A dramatic and uncommon mezzotint depicting the spectacular meteor seen in London on February 11th, 1850, by the prominent court artist Matthew Coates Wyatt (1777-1862). One other copy of this print appears in recent auction records, sold at Galerie Bassenge in 2016, and institutional copies are held at the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich, Museum Bojmans in Rotterdam, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, and the British Museum, which has George Cruikshank’s copy, presented to him by the artist.
“In 1850 a huge meteor appeared over England and was visible in London. It was captured dramatically by Matthew Coates Wyatt over Paddington in a mezzotint that suggests, due to the explosion and sparks of its head, that it was a bolide... Other accounts and representations from various locations were reported in the Illustrated London News... as well as in other periodicals. James Glaisher, the assistant to the Astronomer Royal, published an appeal for additional reports in the same issue, and consequently so many accounts were sent in that Glaisher had them published in the Philosophical Magazine” (Olson & Pasachoff, Fire in the Sky: Comets and Meteors, the Decisive Centuries in British Art and Science, pp. 213-214).
“By good luck, the painter and sculptor Matthew Cotes Wyatt happened to witness the meteor over Paddington; sensing a market, he published this velvety mezzotint of the view two months later... The technique had largely gone out of fashion by 1850, but the rich darks and brilliant lights that it allows were a perfect choice for this dramatic nighttime scene” (Museum of Fine Arts Boston).
Wyatt was the youngest son of the architect James Wyatt and a favourite in the court of George III. “His designs represented a dramatic and full-blooded union of neo-classicism and baroque revival. He was more a theatrical designer than a sculptor in the conventional sense” (ODNB). Wyatt was responsible for a number of significant commissions, including the ceiling of the concert room at Hanover Square; the Nelson monument in the Exchange Flags at Liverpool; Princess Charlotte’s marble cenotaph in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor; the bronze equestrian statue of George III that stands in Pall Mall East; and extensive decorative work at Belvoir Castle, home of the Duke of Rutland.
...About 12 Minutes before 11 O'Clock, on the Evening of the 11th of February 1850. Mr. Wyatt having retained that splendid object in view from its appearance until it passed away in brilliant corruscations, made a drawing of it whilst its impression upon him remained undiminished, and he shortly afterwards Engraved this Plate, in order that a faithfully graphical exhibition of its appearance might be more generally diffused. London: Lloyd Bros. & Leggatt, Hayward & Leggatt, May 1, 1850.
Mezzotint (print 280 x 425 mm, sheet 320 x 445 mm). Professionally conserved and cleaned. Mounted, framed and glazed using archival materials. Pencilled note ‘Astronomy” to the sheet. Some minor creases affecting the image, paper lightly toned. Very good condition.
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