Fairmount Water Works
Born in London, Birch came to Pennsylvania in 1794 and settled at Neshaminy Bridge, Bucks County. Along with his father William, who was also an artist, he produced a set of topographical engravings called "Views of Philadelphia" (1798-1800). Soon afterward, Birch became interested in landscape painting. He is said to have walked along the banks of the Schuylkill River with other artists, including Thomas Sully, selecting picturesque views to paint. This view records Philadelphia’s major engineering feat of the nineteenth century, the celebrated Fairmount Water Works. Located near present day Boat House Row, the Water Works buildings have recently undergone restoration. Here they are seen in the days when the Norristown became the first steamboat to navigate the Schuylkill River.
Trained as an artist by his English-born father, who was an engraver, Birch may have seen such images in European prints, readily available in Philadelphia in the early nineteenth century. Birch and his father first worked together to produce scenes of Philadelphia, but gradually Thomas began to specialize in marine views.