Sunday, June 28, 2009


Henri spent many months in Mexico and ended his trip in Acapulco before taking a steamer to Panama. The following is a brief passage from an 1853 letter home to his parents.

"We arrived on the 4th of April, the next steamer South is due to arrive on the 8th. Acapulco has one of the most beautiful ports that I will most likely ever see. The city itself is less impressive and many buildings are still in ruins due to the earthquake that occurred here last December. For a painter however, these ruins at the edge of a beautiful port, surrounded by Palm trees and dominated by majestic mountains provides one great artistic inspiration."

Sketch of Acapulco and its outskirts. Fernando de Pozo, 1820

Current View of Acapulco

The Earthquake
On December 4, 1852 at 22:10 [local time] there was an "indescribable" earthquake, which struck and totally destroyed Acapulco. At Acapulco, the sea retreated about 6 m from shore, and the residents were very much afraid that it would return with greater force and flood them all; however, the regular sea level was gradually restored. – National Geophysical Data Center (NGDC)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Girard College

Henri wrote in an 1852 letter home from Philadelphia of Girard College, founded by Stephen Girard a French-born, naturalized American, philanthropist, and banker. Childless, he devoted much of his fortune to philanthropy, particularly the education and welfare of orphans. Henri said, "Girard College is the most beautiful building ever erected in the name of charity."

Founder's Hall, built in 1848

An Overview of Stephen Girard from the Girard College Website

Stephen Girard (1750 – 1831), is a great American immigrant success story. Born in Bordeaux, France, Girard was the eldest of fourteen children. His mother died when he was eleven and he left home at the age of fourteen to spend the next twelve years sailing the seas, learning the international mercantile and shipping business.

Girard arrived in Philadelphia in June 1776 living in his adopted city for the rest of his long life. During his fifty-five years in Pennsylvania, he became the richest American of his time.

Girard was married to Mary Lum from 1777 until her death in 1815. They had no children.

Girard’s first fortune was in international shipping and merchant activities. He stayed in Philadelphia, sending his ships, crews and captains around the world. He deposited his growing wealth in the First Bank of the United States in Philadelphia ephemera. When the first Bank lost its charter in 1811, Girard bought the Bank building, left his money there, and reopened the building as the Bank of Stephen Girard. This made him America’s first private banker. He made his second fortune in banking and helped raise the sixteen million dollars required for the U.S. government to fight the War of 1812. By the time of his death, his fortune totaled approximately 7.5 million dollars.

One of the most interesting chapters of Girard’s life was his role in fightingPhiladelphia’s Yellow Fever epidemic in the summer of 1793. He was instrumental in running the city’s hospital at the Hamilton home “Bush Hill” using his business skills to better organize the hospital’s health care and record keeping, and using his hands for personal nursing. The significance of his heroism that summer is that we see, for the first time, the man who will again as an old man, step forward to assist his beloved city of Philadelphia in a way that no one else could.

As an old man, Girard started to think about what he would do with his fortune. With the assistance of attorney William J. Duane, in the 1820’s he wrote a long will outlining every detail of how his fortune should be used. He delighted in keeping the document secret, knowing that everyone wondered what would happen to the Girard fortune. Immediately after his death, the provisions of his will were made public. In addition to extensive personal and institutional bequests, he left the bulk of his fortune to the City of Philadelphia to build and operate a residential school for needy children from single parent households. This innovative social vision was considered breathtaking both then and now: to use the Girard fortune not to endow another Ivy League university but to assist children in need. In 1831, this bequest was the largest single act of philanthropy in American history.

Since its opening in 1848, Girard College has provided a free, residential education to over 21,000 children in grades 1 – 12 on its 45 acre urban campus in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Section. The Girard Estate remains open in perpetuity and provides much of the operating budget for the school.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Visiting a Fellow Artist

While in New York, Henri spent some time with Hubert Sattler, a fellow European, and one with whom he shared many common interests. Hubert was a very well know painter and extensive traveller originally from Austria. He was the son of Johann Micheel Sattler who was famous for his Sattler-Panoramas of Salzburg.

New York, by Hubert Sattler, 1854

Puebla de Los Angeles in Mexiko, by Hubert Sattler, 1860

Der Tempel von Tulum in Yukatan (Mexiko), by Hubert Sattler, 1836

The American Museum

The American Museum from 1853

The following excerpt is of a translation from one of Henri de Büren's letters regarding P.T. Barnum's American Museum. It must have been quite the place.

"Speaking of the Barnum museum, one must keep in mind our European museums are founded by cities or funded by individuals. Our science at home is liberal; in America, it is totally different. The cities here are not willing to build monuments to science, or are doing it very imperfectly, but it is individuals... who take care of the whole thing inspired by the immense curiosity the inhabitants of this country have... Therefore, there is nothing less scientific than the American museums and most of the time they show a collection of items which are never classified nor arranged with taste but rather to attract your curiosity, through rarity, weirdness of shapes, and distant origin. They purchase whatever is not too expensive but is spectacular.

What interested me the most, was neither a group of cardboard monkeys playing the violin, nor a little child in alabaster sleeping on top of roses, nor hundreds of daubs showing distinguished citizens, but rather the harmony that reigned in a large cage where together were all different kinds of animals, with different habits and natures, two cats, three or four monkeys, white mice, eagles, owls, blackbirds and finally a lot of other animals whose names, I don't remember. All of them live together in the best possible terms. This cage is indeed very interesting and I still have not figured out how it is possible for this society to live together. There is also a comedy troupe attached to the establishment, whose showings were much less interesting than the said cage. The Barnum museum is located on the Broadway, that is to say in the most exhilarating neighborhood in New York. It is a large building at the corner on a square, with a balcony where, each night, a group of musicians, attract the populace to venture inside."

An overview from "The Lost Museum"
P.T. Barnum's American Museum, located from 1841 to 1865 at the corner of Broadway and Ann Street in lower Manhattan, has been long recognized by historians as a pivotal institution in the development of nineteenth-century urban culture. Barnum purchased the museum from John Scudder in 1841. Foreshadowing trends in American commercial amusement, the Museum gathered exhibitions and amusements that previously had been offered in separate milieus. In an urban culture characterized by increasing difference—in taste, in subject, and in audience—it was the first to combine sensational entertainment and gaudy display with instruction and moral uplift. For a twenty-five cent admission, visitors viewed an ever-revolving series of "attractions," from the patchwork Fejee Mermaid to the diminutive and articulate Tom Thumb. But the Museum also promoted educational ends, including natural history in its menageries, aquaria, and taxidermy exhibits; history in its paintings, wax figures, and memorabilia; and temperance reform and Shakespearean dramas in its "Lecture Room" or theater. Thus the museum drew its audience from a wide range of social classes and strove to assure that the lecture room and salons would be one of the few respectable public spaces for middle-class women.
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