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Happy Fourth of July!

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We generally equate fireworks with contemporary celebrations for the Fourth of July, but this etching proves they’ve been lighting up the sky to celebrate momentous occasions for centuries.

The Fireworks, a recent acquisition by Jean Michel Moreau, the Younger, marked the birth of dauphin Louis-Joseph, the son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Theatrical spectacles like this were common for royal weddings and births, especially so for the first born son and the expected future king of France (he died from illness at age 7). By miniaturizing the thousands of onlookers in the foreground, Moreau was able to emphasize the sheer size of the pyrotechnic festivities and the importance of the event. The size of the print (54.3 x 80.2 cm.) also contributes to its rarity; this impression was preserved in an album, as were most surviving examples.

Jean Michel Moreau, the Younger. The Fireworks, January 21, 1782. The Amanda S. Johnson and Marion Livingston Fund.