Joining the two imposing landscapes in the Blue Room were two smaller prints, Nymphs Bathing and Storm. Washington described both as being “in colours,” suggesting they were in fact printed in colors. While not a new technique, color prints remained a novelty in the period. To create one, a single printing plate had to be carefully inked with multiple colors in distinct locations. A rare color-printed example of Nymphs Bathing, with a Washington family history, appears to use at least four different pigments in shades of peach, green, blue, and brown.
Both prints were also the work of multiple hands. The figure groups in each were copied from designs by Giovanni Battista Cipriani (1727-1785), a leading practitioner of the neoclassical style in England who was considered a master of figure drawing. Cipriani enjoyed the patronage of King George III, and his prolific work ranged from monumental ceiling decorations and stage sets to drawings and designs for medallions, furniture, and prints. The Irish artist John James Barralet (1747-1815) drew the landscape backgrounds. Barralet’s varied career would ultimately take him to the United States, where he produced his most famous work, The Apotheosis of George Washington.
It took an additional two artists to actually produce the prints. Francesco Bartolozzi (1727-1815), a close friend and collaborator of Cipriani, engraved the figures in exquisite detail, while the Frenchman Victor Marie Picot (1744-1802) executed the landscapes and shaded surrounds in bolder lines.
Storm presented a harrowing moment, intended to rouse a strong emotional response: lightning cuts across the sky above a castle, while below, men struggle to rescue voyagers in a boat about to be carried away by a rushing waterfall, a woman invokes divine intervention, and children cling to their mothers. The serene companion piece, Nymphs Bathing, offered a calmer scene for contemplation. In it, a group of beautiful nymphs, the immortal spirits of waterways and woods, enjoy a refreshing dip in a gentle stream, quite a contrast to the raging torrent in Storm. The pairing and marketing of the two scenes was no accident, but designed to offer buyers and viewers an emotionally moving and morally stimulating study in contrasts: Nature’s fury and blessing displayed at once.
By: Amanda C. Isaac, Associate Curator, October 2017