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19th Century Watercolor View of Nashville, Tennessee

  • $ 75,000.00

ca. 1880
Watercolor on paper
Titled NASHVILLE TENN in lower margin (light water stain down center and on lower margin, minor spotting in the sky, toning and fading consistent with age)
Framed to full museum specifications with true view non-glare glass
Size: 28 ½ x 43 in

Provenance: Charles C. Giers of Nashville; his son Otto B. Giers; his daughter Hunter Giers (Mrs. Edward Dickson Hicks, IV); her daughter and son-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. C. William Green; the estate of Sarah Hunter Hicks Green, formerly of Historic Devon Farm, Nashville, Tennessee; Case Antiques Auctions and Appraisals, Knoxville, Tennessee.

Exhibited: The Tennessee State Museum, Nashville, Sept. 5 - Nov. 20, 1985; Dixon Gallery, Memphis, Dec. 1 - Jan. 15, 1986; Hunter Museum of Art, Chattanooga, Feb. 1 - March 31, 1986, and the Dulin Gallery of Art, Knoxville, April 10 - May 11, 1986.

Illustrated: James C. Kelly, The Tennessee Historical Quarterly: Landscape and Genre Painting in Tennessee, 1810-1985 (Tennessee Historical Society, Nashville, 1985), 75; John Egerton, Nashville: The Faces of Two Centuries (Nashville 1979), 150-1.


This imposing watercolor presents a sweeping panorama of Nashville in the 1880s, and is the only 19th-century watercolor view of this multi-faceted city. Painted at the close of Reconstruction and before the Great Fire of 1916, this work captures a pivotal moment in Nashville’s transformation into a modern American city (J. Egerton, 144, 150-1), with intricately rendered churches, brick and log homes, horses, carriages, human figures, and other rich details along the city’s splendid skyline.

The viewpoint is from the historic site of Fort Negley atop St. Cloud Hill, the largest inland fort erected during the Civil War, built by Union troops and newly freed slaves after the capture of Nashville in 1862. During the crucial Battle of Nashville on December 15 and 16, 1864, Fort Negley’s artillery drove off General Hood’s Confederate forces and contributed to one of the largest victories achieved by the Union Army.

The ruins of Fort Negley appear in the foreground, and lead the eye toward many Nashville landmarks on the horizon, including the Tennessee State Capitol (center left); the Cumberland River (center left); Howard School (center), one of the first public schools in the South; and the University of Nashville (right), a beacon of higher education in the early 1880s that first earned Nashville its reputation as the “Athens of the South.”

This work also offers a rare view of Vanderbilt University at the dawn of its founding. Endowed in 1873 by the rail magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt, the renowned university opened in 1875 with a 75-acre plot in the west end of Nashville, visible here on the far left (J. Egerton,111 & 147). We see the outlines of the buildings and houses of the original campus nestled among greenery in the distance, a preview of the magnificent arboretum that is Vanderbilt’s campus today.

This watercolor once belonged to the prominent American photographer, Charles C. Giers, who devoted much of his career to documenting Nashville's postwar growth and expansion.

References: John Egerton, Nashville: The Faces of Two Centuries (Nashville 1979); James C. Kelly, The Tennessee Historical Quarterly: Landscape and Genre Painting in Tennessee, 1810-1985 (Tennessee Historical Society, Nashville, 1985).

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