Picture of a Blind Man Who Was on Board the Steamer From New Haven to Sterling, and Played the Violin With His Hands and the Violincelllo With His Feet.

Picture of a Blind Man Who Was on Board the Steamer From New Haven to Sterling, and Played the Violin With His Hands and the Violincelllo With His Feet.

[Vicinity of Sterling, NY?, circa 1840]. Pencil, ink and watercolor on wove paper, 9.125” x 7.1875”. Partially mounted on another sheet of paper.

A fascinating and delightful watercolor by an anonymous steamboat traveler on Lake Ontario depicting a blind musician on board who played the violin and the cello simultaneously, using both his hands and his feet.

This vivid watercolor bears witness to both the unusual talent of the musician as well as the sympathy and wonder that his performance inspired in the artist. Well-dressed in his blue coat, yellow vest, and cap, the blind man is shown sitting on a table while playing the violin. His cello rests on a low table at his feet, his right foot working the bow and his left the strings. As he is wearing shoes and not 'toe-playing,' it seems likely that the bow was somehow fastened to the sole of his shoe.

Broadly speaking, this image belongs to the genre of materials relating to the disabled and destitute who sought to support themselves through performance of some kind or publication of their stories, poems, etc. While so-called “beggar’s broadsides,” books, prints, and pamphlets are encountered with some frequency, it is quite unusual to meet with an original work of art picturing a musical performance by such an individual. Whether this musician was a regular fixture on the steamboat in question or an itinerant on his way from one town to the next, will likely remain a mystery.

The caption indicates that the steamboat was en route “from New Haven to Sterling.” These are almost certainly the port towns by those names about twenty-five miles apart on the southeastern shore of Lake Ontario.

A rare and affecting work of pictorial Americana.

Item #6145

Price: $6,500.00

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