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History - Part I: Who was Harry Fenn?

The Cedars, or Henry (Harry) Fenn residence, was built in 1885. Harry Fenn was a watercolor artist and an illustrator. He was born in Richmond, Surrey, England in 1845. He first trained as a wood engraver before embarking on a career as a painter and print maker.

In 1860's, Fenn settled in the United States after coming to see the Niagara Falls. After spending six years in the U.S., he left to pursue further art studies in Italy. He returned to illustrate his first book, “Snow Bound,” written by John Greenleaf Whittier. The success of this first illustration project lead to more work and Fenn’s second book, “Ballads of New England.” These two books were the first illustrated gift books of their kind in the United States. They were important milestones in the history of American book making and created great renown for the artist.

In the 1870's Fenn traveled extensively around the country for numerous illustration projects. One such trip brought him to western North Carolina for his landmark book “Picturesque America,” by William Cullen Bryant, published in 1872. On this trip Fenn created some of his best loved art in a region of the Blue Ridge Mountains near Asheville, NC. Some of his other noted works are "Picturesque Europe" and "Picturesque Palestine."

Later in his career, Harry Fenn concentrated more on his watercolor painting. He was a member of the New York Watercolor Club, the Society of Illustrators, the Salmagundi Club and founding member of the American Watercolor Society. This is the email response I received from American Watercolor Society upon my inquiry about Fenn: "Our historical information states that Harry (Henry) Fenn was elected at a founder's meeting on January 2, 1867. He remained a member until 1911 [note: year of his death]. If you wish to come to our office to investigate our archival files, please feel free to contact us. We only have catalogs containing information regarding our exhibitions. Some are incomplete."

Fenn was associated with the Hudson River School of painting. One of his strengths was his ability to capture highly detailed topographical scenes, as much of his work was intended for reproduction.

Print above: The Lover's Leap - Approach by Night, 1873


  1. I recently found and purchased a small colored print entitled, "West Point and the Highlands" with the notations, "Painted by Henry Fenn" and "Engraved by S.V. Hunt". The scene is a view of the Hudson River from West Point with cadets serving a cannon in the foreground. A woman with a bright red dress, blue wrap and yellow parasol is prominent. The publisher is "New York D. Appleton & Co" which was the company that published "Picturesque America" in 1872.

    I have learned that this print is offered as a poster in various sizes, so this must be a fairly popular piece. Is there any chance that my print is from the original printing? Who can tell me what I have?

    Mike Spehar, Mascoutah, IL


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