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New York City History, #43


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  43.  Alexander Jackson Davis (1803-1892).  United States Custom House. Watercolor and black ink on paper, (21 cm. x 36.5 cm.), ca. 1834. -- Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Drawings and Archives, Alexander Jackson Davis Collection I (See fuller description below.)
 
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In 1833, Davis and his partner Ithiel Town won the competition for the U.S. Custom House to be built on the site of Washington's inauguration, down the street from Trinity Church. The architects lost control of the construction, that being given to Samuel Thomson, and the finished building lacks the majesty of this drawing particularly in the reduction of the dome. A magnificent section, this drawing shows Davis in full command of his artistic and architectural powers. The proportion and harmony of the design are wedded to a direct and rich exposition of the architectural structure and detail.

It is hard to overestimate Davis's position in American architecture of the nineteenth century before the Civil War. Davis designed civic and urban buildings for the burgeoning city of New York, and with his friend, the landscape designer Andrew Jackson Downing, brought to life the romantic vision of Gothic cottage in the Hudson Valley. Fortunately his work survives in large numbers in three major repositories: the Avery Library, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the New-York Historical Society.

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