The Colonel Richard Gimbel Aeronautical History Collection

The Genesis of Flight

Prints  1783 – 1802

Étienne et Joseph de Montgolfier frères, Nés à Annonay en Vivarais.

Roze (or Rose) Le Noir, after a bas-relief by Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741-1828) [Paris,1783].
Color engraving, and stipple engraving, à la poupée, in sepia and brown,15 x 9.5 cm.
XL-41 (3237)

Sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon produced a large number of busts of contemporary notables in various media between about 1771 and 1789. Houdon's 1783 relief of the Montgolfiers appears in several prints of the collection and on the medal of 1783 (XM-11 3506). This print was announced in the Journal de Paris of December 18, 1783, possibly "to be joined with Faujas de Saint-Fond's work," the Description des expériences aérostatiques, although in fact the book appeared without it. Rose Le Noir was either the daughter or the sister of the publisher Le Noir, who produced a number of early aeronautical prints. The eight lines of verse by Gudin de la Brenelerie at the base of this print promise that soon "the dangerous journey will no longer seem a mere entertainment." (A print with a similar title [lacking the "de" before "Montgolfier"] was designed and engraved by Robert De Launay [1754-1814], brother of Nicolas De Launay, and announced in the Journal de Paris of October 17, 1783. An advertisement for the De Launay print appeared in Faujas de Saint-Fond's Description [page xl], offering the print at the book's publisher [Cuchet] as well as the artist's, for 1 livre, 4 sous. The Gimbel collection includes five prints based on Houdon's motif.)

Montgolfier in the Clouds. Constructing of Air Balloons for the Grand Monarque.  Fourth Sketch

[London], published March 2, 1784.
Etching, 35 x 24.7 cm.
XP-XL-15 (1575)

In the monologue given as a caption, "Montgolfier" describes the ways in which the French will use the new invention to dominate the world. Clearly, the enthusiasm for Montgolfier and his useless balloons is seen as a trivial manifestation of French egotism. The bubbles are no doubt meant to suggest the insubstantial nature of the invention, relying upon a sense of the word "bubble" to connote a hoax. The caption makes mention of the British fortress of Gibraltar, whose siege by the Spanish and later the French from 1779 until February of 1783 is often cited as a motive for Joseph Montgolfier's invention of the balloon. (Apparently part of a series, as the title mentions "fourth sketch" and promises "a companion to follow in a few days.")

Montgolfier vole au Rang des dieux

Louis-Alexandre de Buigne, after a painting by Jean Biard [Marseilles], 1784.
Etching,  24 x 19.5 cm.
XP-XL-2 (1089)

In this etching, the name of Montgolfier is being entered by Immortality into the fastes du génie (or annals of genius) held by Time. The portrait bust on the pedestal is thought to be Louis XVI.  The balloon pictured with three fleur-de-lis is a bit enigmatic as it does not appear in any other print of the 1780s; it is probably intended to represent the balloon in general. The zodiacal spectrum at top with its Arabic numeral "12" between Libra and Scorpio must represent some event (on October 12?), but its significance is unknown. Unlike previous schematic uses of ethereal vapors to suspend figures, here the figure of Immortality rests on vapors that emanate from a man-made sack found among a heap of scientific instruments in the foreground. (A copy in the Bibliothèque National in Paris has this addition to the last line: "Se vend 24 s. à Marseille ché Briard rue Vacon hotel de Saxe.")

Jh. Ml. Montgolfier, Membre de la Légion d'Honneur

ca. 1810.
Stipple Engraving, 38 x 28.5 cm.
XL-20 (1836)

Joseph Montgolfier, who invented the balloon in 1782, was absent-minded in the extreme. It is said that, while traveling, he once forgot his horse, and once, his wife. Best known for his work with the balloon, he was perpetually musing and experimenting. This memorial print, issued after Montgolfier's death in 1810, celebrates both the balloon (or aërostat) and his bélier hydraulique, which worked to capture the force of moving water and convert it to use in pumping.  Although the vignette ineptly shows a gas balloon rather than a hot-air balloon, it does draw the viewer's attention to a bélier hydraulique lifting water high above a river. The scene evokes the dramatic countryside near Annonay, where Montgolfier was born in 1740. A few lines from The Odes of Horace (II, 18) serve as an epithet:

Non ebur neque Aureum . . . at fides et ingeni Benigna vena est. (Neither ivory nor gold . . . but loyalty and a kindly vein of genius.)

L'homme aerostatique ou mon pauvre oncle

[Paris, 1784].
Etching, colored, 26 x 20.1 cm.   
XL-15 (4628)

A letter in the Journal de Paris of October 3, 1783, describes the flight of the letter-writer's uncle, who, suffering from colic, accidentally received into his anus an injection of the "inflammable air" used in balloons, which caused him to fly from his bed and out the window. His nephew implored the Journal to publish his letter so the uncle might be found. Apparently this letter became something of a sensation as several prints appeared featuring the subject. On the door in the background one can read the words "Assemblé  Dexperience"; on the corner of the building, above the window, one reads "R. Neuve, St. Morceaux." (Related prints are XP-XL-15 1581, "The Day's Folly; XP-XL-15 1582, "L'homme aérostatique"; XP-XL-15 3434, "Avis très important"; and XP-XL-15 3448, "Graces à Dieu, voila mon Oncle retrouvé." A print with this title was announced in the Journal de Paris of April 17, 1784.)


London, published by J[ohn] Wilkes [of Millard House, Sussex,] June 28, 1803.
Engraving, colored, 19.8 x 24.7 cm.
XP-XL-9 (1362)

This print shows two popular balloon flights: the ascent of Pilâtre de Rozier and the Marquis d'Arlandes on November 21, 1783, and Jean-Pierre Blanchard's ascent of March 2, 1784. At bottom are shown preparations for the launch by J.A.C. Charles and the brothers Robert on August 27, 1783, and Vincent Lunardi's balloon, which first flew on September 15, 1784. In the center appears the view of the city of Chester as recorded by Thomas Baldwin and first published in 1786. The publisher, John Wilkes, issued a number of specialized offprints based on the articles in his Encyclopaedia Londinensis, and this print may have been prepared to accompany one on aerostation, of which no record can now be found. (A similar plate engraved by [Inigo] Barlow is dated 1796 and appears in the 1797 and 1810 editions of Wilkes' Encyclopaedia Londinensis. The Gimbel collection includes an earlier print in the same genre, print XP-XL-22 1867, "Representation of various balloons, with the methods of constructing and filling them.")

Embrâsement déplorable de la Machine Aërostatique des Srs. Miolan et Janinet le dimanche 11 Juillet 1784

Paris, [1784?].
Engraving, 25.5 x 38.2 cm. (image)
XP-XL-5 (1185)


The engraver Jean-François Janinet and the Abbé Miolan constructed a hot-air balloon in Paris with funds raised through subscription. Subscribers were entitled to watch the inflation and flight from within the confines of the Luxembourg Gardens; the event was regulated by the police who had dealt with trouble at other such events. Twenty thousand spectators packed the gardens on Sunday, July 11, 1784, suffering through long delays on a still, sweltering day. Janinet and Miolan (like all balloonists in all times) strongly felt their obligations to the crowd, and inflated their balloon despite the heat, the resulting lack of lift, and probable failure; when the balloon's crown caught fire, the ascent was postponed. The spectators in the garden left peacefully, but the crowd outside the garden entered and destroyed the balloon.

On the lower left one can see Janinet and Miolan (depicted as an ass and a cat), together with the Marquis d'Arlandes, hurrying themselves from the scene. The ladders may have been provided to those who wished to climb into the nearby trees and walls to watch the ascent; certainly the chairs so prominent in this depiction were available only to the aristocrats who could afford to enter the enclosure. To the eighteenth-century eye this print symbolized a revolt upon the social hierarchy.  (Colonel Gimbel collected a number of prints satirizing this event or the characters of the proprietors including: 1181, "Un chat est un chat"; 1182, "Les phisiciens travaillants à l'observatoire dédié aux souscripteurs"; 1183 "Jugement définitif en faveur des Srs. Miolan et Janinet" (not in color); 1184, "La physique confond l'ignorance."  All are in XP-XL-5. Grand-Carteret [p. xiii] shows an unusual print of this aircraft rising from the ground titled "Machine aërostatique de MMrs. l'Abbé Miolan et Janinet.")

Jugement définitif en faveur des Srs. Miolan et Janinet

Etching, 20 x 24.5 cm.
XP-XL-5 (1186)


A murderous ocean of ridicule descended on the Abbé Miolan and Jean-François Janinet, manifested in numerous prints whose symbols, as in this etching, parodied their names. Miolan, whose name sonically resembled the French word miaulement (meowing), kneels before the same symbol of immortality that Jean Biard employed in the austere print XP-XL-2 1089, "Montgolfier vole au rang des dieux." Janinet, whose name suggested  i, or ass, is shown at left, eating hay in a cart; the cart resembles the gondola of the balloon. Sued by one subscriber for the cost of the subscription, Miolan prevailed in court, having solicited the supporting opinions of Pilâtre de Rozier and Faujas de Saint-Fond.  Intent on vindicating his name as a physicist, he later received an exonerating opinion from Étienne Montgolfier. The author of this print asserts in the text:

You wrongly asked for pardon, and are justly derided.
Come! all of Paris condemns you, you will never be but an ass.
Eat hay [i.e., be a fool]; it's the wages of physicists like you.
You knew how to please the young asses, and will excite no jealousy.

One historian has pointed out that it was not the paying subscribers who rioted but the spectators outside the walls; although the rioters had not lost money per se, they were enraged at waiting for what they came to consider a fraud. Miolan and Janinet were never able to overcome this perception with the populace of Paris, which no doubt counted among the asses described above the applauding aristocrats on the right of the print. The image held by the ass in the cart is based on the engraved admission ticket issued for this event, one of which is preserved in the Gimbel collection. It depicts the balloon before a rainbow and two small balloons (or spheres) on tethers above and below the main balloon. (A less-detailed version of this print, in reverse, is the uncolored XP-XL-5 1183, which is an etching with aquatint in sepia. There has survived, to my knowledge, only one nonsatirical depiction of this balloon, which was to test vents in the envelope as a means of horizontal propulsion, at the suggestion of Joseph Montgolfier.)

Les Deux Midas.  Vue de l'Elévation du Globe Aërostatique faite par un détachement des Gardes Suisses, sous la direction des Messieurs Miolan et Janinet le 11 Juillet 1784

Etching, 22 x 25.6 cm.
XP-XL-5 (1188)


Full of insults, this print represents the unprecedented assault on Miolan and Janinet in the popular culture of Paris. The two balloonists are shown at right and left, both with the ears of an ass, and Miolan with the head of a cat. Their buttocks are bared in the manner of other satirical prints that play upon the contemporary association of human gas and the "air inflammable" used in balloons.  At the feet of the balloonists stand upturned hats full of coins, beneath which the two captions refer to the "elevation" attained by the balloon, the bottom-most claiming it to be "27 feet, 11 inches, 5 lines, with the help of a pole of like height." Around each balloonist's neck is a noose-like vine of oak leaves.  The satirical vignette at bottom, titled "Projet d'un monument," is clearly based upon the vignette of the same title in print XP-XL-4 1141, "Le moment d'hilarité universelle" and represents either an upturned hat ready to receive the charity of the people or a barber's bowl, perhaps playing on the verb raser (to shave, to demolish). In colloquial use, the verb also means "to bore." The proposed monument with its fetters is surrounded with the inscription:

Chacun son métier, et les vaches seront bien gardées (Everyone to his craft, and the cows will be well tended).

It appears that the central portion of this print may have been prepared as a formal depiction of the inflation, and the satirical borders added following the loss of the balloon on July 11. The title ("The Two Midas") evokes the mythological king who was given the gift of "the golden touch," and no doubt refers to the venality of the two balloonists. The central ornament at top prominently features a whistle (evoking the practice of hooting) and a pipe of Pan, sometimes used for disciplining dogs and cats. Viewers conversant with mythology might have recalled that after Midas had judged a musical contest between Apollo and Pan and decided against the former, Apollo changed Midas' ears into those of an ass.

Machine aërostatique, destinée pour la Ville de Boulogne

Voisin, sculp.
1785.  Etching, 29.8 x 18.2 cm.   
XP-XL-5 (4623)

This balloon was launched from France on June 15, 1785, in an attempt to cross the Channel. It was the first balloon that combined hot air (in the long column) with hydrogen (in the sphere). Although technical information is vague, it appears that in order to provide lift, the heat from the burner was intended to rarefy the air in the column rather than the gas in the sphere. Like other prints, this one shows the two parts of the balloon as contiguous, although other descriptions and other prints indicate that a space of several yards separated the two parts. Flown by its builder, Jules Romain, and the famous Pilâtre de Rozier, this kind of balloon came to be called a "rozière." Using helium for a lifting gas and propane to heat it, the rozière became popular for long flights. (The same print in Bruel [106] has Calais rather than Boulogne in the title, no doubt indicating a change of plans in the launch site.  Print XP-XL-5 1199 is an imaginary view of the balloon setting out from Calais.)

Monsieur Pilatre de Rosier qui avec le Marquis d'Arlandes avoit fait la premiere ascension dans les airs ou Château de la Muette le [21 novembre] 1783

Aquatint, 40 x 27.5 cm. 
XP-XL-25 (2015)

The title is not directly relevant to the event illustrated; taken from the first line of the caption, it describes Pilâtre de Rozier as the aeronaut who accompanied the Marquis d'Arlandes on the flight from the Château de la Muette in 1783. Depicted in this print is the world's first aeronautical disaster, which occurred when Romain and Pilâtre's balloon, shown in print 4623, caught fire and crashed to earth while still over France. The fire is usually attributed to sparks from the burner, which ignited escaping hydrogen; but another theory postulates that the valve line, which ran outside of the envelope to the top of the balloon, produced a spark while being worked against the gold-leaf decorations on the envelope. Pilâtre was dead when onlookers reached the balloon, and Romain died shortly after. It is said that Pilâtre's fiancée, Susan Dyer, was so shocked by the sight of the crash that she died soon afterward. (The publisher of this print must have lacked reliable information about the date of the flight by Pilâtre de Rozier and the Marquis d'Arlandes [which was November 21, 1783]—a blank area in the caption has been left for it.)

Dover Castle, with the setting off of the balloon to Calais, in January 1785

William Russell Birch (1755–1834), after a painting by Thomas Rowlandson (1756–1827)
London, 1789.  Etching, 15 x 17.5 cm.
XP-XL-6 (1230)


Shown against the backdrop of Dover Castle is the balloon of Jean-Pierre Blanchard and his passenger, John Jeffries, an American physician who had moved with his family to London. Trained in both medicine and physics, Jeffries financed the flight to conduct his own scientific research. Their two-hour flight carried them across the Channel to France on January 7, 1785. During the voyage the two balloonists had to jettison nearly everything, including some of their clothing, in order to avoid landing in the Channel. Then, as they flew over France near Calais, they jettisoned their urine to slow their descent.  Despite the calmness permeating this print, the relationship between the two men was poor; Tom Crouch characterized the preparations for the flight as a time of "constant bickering." (Print XP-XL-6 1229, an etching with simple lines, is based upon the same painting. The event was a popular subject for painters. Liebmann and Wahl [#48] show a similar painting, "The balloon leaving Dover 1785 from the oil painting by E. W. Cocks, in the possession of Sir Mortimer Singer." Leichter als Luft [p. 83] shows the Cocks painting [p. 179] as well as an oil attributed to the early nineteenth century, which is in the Science Museum, London.)

The celebrated Vincent Lunardi Esqr. accompanied by two friends in his third aerial excursion

Francesco Bartolozzi (1728–1815), after a painting by J.F. Rigaud (1742–1810).  London, 1785. "Published June 25, 1785 by E. Wyatt next door to the Pantheon, London."
Etching, 33.5 x 25 cm.
XP-XL-7 (1263)

This elaborate print, which emphasizes the dash of the aeronauts more than the flight, was published on June 25, 1785, to commemorate a planned flight on June 29. We see that the balloon was to be readied for three people. A memoir written by "Mrs. Sage," the woman depicted in the print, records that five people crowded into the basket when the balloon was inflated; their weight proved too much for the available lift. Three, including Lunardi, left the gondola, and Mrs. Sage and the 25-year-old George Biggin ascended, making Sage "the first English female aerial traveller." Sage mused that Mr. Biggin thought it "no degradation to communicate his observations to a woman, of whose understanding, I am proud to think, he had not a contemptible opinion." While aloft, Biggin made various scientific observations, holding an electrometer with two pith balls at arm's length and "exposing it to a cloud we were then passing . . . he told me his conclusion, which was that the electricity of that cloud was negative.”

(With the glass, one can see the ghost of an eradicated line of text that lies behind the last line of the caption in this print; the eradicated caption appears to include the word Oxford." This print can be found in three states: one with the title: "V. Lunardi Esqr. Mrs. Sage G. Biggin Esqr.," published May 13, 1785, by "Mr. Bovi . . . Oxford Market"; one with the title as above ["The celebrated Vincent Lunardi . . ."]; and one with the title: "The three favorite aerial Travellers."

In the last state, the artist has added a hat and improved the collar and tie of the figure on the left, which is no doubt George Biggin. This change might have resulted from the wealthy Biggin's objection that without these accessories he would appear as the social inferior of Lunardi, although in fact Biggin had provided substantial monetary support to the balloonist. Gibbs-Smith describes Lunardi's dress as "the uniform of the Honourable Artillery Company." The cannon-like device below the basket may be intended to represent and publicize Lunardi's poorly documented experiments with cannons. What seems to be the original drawing for this print is shown in Alvin Josephy, Adventure of Man's Flight, p. 52. This plate reportedly existed and was being used in the twentieth century.  The engraver, Francesco Bartolozzi [whose life dates have also been given as 1748—1815], engraved Lunardi's portrait in 1784 [Gimbel XC-10-2A 3261].)

A balloon ascent a century ago

Maurice Leloir (1853-1940)
1889.  "Chromotypogravure,"  52.5 x 38 cm.
XP-XL-6 (1255)

Large, fanciful, and striking, this "chromotypogravure" shows two aeronauts aloft in an ornate car adorned with French symbols. The artist, a specialist in historical costume and known for book illustration and theatre-set design, seems to have borrowed from the print that shows Lunardi, Sage, and Biggin (XP-XL-7 1263). It is possible that Jean-Pierre Blanchard is the male figure, although it is difficult to determine who the woman is meant to be (Marie Madeleine Sophie Blanchard did not make her first ascent until 1804). The large flags bear Virgil's phrase, which is used repeatedly in connection with ballooning: Sic itur ad astra (thus immortality [or the heavens] is/are gained); the same motto was given to Pierre Montgolfier's family when ennobled in 1783 by Louis XVI. This is romantic art fit for a cereal box, shown for its artistic rather than historic properties. The print is signed and dated in the scene at lower right. (In Neidhardt-Jensen [p. 103] this same print appears titled: “Une ascension, il y a cent ans.”)

The New Mode of Picking Pockets

London, published by E. Hodges, September 14, 1784.
Etching, 32.5 x 22.5 cm.    
XL-5 (3431)

This British print was published while the moneyed were still within the throes of balloonmania, but it evokes a growing suspicion regarding the balloon and its increasingly venal promoters. In a style like that of "Aerostation out at elbows" (see print XP-XL-7 1264), it depicts a well-manicured balloonist as a pickpocket and knave. The print is rather crudely crafted, and within the caption for London on the right, the wording has been reworked to correct an error with little attempt to erase the old lettering. This print no doubt was inspired by the balloonist Chevalier de Moret, who had built a balloon and prepared to launch it from a garden in Chelsea, London, on August 11, 1784. Although he claimed to be an associate of the Montgolfiers, "Count" Moret apparently knew little of ballooning, and his balloon failed to ascend despite three hours of preparations. The balloon finally collapsed into the fire, at which point part of the crowd of 50,000 rioted, entered the enclosure, robbed the subscribers, and destroyed benches, windows, and equipment. Hodges published this print the day before the first successful ascent in England by Vincent Lunardi. (George [vol. vi., p. 166] lists this print without showing publisher and with the attributed date of August 1784, suggesting that another state of this print [or a copy] appeared without this information.)

All on Fire, or the Doctors disappointed; a view taken in Lord Foley's garden Sep. 29, 1784

London, published by E. Wyatt, October 20, 1784.
Mixed method intaglio, etching with mezzotint, 27.5 x 36.5 cm.
XP-XL-5 (1195)


The printmakers of London had another aeronautical attempt to caricature after the hot-air balloon of Allen Keegan caught fire before launch. Associated with the anatomist Dr. John Sheldon (who later ascended with Blanchard on October 12) and possibly Jean-Pierre Blanchard, Keegan inflated the large balloon at least once in mid-August before a free-flight was announced in late September. A tradesman dealing in umbrellas and waterproof items, Keegan made his envelope of coarse varnished linen. Two numbers in lower right (1: principal figure; and 2: companion) refer to figures in the foreground, whom Marsh identifies as Blanchard (left) and Sheldon (right). Four fire engines were on hand as a precaution when the balloon was engulfed. (George [6703] reports publication on October 20, 1784, by E. Wyatt, No. 360 Oxford St., London. She tentatively attributes this print to the famous Paul Sandby [1725-1809], who designed numerous prints using balloons and flight as a motif.)

Aerostation out at Elbows, or the Itinerant Aeronaut

[Thomas Rowlandson, 1756-1827]  [London, 1785]. 
Etching, colored, 23.5 x 21.2 cm. (image)
XP-XL-7 (1264)

This caricature of Vincent Lunardi shows him in rags with an outstretched hand.  After conducting the first successful ascent in London in 1784, Lunardi made many ascents in Great Britain. This print appears somewhat providential because during December 1785, Lunardi—then on the road with his balloon—lost it at sea after an ascent from Edinburgh. He was rescued by fishermen, and his balloon was later recovered; but Britain had apparently tired of the balloon craze. After a botched ascent in Newcastle that ended with the death of an assistant, Lunardi turned his attention to a maritime life-saving apparatus. He resumed ballooning in 1788 when he returned to Italy. Eight lines of verse on the print suggest his fall from popularity, so that he, "now drooping, roams about from town to town."  Various authorities attribute this work to Thomas Rowlandson, the famous satirist. (Print XP-XL-7 1264a is an uncolored copy, and both it and XP-XL-7 1264 are trimmed; neither shows publisher or date. George [6858] reports publication on September 5, 1785, by T. Cornell, Bruton Street, London, with a second issue [6858A] on March 24, 1786, by E. Jackson, No. 14 Marylebone Street, Golden Square, London.)

Ire Expérience de la Machine Aérostatique avec les moyens de la diriger à volonté par le Docteur Jonathan

[c. 1785?  Paris?] "Dessiné d'après Nature & Gravé par Waulstaine et se Vend chez lui au No. 122 en la Cité à Londres." Copy 2 is uncolored. 
Etching, 13.7 x 18 cm. 
XP-XL-25 (2010)


This fantastic depiction of a dirigible balloon may have inspired the well-known Minerve of Étienne Robertson, although some students of the period (Bruel [De Vinck] #985; Liebmann and Wahl #257) have mistaken it for a representation of an actual flight. The print is probably a sarcastic response to grandiose schemes like the airship shown in print XP-XL-4 1121. The artist "Waulstaine" does not appear in any of the standard references, and it is curious that his prints would be captioned in French while supposedly published in London. Perhaps the name is a thinly veiled recasting of "wall stain" and represents a publisher working discreetly in Paris. (Another print [XP-XL-25 2011] shows this airship leaving the ground; showing "Waulstain" as publisher, the print purports to represent the second trial of the aircraft on January 10, 1784. The aircraft is similar to that depicted in XP-XL-16 1627, XP-XL-16 1628, XP-XL-25 2014, and others.)

Globo Aereostatico di Diametro pal.40. Romani inalzatro in Roma dal Sig.r Vincenzo Lunardi

Rome, [1788].
Etching, 18.8 x 26.4 cm.
XP-XL-7 (1274)

In 1784 Vincent Lunardi attempted to use airborne oars, whose operation can be pretty easily surmised from this depiction of 1788. The oars were intended to move the aircraft both vertically and horizontally, but in fact could do nothing to move the great mass of the balloon. Lunardi first tried his oars very briefly during his London flight of September 15, 1784, when he claimed some effect from their use; like other devices of the period, Lunardi's oars were designed to let air flow through them on the backstroke and to provide useful resistance during the stroke. As with other prints celebrating the ascents of Lunardi and probably initiated by him, this print of his ascent in Rome on July 8, 1788, was no doubt prepared prior to the event. The circumstances of this launch were difficult, and records of it are confusing. Apparently Lunardi had some trouble with the quality or quanitity of lifting gas, and near midnight he substituted the lighter Carlo Lucangeli for himself. Lucangeli endured a short flight, unable because of fright to release his grip on the support ropes and compelled to take the valve line in his teeth in order to descend. The substitution of Lucangeli was a disappointment to the people of Rome, and Lunardi, accused of cowardice, was ordered by the governor of Rome to refund his proceeds to the subscribers. It was Lucangeli, rather than Lunardi, who ascended that day. (Another print issued of this ascent, "Globo Aereostatico di diametro pal.40 Romi inalzato in Roma," copies this one for its deptiction of the balloon, which is shown in reverse, with Lunardi looking left and his dog on the right, but it was later reworked to show Lucangeli in a cage-like basket.)

L'ascension de la Nymphe aérienne s'est faite le 1er. Janvier 1787 sur la place du quartier des Buisses à Lille par le Sr. Enslen

Etching, 18.5 x 23.5cm.
XP-XL-8 (1282)


"Special shape balloons" are so common today that congregations of them are popular spectacles. They date to 1783, however, and were readily available from makers in Europe's larger cities. Karl Enslen and his unnamed brother reportedly made a specialty of balloons shaped like people, and various prints exist of these dating from 1784 to 1795. The pronounced headpiece of the Nymphe may be an exaggerated representation of a balloon hat or it may be a ridiculous characterization of the period's coiffures. Another balloon, rather difficult to discern, can be seen above and to the right of the Nymphe. (Leichter als Luft [p. 64] shows a print depicting the flight of the Nymphe on July 12, 1784, in Strasbourg, with its filling apparatus below; here the headpiece can be seen to be in the form of a Montgolfier balloon. In addition, Gimbel XP-XL-22 1867: "Representation of various balloons, with the methods of constructing and filling them," depicts an aerostatic horse and rider, "which was exhibited at the Pantheon by the brothers Enslen.")

Les Jacobins allant révolutioner la lune en ballons

Mixed method intaglio, engraving with aquatint,
34.8 x 25 cm.  (image) 
XP-XL-15 (1586)

A banner hanging from the balloon at center reads: A la lune, chers amis (to the moon, good friends). Other balloons can be seen in the sky. The artist seems to be suggesting that the French Revolution had been reckless in overstepping France's borders and is attempting an improbable task. The caption ends with the words from a popular revolutionary song: Ah! Ça ira, ça ira, ça ira (Ah! It will work out, it will work out, it will work out), which was the main anthem of the revolution until the introduction of La Marseillaise in 1792. The undocumented monogram "J.S" appears in a circle below the image on the lower right.

America's First Successful Air Flight—Philadelphia, January 1793

Roland F. Harper (?–ca.1958)
[1954].  Lithograph, from a scratchboard drawing, 27.8 x 18.4 cm.
XP-XL-28 (2281)

This modern drawing depicts the launch of Jean-Pierre Blanchard in Philadelphia in January 1793, considered the first ascent in America. No doubt Blanchard, who was fleeing the chaotic conditions of the French Revolution in Europe, planned to continue his practice of touring an uninitiated country and providing the spectacle of a balloon ascent in some of the larger cities. (His last ascent had been in the Tyrolean mountains of Austria in July 1792, where he had been imprisoned for disseminating revolutionary ideas.) The Philadelphia flight, which was his forty-fifth, was a financial failure.  He attempted to raise interest in further ascents by exhibiting his large balloon and by sending animals aloft with small balloons. He made stops in Charleston, Boston, and finally New York, where a tornado destroyed the balloon and killed Blanchard's 16-year-old son on September 14, 1796. When he left New York in May 1797 the New York Diary reported sarcastically, "Blanchard has at last taken his flight," a witticism reminiscent of the response to Blanchard's bateau volant, when popular French songs exploited the double meaning of voler (to fly, to steal). His next ascent was in Rouen, France, in 1798. This print was issued as a Christmas greeting from the Ajax Electric Company in Philadelphia in 1954; from 1935 to 1970, the company, which manufactures furnaces for industrial heat treating, issued a series of Christmas prints emphasizing Philadelphia history. Harper, a commercial artist known for his scratchboard work, was commissioned for at least seven of the prints between 1948 and 1957. 

(This print can be compared to the work of Philadelphian Charles R. Gardner [1901– ? ], who produced a woodcut or wood engraving in 1931 of this ascent; the print appeared in the 1943 edition of  The First Air Voyage in America, published by the Penn Mutual Life Insurance Co. of Philadelphia, whose office occupies the site of the 1793 ascent.)

An exact Representation of M. Garnerin's Balloons, with an accurate View of The Ascent and Descent of the Parachute

H. Merke, after a drawing by G. Fox. 
London, 1802.  Softground etching, 35.7 x 24.8 cm.

Published November 30, 1802.  Upper left: flight June 28, 1802, from Ranelagh to Essex, 60 miles in 45 minutes.  Center: descent by parachute over London; first parachute descent in England, 10 minutes 20 seconds from 8,000 feet, September 21, 1802.  Upper right: descent of cat by parachute.  Lower left: July 5, 1802.  Lower right: September 7, 1802. 
XP-XL-24 (1992)


These depictions chronicle some of the work of balloonist André Jaques Garnerin, who came to England in 1802 and ascended from various parks and pleasure gardens. In 1802, the year this print was issued, the parachute was still a novel invention that had not been perfected and remained to be proved. Its origins are not positively known, although we can see the concept expressed much earlier than the technique was tried (for example, in the long-obscured work of Leonardo da Vinci and in L'uom volante of 1781 [see print XP-XL-27 2223]). A parachute appears on some of the views of Blanchard's vaisseau volant, as well as on his balloon of February 27, 1784, and Blanchard began parachuting animals from balloons on June 3, 1784. Generally the invention of the parachute is credited to Joseph Montgolfier or Blanchard (both in 1777) or to Sébastien Lenormand in 1783. The center panel of this print shows Garnerin himself descending from his balloon, "the first ever made in England by parachute." The life dates of engraver Merke are unknown, but he is known to have been born near Zurich at the end of the eighteenth century; he worked in London from 1800 to 1820. (Another work [Gimbel XP-XL-11 3446] is a watercolor depiction titled "Ascent of three Persons with a Balloon from Vauxhall Gardens 1802." It shows a small parachute descending from the balloon.)