Bristol Bridge and St. Nicholas Church
signed twice ‘drawing by J W Hill’ and J W Hill’ (lower left)
watercolour and bodycolour
9 ¼ x 13 ½ in. (23.5 x 33.5 cm.)
Only Barges and sailing vessels that could drop their masts, could proceed up-river beyond the bridge. The sails on the far side are of coastal vessels moored at Welsh Back, where fish and vegetables, especially, were unloaded near the oyster-women’s shelter. The building of the new bridge, opened in 1768, necessitated the removal of a city gateway and the rebuilding of the nave and chancel of St. Nicholas’s Church. James Bridges, the architect of both the church and the bridge, one in the classical or Palladian style, the other an early example of Georgian Gothic. Very sadly for Bristol, James Bridges, also the architect of Bristol University’s Royal fort, was so frustrated by bitter disputes over alternative plans for the bridge that he left Bristol for the West Indies in 1763. William Paty completed both the bridge and the church, designing the tower and spire himself. The domed tollhouses were to be the cause of vicious riots in 1793 in which fourteen people died. The tollhouses and the fine balustrades were removed when the deck of the bridge was extended n the 1860s. Today, one can still enjoy Bridges’ original arches when passing under the bridge en route for Temple Meads station by ferry.
John William Hill was a watercolourist and aquatint engraver of great talent working in London between 1800 and 1819 when he emigrated to the United States, initially living in Philadelphia prior to moving to New York. His attention to detail was ideally suited to the art of aquatint engravings; here he employed a stipple technique, building up planes of softly gradated colors made of tiny brushstrokes–a process commonly seen in painted miniatures. Applied to a larger scale on canvas the result was a form of objective realism in contrast with more common romanticized works of the early to mid-19th century school of American painting. In 1829, Hill’s son of the same name, and also a great talent, began exhibiting watercolors and engravings produced in his father's studio at the Brooklyn Art Association and the National Academy of Design.
In his early 1820s Hill began work for the New York State Geological Survey, first creating a series of topographical studies and overhead views of principle American cities and towns. This work was distinct for its accuracy of perspective and recording minute architectural detail. These portraits of urban settlement required frequent travel to observe, sketch, and map before creating finished watercolor studies. The completed watercolours were then recreated as coloured lithographs and published by the Smith Brothers, a New York City publisher.
Hill's paintings and engravings are in the collections of the Brooklyn Museum, the Amon Carter Museum, the Fogg Museum, the Hood Museum of Art, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.