View of a Town on a River
Artist/maker unknown, American
Originally believed to be a view of Reading, Pennsylvania, this picture mixes the real and the fanciful. The composition and viewpoint-looking down from a hilltop onto a river that winds its way toward distant mountains-are quite similar to a view of Reading and the Schuylkill River that was issued as a print in 1839. However, the surrounding landscape in this image is very different from the print, and the onion-domed buildings did not exist in nineteenth-century Reading. Details such as the backpacker, goats, and alpine trees are reminiscent of towns in Germany or Austria, though the riverboat in the foreground bears an American flag. Rather than being a portrait of a specific town, this painting is probably a romantic evocation of familiar and picturesque elements designed to appeal to the many German immigrants who had settled near Reading by the mid-nineteenth century.