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Mayhem on Narragansett Bay
Author:Painted and Engraved by J[ames] Kidder / Published by D. Bowen and J[ames] Kidder
Title:A Representation of the GREAT STORM at Providence Sept. 23rd 1815.
Published:Boston, Oct. 8, 1816
Description:Line engraving and aquatint, 10 1/8”h x 19 5/8”w plus title and margins, uncolored.
Condition:Light soiling, particularly noticeable in upper margin. Trimmed at sides, with loss of perhaps 1/16” and 1/8” of image at right left respectively. Some expertly mended tears, including one extending ca. 6” from left edge.
Price:Sold    Inventory:    BRM1641
Only the fourth example located of this terrific image of Providence, Rhode Island during the “Great September Gale” of 1815.

This unusual and dynamic print records a hurricane that struck in the Fall of 1815, forcing a wall of water up Narragansett Bay, flooding Providence, and causing immense destruction. The Rhode Island American estimated that the city suffered more than $1.5 million in damage—an enormous sum at the time—and the destruction of some 500 buildings, though only two fatalities were noted. (Rhode Island American, Sept. 26, 1815, p. 3)

The print depicts Providence’ Market Square at the height of the gale, identifiable by the distinctive buildings and the sign of William Wilkinson’s book store at far right. The Square is overwhelmed by the storm surge and in a state of chaos. Debris fly through the air, vessels have been cut adrift and smash into one another and surrounding buildings, and barns and sheds have been lifted off their foundations and are being carried along in the current. The event is given a human scale by figures in the foreground, several of whom are trying to ride out the storm on their boats, while a lone figure drifts helplessly while clinging to a timber.

James Kidder (1793-1837) was a landscape artist, engraver in line and aquatint, and lithographer active in Boston in the first part of the 19th century. His earliest published works were four small aquatint views of Boston subjects issued in 1813 in the magazine Polyanthos. He went on to produce engravings published by Abel Bowen, and later in life was the artist and lithographer of views of Cambridge, Lowell, and Uxbridge, Massachusetts, as well as Brown University and Harvard College, all published in Boston by the firm of Senefelder.

A November 1, 1816 advertisement in the Rhode Island American also mentions “large paintings” of “Market-Street, Philadelphia; New-York Harbour and City; [and] the Island of St. Helena and an English squadron, with BONAPARTE and suite on board the Northumberland, a 74 gun ship.” These, along with the painting of the “Great Storm” on which this print was based, were exhibited by Kidder and his partner D. Bowen at the “Phenix [sic] Museum,” a temporary exhibition that opened in Boston in June 1816 before moving on to Providence. The print, which was advertised for sale throughout Boston for $1, may have been produced to help publicize the Museum.

The location of Kidder’s painting of the “Great Storm” is not known, though the Rhode Island Historical Society holds a 19th-century copy by one R. Bartlett.

OCLC #499459665, locating but a single example at the American Antiquarian Society. Other examples are held by the Library of Congress and the Rhode Island Historical Society. Not in Stauffer or Stokes. A brief-but-valuable biography of Kidder may be found in Pierce and Slautterback, Boston Lithography, p. 176.