Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar: Acquiring the Fort Scott Scenery Collection for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center. Part 317 – The Cincinnati Venue for the Chemical Paintings in 1843


Part 317: The Cincinnati Venue for the Chemical Paintings in 1843

Here is a description of the venue where Duncanson and Coate’s chemical paintings premiered in 1843. A Cincinnati Enquirer article describes in great detail the transformation for each visual spectacle: the Milan Cathedral, Jerusalem and the Crucifixion, the Interior of the Holy Sepulchre and Belshazzar’s Feast in 1843. This was the collaborative effort between African-Americans artist Robert S. Duncanson and the photographer Coates to create a unique form of visual spectacle. There are four descriptions will be posted tomorrow after examining the venue where the production was first presented in Cincinnati.

While researching the Cincinnati venue, however, I was surprised when I realized that the first performance actually took place in the same room where the Cincinnati Masons met. The advertised Concert Hall above the Cincinnati Post Office is also considered one of the first Masonic meeting spaces in the city.

White corner building (on right) was the first Masonic Hall (also used as a concert hall) above the post office in Cincinnati on Third Street. The second Masonic building (tan facade on right) building is depicted past the bank (building with the columns). This would be the same location as the third Masonic building too. Image from http://www.mormoninterpreter.com/where-in-cincinnati-was-the-third-edition-of-the-book-of-mormon-printed/

The two-story brick building was erected on the corner of Third Street and Bank Alley (now the corner of Third Street and Walnut).One of the men responsible for the construction of the building was Postmaster Elam Langdon. The Post Office was situated on the first floor of the building and the Masons used the second floor hall for their lodge room. The road called Bank Alley was also known to local citizens as either Post Office Alley or Masonic Alley. Interestingly, that same second-floor space was also advertised as a Concert Hall for musical performances during 1843. Newspaper advertisements for concerts, such as that by Max Bohrer, noted the 1843 venue as “the Concert Hall, over the Post Office” (Cincinnati Enquirer, 13 June 1843, page 3).

This is the same concert hall above the post office where the chemical paints were displayed in 1843. The Cincinnati Enquirer, 13 June 1843, page 3

“Masonic Review” describes the history of early Masonry in Cincinnati and the cooperation of the various Masonic bodies to construct a Masonic Hall in the city. The first committee was composed of David Brown, William Burker and Postmaster Elam Langdon, “men of executive ability” (Masonic Review and the Masonic Journal, 1892, Vol. 76, page 15). “Subscriptions and dues were paid in bricks, lumber, labor &c., and in March, 1824, the first Masonic hall built in this city was completed at a cost of $2,437.72. The hall was a frame building, and was erected on the Town Lot, now the northeast corner of Third and Walnut…It was not until 1843 that an active interest was taken to build a second building, and in 1845 plans were submitted for a new building and approved.” The Hall was enlarged during 1834 as membership dramatically increased. This was the transitional step between the first and second buildings in Cincinnati. The second building was located just down the block on Third Street from the original corner building.

The third building was located on the same spot as the second building, just down the street from the original Masonic Hall. Image from: http://www.mormoninterpreter.com/where-in-cincinnati-was-the-third-edition-of-the-book-of-mormon-printed/

The following article was in the Cincinnati Enquirer on 14 Aug 1843 and describes the premiere of the Chemical Paintings (page 3):

“Daguerre’s Grand Chemical Secret Discovered! To be exhibited at Concert Hall, over the Post Office, every evening, until further notice.”

“Robert Winter, Jr. respectfully informs his friends and the citizens of Cincinnati generally, that stimulated by the assertion of Mons. Maffy, the proprietor of Daguerre’s celebrated chemical paintings, that it was impossible for any one in this country to imitate them, he has succeeded in producing the undermentioned pictures, which he confidently places before the public for them to decide relative to the merits of his productions, and whether he has not completely nullified Mons. Maffy’s assertion, by imitating or surpassing those painted by Daguerre himself, and which have so justly gained the admiration of the patrons of the Fine Arts wherever they have been exhibited.”

Here is the “Maffy” who Winter is referring to:

The first set “chemical paintings” credited to Daguerre and managed by Mons. Maffy.Article from Commercial Advertiser and Journal (Buffalo, NY) 30 June 1842, page 2.

“Each painting covers a surface of nearly two hundred square feet of canvas, and represents two distinct pictures, which form the peculiar style of execution, the varied nature and combination of the illuminating powers employed, produces changes the most astonishing, and at the same time the most natural, in the power of the artist, machinist or optician, to effect.

Appropriate music, selected and arranged expressly for the occasion, will accompany each change; and the proprietor confidently anticipates the exhibition will form one of the most attractive, moral and pleasing entertainments, ever offered to a Cincinnati audience.”

From the National Gazette (Philadelphia) 25 Jan. 1841, page 3. Note that the venue was in New York’s Masonic Hall.

To be continued…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *