Batter up! A retro baseball watercolor that knocks it outta the park
Opening day was a little over a month ago, which means baseball season is in full swing—and with it, our annual impulse to stake out the nosebleed section, double fist hot dogs, and watch some pros do their thing on the diamond. You don’t have to be a sports fan to appreciate the appeal of a sunny day at the stadium, and loving the warm, nostalgia-soaked watercolor scene in our new Vintage Edition also requires zero interest in athletics. Of course, this late 1800s-era beauty, Baseball, is extra enjoyable for the major league enthusiasts out there.
Which reminds us: Father’s Day isn’t so far away that it would be weird to start formulating a gifting strategy. Is he a baseball fan with good taste to boot? We’re betting this retro art would hit a home run. (If your dad’s more ballet than baseball, we’ve got that covered too.) Anyone who’s partial to America’s pastime will find something to love about this vintage print.
This 19th century morsel of Americana was actually painted by a Canadian. Henry Sandham had a tendency toward sentimentality in his art, which worked in his favor while capturing a subject so iconically American. Baseball is more than just a fixed moment in the game—it’s eloquently environmental. The details Sandham’s worked in convey a vibe, telling a story about patience and anticipation, home teams and fans in the stands, dusty midday light and rolled up sleeves to beat the heat. Players eye a ball we can’t see, an outfielder edges toward a catch, others fidget on the bench, a languid breeze ruffles flags around the ballpark. You can practically smell the concession stand.
A Montréalais by birth, Sandham set his sights on an artistic career from an early age, very much against his father’s wishes. Consequently going it alone, he picked up a job at Scottish-Canadian photographer William Notman’s photographic studio at the ripe old age of 14. As there was no nearby art school, Sandham spent the ensuing years studying drawing, watercolor, and painting under Notman’s Art Director, John Arthur Fraser.
When Fraser eventually left to expand the business, Sandham took over as Head of the Art Department, going on to develop the technique to produce the large composite photographs the studio would become known for—one such image even won an award at the 1878 Exposition Universelle in Paris. The studio would be named Notman and Sandham in 1877. That same year, Sandham began creating illustrations for Scribner’s Monthly. This coincided with a prolific period of painting, illustration and photography. His work would accompany writing by numerous notable authors and earn him the honor of being named a charter member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts.
In 1880, Sandham and his wife went on a brief trip to Boston that turned into a twenty-year stay. He dissolved his partnership with Notman and turned his focus to artmaking full time. He created a series of sports-centric watercolors that would be published in the mid-1880s, including Baseball. You might think baseball in Boston and assume Red Sox, but Sandham probably created this image several years before the Boston Red Sox officially came to be. What we’re looking at is more likely the Red Caps/Beaneaters. (Baseball history buffs: hit us up if you’ve got a different take!)
Sandham’s illustrations would appear in all sorts of popular books and magazines during his lifetime, but they’re more than just a indicator of the artist’s achievements. In retrospect, artworks like Baseball give us a glimpse into American cultural history, and a chance to consider the defining power of our collective pastimes.