilgrims, scholars, artists, and tourists with a lasting souvenir of their visit. Quickly mastering the medium of etching, Piranesi found in it an outlet for all his interests, from designing fantastic complexes of buildings that could exist only in dreams, to reconstructing in painstaking detail the aqueduct system of the ancient Romans. The knowledge of ancient building methods demonstrated by Piranesi’s archaeological prints allowed him to make a name for himself as an antiquarian—his Antichità Romane of 1756 won him election to the Society of Antiquarians of London. . . . Given his admiration for Rome and his contentious nature, Piranesi could hardly refrain from entering into the debate at mid-century over the relative merits of Greek and Roman art. Here, too, etching served him well as a means of supporting his arguments. His Delle magnificenza ed architettura de’ Romani of 1761 advanced the view, shared by other scholars, that the Romans had learned not from the Greeks—as British and French scholars had begun to argue—but from the earlier inhabitants of Italy, the Etruscans. Piranesi used his knowledge of ancient engineering accomplishments to defend the creative genius of the Romans, but devoted even more space to a celebration of the richness and variety of Roman ornament. — Thompson, Wendy. “Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–1778)”. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (October 2003)

We have not been able to identify the enormous watermark that is nearly the size of the entire sheet. Andrew Robinson notes “Although I have now catalogued over 60 watermarks on different Piranesi papers, I am only tentatively confident about my fixing of their dates.” Hopefully a better image of this new mark can be made, which will lead to further scholarship.

Our sheet will be included this fall in the Firestone Library exhibition, Piranesi on the Page. The exhibition is curated by Heather Hyde Minor, professor, University of Notre Dame, and Carolyn Yerkes, associate professor, Princeton University. Piranesi Unbound, a book associated with the exhibition written by the curators, is available from the Princeton University Press.

Help us identify Roc

The Graphic Arts Collection holds a small selection of pen and ink drawings for early 20th-century American newspaper comic strips. Most have been identified but this signature has not been connected to a known cartoonist. Can you help? Please send your answer to

Rethinking hurtful iconography of indigenous people in American advertising

Our ephemera and advertising collection holds a number of boxes separated by particular iconography. Here are a few examples of American advertisements using Native American figures to sell various products. Hopefully all have been discontinued.

Some of these are also featured in “Americans,” a 2018 exhibition at the National Museum of the American Indian, still seen online:

Here is the Museum’s statement calling for an end to racist mascots and images:

Voyages d’un naturaliste et ses observations

In 1799, Michel Etienne Descourtilz, a French naturalist and surgeon, arrived at Saint Domingue on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola and remained there nearly four years, during which time the indigenous people revolted. Today the island hosts the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Although Descourtilz collected samples, documented language and music, and made sketches, many of his belongings were destroyed during the revolution. Returning to Paris, it took him five more years to complete his narrative, first published in 1809.

“The first-person accounts by whites taken prisoner during the interracial violence in Saint-Domingue during the revolutionary era … were written primarily to refute opponents of slavery in revolutionary France. Precisely because their authors had personally confronted a situation in which black slaves had at least provisionally defeated the white world-the only such situation in the Atlantic world up to that time-these narratives are of extraordinary interest for the development of modern discourses about race and identity.

The Saint-Domingue insurrection, which began in 1791 and culminated in the creation of the independent black republic of Haiti in 1804, has haunted thinking about race throughout the Western world ever since. …The insurrection demonstrated that people of color could not only be active agents in the making of history, but that they could overthrow white rule and seize control of the crown jewel of one of the great European empires, the most valuable piece of colonial real estate in the world at the time. Toussaint Louverture, the black leader who emerged to lead this movement, represented slaveholders’ worst nightmare, and his saga became an inspiration for movements for freedom among people of color on both sides of the Atlantic.

Compared to the number of narratives about North American whites captured by Native Americans or white Europeans enslaved in the “Barbary states” of North Africa, the corpus of first-person testimonies from the Saint-Domingue uprising is small. Only two fairly lengthy accounts published at the time are known: the colonist Gros’s Historick Recital, of the Different Occurrences in the Camps of Grand-Reviere…, and the naturalist Michel Etienne Descourtilz’s Voyages d’un naturaliste, which recounts the author’s experiences from 1799 to 1803, during Toussaint’s reign and in the war which resulted in the destruction of the last vestiges of white rule in Haiti.” —Jeremy D. Popkin, “Facing Racial Revolution: Captivity Narratives and Identity in the Saint-Domingue Insurrection,” Eighteenth-Century Studies , Summer, 2003, Vol. 36, No. 4 (Summer, 2003) URL:


Michel Etienne Descourtilz (1775-1835), Voyages d’un naturaliste, et ses observations : faites sur les trois règnes de la nature, dans plusieurs ports de mer français, en Espagne, au continent de l’Amérique Septentrionale, à Saint-Yago de Cuba, et à St.-Domingue, où l’auteur devenu le prisonnier de 40,000 Noirs révoltés, et par suite mis en liberté par une colonne de l’armée française, donne des détails circonstanciés sur l’expédition du général Leclerc [Travels of a naturalist, and his observations: made on the three kingdoms of nature, in several French seaports, in Spain, in the continent of North America, in Saint-Yago de Cuba, and in Santo Domingo, where the author who became the prisoner of 40,000 revolting indigenous people, and consequently released by a column of the French army, gives detailed details of the expedition of General Leclerc] (Paris: Dufart père, 1809). Complete with 45 full-page colored stipple engravings (3 frontispieces); a conversation in Creole; and two local songs with musical scores. Graphic Arts Collection GAX2021- in process









Les Ascensionnistes



Les Ascensionnistes. Nouveau jeu de Société très Attrayant, [The Mountaineers: An Attractive New Board Game]. (Paris: MD [Mauclair & Dacier]; Printed at Roches Frères, ca. 1885). Graphic Arts Collection GAX 2021- in process

The game’s decorated box holds a folding chromolithographic board with 108 numbered squares; six hand painted die-cast figures; 32 white and coloured playing tokens in a bag; a shaped paper-mâché tray; a bone dice; and printed instructions. According to the online Game of the Goose database ( this is the same game published by Simonin-Cuny and similar game reset with different title (Jeu des Alpinistes. Nouveau Jeu très Amusant) also published by Simonin-Cuny.

The firm of Mauclair-Dacier, located on 5 rue Haudriette in Paris (with a factory on 148 avenue Daumesnil), specialized in manufacturing and selling toys and games. It was active from the 1880s until it was acquired by the firm of Les Jeux Réunis in 1904. Visit the Mauclair-Dacier game factory:




Illustrations from Henriette de Beaumont d’Angeville (1794-1871), My ascent of Mont Blanc; with a preface by Dervla Murphy ; translated from the French by Jennifer Barnes (London: HarperCollins, 1991). ReCAP, GV199.92.A54 A3 1991.

The Mountaineers game, exclusively designed around male climbers, reminds us of Henriette d’Angeville (1794–1871), “reported to have been the first woman to climb Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the French Alps. True, Marie Paradis, a local peasant, driven by the lure of financial gain and encouraged by fellow adventurers, had gone to the top in 1808. But unlike her, d’Angeville made the decision to attempt the feat without the encouragement of others, preparing and paying for the trip herself. Her success earned her recognition as the first climber of the “weaker sex” to reach the summit of Mont Blanc. Surprisingly, the feat received little commentary, except in books on the history of mountaineering where a few scattered passages mentioned her – sometimes in disparaging terms.”–Women in Trousers: Henriette d’Angeville, a French Pioneer? By Pascale Gorguet Ballesteros. 04 Nov 2016

Less distinguished but equally ambitious was Helen Henderson Chain, wife of James A. Chain. Both were artists and avid climbers as seen in the photographs of their 1888 trip to Germany, Switzerland, and Italy.

Helen Henderson Chain and James A. Chain, The Chain Gang Abroad: Around Europe with a Camera [photography album], 1888. Some photography by Helen Henderson Chain ( 1848-1892). Graphic Arts Collection (GAX) Oversize 2008-0001E


Typographic necrology

Necrology Series (2017) by Ken Lum in “New Grit” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021.

Friday evening on April 14, 1865, at Ford’s Theatre in Washington D.C. President Abraham Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth. He was carried to a boarding house across the street and died the next morning. News reached the Philadelphia Inquirer offices after midnight on April 15, when they printed a preliminary account of Lincoln’s death.

(c) Ken Lum

Ken Lum on the steps of Weightman Hall at the University of Pennsylvania, September 2015. Photo: Stephanie Noritz.

Writing for Border Crossings Magazine, Lum comments:

In 2015, on the sesquicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s death, the Philadelphia Inquirer reprinted its front page as it had appeared on April 15, 1865, a day after the American president’s assassination. I was struck by the appearance of the page, how differently it looked from today, with what seemed like illogical spacing, kerning, eclectic use of fonts, all encapsulated in a highly florid language. Running down the entirety of the left-hand column was a series of what appeared as mini-headlines, each announcing a significant moment in Lincoln’s life, from birth to death . . .

My series titled “Necrology” was impelled by the idea of text as an image machine . . . . In fact, the Lincoln page taught me that pictorialism begins with the unit of the alphabetic letter itself, well before its amalgamation into text. . . . Each work tells of a possible life lived . . . Each of the lives depicted in this series is neither fact nor fiction; they are amalgamations from various collected obituaries as well as personal recollections of dead relatives and friends.

[The] works chronicle lives of people such as an African-American woman of faith who led a decent lower-middle-class life as a keypunch operator; or a mysterious tattooed lady found dead and identified only by chance through Facebook; or Yasir Khorshed, who fought on behalf of garment workers’ rights only to die at an early age of benzene poisoning, at one time a not uncommon cause of death for garment workers.–

“New Grit: Art & Philly Now” through August 22, 2021.