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A View of Charles Town

Leitch, Thomas
Place Made:
Charleston South Carolina United States of America
Date Made:
oil on canvas
HOA: 22-3/4″; WOA 62-7/8″
Accession Number:
SUBJECT: In October 1773 the artist Thomas Leitch advertised that in The South Carolina Gazette:

“PROPOSALS for publishing by SUBSCRIPTION, a View of Charles-Town: THIS View has been taken with the greatest Accuracy and Care by Mr. LEECH, who is now employed about painting a finished Picture from the Drawings already made by him.–The Picture will be ready to send Home by the next Ships, expected from London, in order to be engraved; and will be so exact a Portrait of the Town, as it appears from the Water, that every House in View will be distinctly known;–and that nothing might be wanting to render it most complete, the two greatest Artists in the World–Messrs. WOOLETT and SMITH have been engaged and have undertaken to engrave it. Mr. LEECH cannot support the Expense of such a Work without Assistance, and therefore proposes to all Lovers of the Polite Arts, opening a Subscription, at so low a Price as a GUINEA a Piece:–Half to be paid down at the Time of subscribing, the other Half on the Delivery of the Print.

Leitch followed through with this plan and sent the completed painting to London where it was engraved and printed.

Leitch captured Charleston just before the American Revolution at the height of its prosperity. The vantage point of the viewer is Shute’s Folly looking across the Cooper River to Charleston. Many of the buildings are readily identifiable, including the spires of St. Michael’s and St. Phillips churches, the Exchange, and the now lost Charles Pinckney house. By compressing the horizon between the vast sea and sky, Leitch emphasized the size of the city and scale of its buildings.

Leitch’s view also, perhaps, alludes to the trouble brewing between the American Colonies and the mother country. Months before he painted his view Britain passed the Tea Act. The resulting boycott dramatically reduced merchant activity in Charleston Harbor. In this image we see only a single English ship.

ARTIST: Except for the South Carolina Gazette advertisement for the print of Leitch’s painting, little else is known of the artist. An article in the October 25, 1773 issue says that a “Mr. Thomas Leech, of London” recently arrived in Charles Town. One other painting, a view of New York, in the Winterthur collection is signed by Leitch. (WM acc. 1956.0564).

RELATED OBJECTS: The MESDA collection also has the print engraved after this view (MESDA acc. 2024.29)

DESCRIPTION: Painting, oil on canvas, of Charles Town showing the city waterfront as seen from across the Cooper River. A large sailing ship is in the left foreground, the opposite shore in foreground with various figures along the shore.

Credit Line:
Purchase Fund