Sunday, February 17, 2013

William Ladd Taylor's Washington Street

Busy Washington Street Scene, 1901, W.L. Taylor (BPL Flickr photo group). 

W.L. Taylor was a painter and  illustrator whose work was featured in The Ladies Home Journal. He was born in 1854 in Grafton, and studied art in Boston and New York. In the 1880s, Taylor had studios on School and Boylston streets in Boston, and was a member of various art clubs and societies.

Of interest to A.T.I.G.O.B. is the print featured above. I like to think that this print represents what we would have actually seen on a busy day at the turn of the 20th century. With the slow transportation of the day, pedestrians did cross the street as they pleased, and ragamuffin newsboys crossed paths - though not fates - with finely dressed ladies and their equally finely dressed children.

Beyond a look at the contemporary fashions, this print gives us a summary of downtown transportation. I wonder if the artist meant to put the electric streetcar directly between the horse carriage on the right, and the very new automobile on the left. And perhaps it's a coincidence, but the carriage, with it's driver at the top back, is reflected by the auto, which in this model also has its driver in the rear position, overlooking its passengers.

Sadly, we probably have a better sense of Victorian London than we do of the contemporary Boston. If only from Sherlock Holmes, we see the world of hansom cabs as being British, whereas our own cities would have appeared very familiar to Holmes and the rest of Victorian Britain's great literary characters. Unfortunately, while British writers explored their urban capital, Americans looked west for inspiration. And late 19th century America becomes the story of Cowboys and Indians, rather than Boston/New York/Philadelphia city dwellers. Henry James does write of Bostonians, but he chases them to Paris, and has no interest in the North End or South Boston.

Wouldn't you love to see a movie set in the Boston on 1901? If CGI can create alien planets for Hollywood, why not turn of the century Boston, with streetcars and carriages and automobiles all fighting to get through throngs of shoppers on Washington street?


  1. I recommend that you read Santayana or J. P. Marquand.

    1. I've read Marquand - and discussed him on this site. The examples you can come up with of books available now are few and far between.

  2. I don't think you could really top Gangs of New York for its depiction of 19th century east coast. As much as Cameron Diaz tries to bring it down, Daniel Day Lewis' acting and Scorsese's directing make it an absolutely beautiful depiction of a time and place rarely seen in film and lit.

  3. Andy - I agree. They went to the trouble of showing an omnibus in the background of one scene - exactly the kind of thing that would have been commonplace at the time, and is forgotten now.