The Great Fire in New York

Above: Lit from the back
Below: Lit from the front


Franz Xaver Habermann (1721-1796), [Representation de feu terrible a Nouvelle Yorck], 1776. Cut and painted etching. Graphic Arts GA 1995.00006.

On September 15, 1776, George Washington and his men were forced to retreat to the northern end of Manhattan, leaving New York City in the hands of the British. Six days later, a series of fires destroyed one quarter of lower Manhattan leading to claims of arson. While it is true that Washington’s men melted the warning bells to make bullets, Washington claimed to have no other responsibility.

This is one of a number of perspective prints or vues d’optique depicting scenes from the American Revolution. The images of New York City, Boston, and other American cities are imagined scenes, drawn by various artists and etched by the German printmaker Franz Xaver Habermann (1721-1796). Perspective prints were usually titled in several languages and marketed in Paris, Augsburg, London, and elsewhere.


Princeton’s copy was once framed to fit a viewing box. It no longer has a title or caption along the bottom of the image (although there is a hand-written note on the verso). The original title in French was Representation de feu terrible a Nouvelle Yorck and in German Schröckenvolle Feuersbrunst welche zu Neu Yorck. The English translation is The Great Fire in New York.


For more, see D. H. Cresswell, American Revolution in Drawings and Prints, item 268