Henry Wellge. “Chattanooga and Lookout Mountain.” Milwaukee: American Fine Art Co., 1897. 9 3/4 x 24. Very good condition. Chromolithograph. Reps: 3930.
A fine example of the American bird’s eye view of the nineteenth century. Beginning after the Civil War, the bird’s eye view became one of the most popular of print genres. This was a period of significant urban growth throughout the country, and the civic pride which proliferated provided a fertile field for print publishers to market these visual vistas of American cities and towns. According to John Rep’s seminal Views and Viewmakers of Urban America (Columbia, 1984), publishers sent their artists out into the field throughout all parts of the country to draw and market the views. The artist would walk the streets of the town or city, drawing all the buildings and encouraging the citizens to subscribe to the view that would be produced. Once the entire area was sketched and enough subscriptions obtained, the artist would use a standard projection to turn his street-level images into a bird’s eye view of the town. Because these views were primarily sold to citizens of the place depicted, they had to be accurate. Thus these views are not only highly decorative, but are also detailed and accurate pictures of each place shown, providing us with a wonderful documentation of nineteenth century urban America.
Henry Wellge was one of the most prolific of the artists doing such views. Between 1878 and 1910, he produced over 150 bird’s eye views, mostly published by himself. This is an unusual one where he was commissioned to do the print by the American Fine Art Company of Milwaukee. The view shows the city from a vantage point above Lookout Mountain, with the Tennessee River shown winding below. An inset view in the lower right shows Lookout Mountain from the city itself and a numbered key to major places is included in the margin at bottom.