• Travel, Science and Natural Hi auction at Christies

    Sale 5489

    Travel, Science and Natural History

    22 April 2010, London, South Kensington

  • Lot 181

    Frederick Catherwood (1799-1854)

    Well and building at Sabachtsché (Yucatán)

    Price Realised  


    Frederick Catherwood (1799-1854)
    Well and building at Sabachtsché (Yucatán)
    watercolour with scratching out on paper
    11½ x 15¼in. (29.2 x 38.7cm.)

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    'These buildings lie well within the orbit of the League of Mayapán. The structure here pictured, more as background to the Indians than a detailed archaeological study, is 20ft. long, 10ft. wide, built with characteristic roof-comb. This picture of the Indian women drawing water from the cenote is actually a synthesis of two scenes, since the cenote is located in the village some distance from the ruins.' (F.Catherwood, loc. cit.)

    Special Notice

    No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VAT at 17.5% will be added to the buyer's premium, which is invoiced on a VAT inclusive basis.


    By descent from the artist's goddaughter Emily ... to the present owner.

    Pre-Lot Text


    From dawn till dusk, day after day, this martyr to archaeology had exposed himself to all the winged and crawling malice of tropical nature. Ticks, ants, wasps, flies, mosquitoes; they had bitten him, stung him, drunk his blood, infected him with malaria. But the man had grimly gone on drawing. Itching, swollen, burning or shuddering with fever, he had filled whole portfolios with the measured plans and elevations of temples, with studies of Mayan sculpture so scientifically accurate that modern experts in pre-Colombian history can spell out the date of a stele from Catherwood's representation of its, to him, imcomprehensible hieroglyphs. Aldous Huxley in the introduction to V.W. von Hagen, Frederick Catherwood, Arch., New York, 1950, p.xv.)

    Catherwood set out with John Lloyd Stephens to Mexico and Guatemala in 1839 to explore the monuments and buildings of the little known Mayan civilisation. On two expeditions, in 1839-40 and 1841-42, Catherwood systematically recorded the sites, producing the first accurate drawings of Mayan buildings and inscriptions. The drawings were the models for the engravings in Stephens's two books on the expeditions (Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and the Yucatan (1841) and Incidents of Travel in the Yucatan (1843)), and for Catherwood's own Views published in 1844. Catherwood described the drawings in the introduction to his Views: 'They illustrate some of the more striking objects which engaged my notice as an Artist, during the expeditions, undertaken expressly with a view of exploring the ruined sites of Central America, and preserving some memorials of their present state. The first of these was devoted chiefly to the centres known under the above general title, including the States of Honduras, Guatemala, Chiapas &c. The ruins of Copán and Palenque were visited during this journey, which occupied part of the years 1839 and 1840. A brief sojourn in Yucatán having shown the richness of the antiquarian harvest that there awaits the gleaner, a second journey, for its more thorough examination, was determined on, in the year 1841: in its progress most of the Drawings in the present volume were made.'