William James Bennett (1787-1844) was a British born painter and engraver, known for his series of birds-eye views of American cities and a series of large aquatints of Niagara Falls. Born in London, Bennett studied at the Royal Academy schools, working under Westall to develop his landscape skills. He spent his late teens and early twenties traveling with the British military, first to Egypt and Malta, followed by a later appointment in Italy. His travels expanded his landscape and portraiture skills, gifting an invaluable opportunity for the young artist to sketch both ancient ruins and modern cities and capture landscapes of all visual varieties.
In 1808, Bennett became a founding member of the Associated Artists in Water Colours, and worked out of London for a time. Bennett later moved to the United States in 1826 and was elected a full member of the National Academy of Design just two years later, in 1828. At the Academy he exhibited watercolor landscapes and seascapes as well as his engravings.
From 1830-1840, Bennett produced a series of aquatint topographical city views. Based off paintings of his own and the work of others, this series was immensely successful. In his views Bennett “not only celebrated the beauty of the American landscape, he also recorded the young nation’s growing urban centers, from Boston, Buffalo, and Detroit to New Orleans and Mobile, with a special focus on New York. Bennett recorded the bustling waterfront activity of thriving ports bathed in a luminous light that unified water, ships, and architecture. Capturing the optimism of the new nation, these magnificent aquatints have been regarded as the finest folio views of 19th-century American cities, which set the stage for an independent American school of city views.” (NYPL link). Bennett later painted four views of Niagara Falls, two which became subjects for his own aquatints, two which were translated into aquatints by fellow engraver John Hill.
Below are three prints we have by Bennett, a stunning view of Richmond, a harbor scene of Boston, and (of course) a beautiful view of the Navy Yard in Washington, DC. We hope you enjoy these prints- all three are still available to view and purchase in our Georgetown location!