William Russell Birch arrived in Philadelphia, the American capital, in 1794, where he soon influenced the course of the culture of the young nation by creating the first sets of engraved views ever published in the United States: The City of Philadelphia in 1800 and The Country Seats of the United States. In a period when images of the American landscape were still scarce, Birch's prints provided the foundation of this key aspect of Americans' understanding of their country.
Birch established an artistic career in London after a childhood in Warwickshire, working as an enamelist creating original portrait miniature paintings and copies of the work of his mentor Sir Joshua Reynolds. Like many others of his generation, Birch aspired to become a landscape artist—someone who both created images and designed gardens professionally. He issued his first set of picturesque views, Délices de la Grande Bretagne, in 1791. After Reynolds and his two most important London patrons died in the early 1790s, Birch decided to emigrate. His City of Philadelphia (created with his son Thomas) was a commercial success, and he designed a number of gardens in the mid-Atlantic states in the early nineteenth century. He showcased his designs at his own property, Springland (located on the Delaware River near Philadelphia), and other suburban estates in the Country Seats of the United States (1808).
This is the first biography of Birch. Written by eminent landscape historian Emily Cooperman, it gives a detailed account of the artist's life and career. Illustrations include previously unpublished watercolor paintings, engravings, and enamels by Birch. Also published here for the first time is his autobiography, edited by Lea Carson Sherk. It is a fresh and vivid document of Birch's life and times. William Birch: Picturing the American Scene will be an invaluable resource for American and landscape historians, and for readers eager to glimpse America in the early years of its independence.
Emily T. Cooperman is an independent scholar and historic preservation consultant. She is the editor of Birch's The Country Seats of the United States, also available from the University of Pennsylvania Press.
Lea Carson Sherk is President of the Athenaeum of Philadelphia and a leading scholar of William Russell Birch.