Skip Navigation Links  The Library of Congress >> Researchers
Prints and Photographs Reading Room (Prints and Photographs Division)
  Home >> Center for Architecture, Design and Engineering >> Biographies and Essays

J. Goldsborough Bruff (1804-1889)


Joseph Goldsborough Bruff, who customarily signed himself J. Goldsborough Bruff, was a topographical and architectural draftsman and "designing artist" in United States Government service for almost sixty of his nearly eighty-five years. He was an inventive, imaginative, and a creative decorative artist, talents amply demonstrated by many of his surviving works. Bruff, whose family name may originally have been spelled "Brough," was a man of wide-ranging intellectual interests, as attested to by the varied contents of his library of 322 volumes embracing history, travel, the fine arts, religion, philosophy, literature and scientific works. He did not read any foreign language.

Bruff's private collection included a portrait of John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, by Sir Godfrey Kneller, ancient coins, numerous autograph letters by notable Americans, Native American weapons and "curiosities" ranging from fragments of wood from historical sites to a buckler made from the snout of a rhinoceros. A description of his "veritable museum" published six days before his death did not mention shells, although he had been an avid conchologist at one stage of his life.

Bruff appears to have been short-tempered in his youth, sensitive, adventurous and endowed throughout his life with more than a modicum of the self-esteem commonly supposed to be an integral element of the "artistic temperament." His writings and certain drawings reveal a decided sense of humor, as in his "seeing the elephant" series in his western journal. He deeply venerated George Washington, but his fervent patriotism sometimes verged on chauvinism. His cheerful and optimistic temperament gained him the many friends whose esteem he retained for years. Unfortunately, he appears to have been impractical, even improvident, in the management of his monetary affairs.

Bruff was born on 2 October 1804 in one of the locally famous "Six Buildings," a block of fine residences built in the 1790s at the northwest corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 21st Street in Washington, D.C. (LOT 12013-FF-1). His father, Thomas Bruff, a physician, dentist and inventor, was born in Chestertown, Maryland. His death in 1816, when Goldsborough was only twelve, must have impelled the lad toward the self-reliance that characterized his adventurous and varied career. At the age of sixteen the young Bruff was admitted to West Point in 1820, but he resigned or was dismissed in 1822, reputedly after involvement in a duel. His mother had died on 14 April 1821. It is certain that the young orphan's training in topographical work and drawing was received at West Point.

Bruff subsequently shipped as cabin boy to British and Netherlandish ports and had later sailed to the West Indies and South American countries. Those Wanderjahren had ended by 2 June 1827 when Bruff was employed as a draftsman at the Gosport Navy Yard near Norfolk, Virginia. That assignment ended on 3 September 1837 after which he served for almost two years as a draftsman at Fortress Monroe. Following four months of self-employment, Bruff jointed the staff of the U.S. Bureau of Topographical Engineers in the War Department, where he remained until he resigned in the spring of 1849 to organize the Washington City and California Mining Association.

Having made duplicate drawings of all of Fremont's Reports, maps, plates, &c. for the two houses of Congress - it revived the Spirit of adventure so long dormant, [sic!] and I was anxious to travel over, and see what my friend had so graphically and scientifically realized: more particularly when a golden reward appear'd to be awaiting us at the nether end of the route. (Gold Rush, p. xxx)

Bruff captained an expedition of sixty-six well-equipped men in uniforms of his own design across the continent. He organized the armaments and obtained the fourteen wagons, fourteen large tents and seventy mules required by the WCCMA. Although the honorific was unofficial, Bruff was referred to as "Captain" for the remainder of his long life. After President Zachary Taylor received them at the White House, the group left Washington on 2 April 1849.

A life of eager adventure in many of the most romantic regions of the globe ... in search of whatever might enrich a portfolio with the bold, the beautiful, and strange; or a cabinet with realities rare and precious in science, from the shells of the shore to the minerals of the mountains -- had by no means quenched a desire, long cherished, to cross my native continent, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from its first sunrise to its last sundown ... (Gold Rush, p. xxvi)

Thus Bruff expressed his romantic and adventurous motivation (coupled with the hope of finding a fortune). The Gold Rush years were doubtless the most memorable ones of his life. His military manner of command led to his deposition in an election on 14 August 1849 and he nearly perished in the Sierra Nevada during the winter of 1849-50. He finally reached the Pacific coast, where he produced numerous views.

His sanguine disposition coupled with good luck had brought him safely through all perils, but his adventures brought him no fortune. He sailed from California on 14 June 1851, arriving in New York on 17 July 1851 where his luggage was stolen. Fortunately his invaluable journals, sketchbooks, and drawings escaped the theft. Of the latter, he wrote:

Such a perfect series of Illustrations have never been, nor can be again produced. Every thing of consequence or interest, on the long route over; the Sierra Nevada Country; the Valley of the Sacramento, Events in S[a]n Francisco; its harbor, -- the Golden Gate; the Coast, -- and up to the Gold Bluffs; Humboldt Bay; Trinidad; and the Indians, beasts, &c. and in fact, every thing remarkable, to illustrate from life what I noticed .. My coast views are equal to the best of those on the Coast Survey Charts, and more numerous .. I may refer, especially, to a long panoramic view from Trindad hills, looking out over the ocean, and taking in Humbold [sic!] Bay and Cape Mendocino ..." (Gold Rush, pp. lxxvi-lxxvii)

On 20 July 1851 Bruff finally reached his home in Washington.

After "miscellaneous Government work," Bruff received an appointment as draftsman in the office of the Architect of the Treasury where he served from 14 September 1853 until 1 July 1869. In 1863 he was listed as "Draughtsman and Artist" but in 1865 all the drafting room staff were listed as "Clerks."

Bruff's finest and most creative work for the Treasury Department was done during the tenures of architects Ammi Burnham Young (served 1853-1862) and Isaiah Rogers (served 1862-1865), when he was given encouragement and the freedom to design the ornamentation of the Treasury Building south and west wings in Washington and ornament for other Treasury structures around the country. Rogers's successor in office, Alfred Bult Mullett (served 1865-1874), granted Bruff less scope, and he left, or was induced to leave, at the end of June in 1869 to serve in the Treasury Register's office until September in 1876. On 16 October 1876 Bruff received another appointment as draftsman in the office of the Supervising Architect of the Treasury Department. His application had been supported both by his friends and by James G. Hill (who served as Supervising Architect 1876-1883). One of the letters urging his reappointment stated that Bruff was "in very indigent circumstances and with his family would be reduced to absolute want if deprived of his position." His wife, two daughters, and three grandchildren were dependent upon him.

Bruff continued, from necessity, to serve under Hill's successor, Will A. Freret (in office 1887-1889), but he was subjected to harassment from petty officials, as indicated by a report in his personnel file in the National Archives citing him for tardiness ranging from one-and-a-half to five minutes on five occasions in 1885 and stating that he "offers no excuse." He served faithfully until his last illness in 1889.

Bruff was a Mason, having gained his Master's degree at Portsmouth, Virginia, in 1830. He affiliated with Federal Lodge Number 1 in Washington in 1838 but resigned on 13 February 1849 in anticipation of his journey to California. There he joined the Grand Lodge of California Number 13. Upon his return from California Bruff was a Knight Templar in Washington Commandery Number 1 (Federal Lodge). He belonged to the Metropolitan Mechanics Institute for about four years.

Bruff took great pride in his membership in the Washington Monument Association and, naturally, attended the cornerstone laying ceremonies on 4 July 1848. He served as Recording Secretary of the National Art Association before which he presented two papers. He was a member of the National Institution for the Promotion of Science, founded on 15 May 1840 and presented a paper on 21 January 1841. He was also a member of the Society of the Oldest Inhabitants of Washington City, for which he gave a Washington's Birthday address in 1874. He was a prolific versifier, although his often pious and sentimental lines almost never rose to the level of poetry. The above-mentioned address included the following:

Here, near the shrine of him whose name it bears,
The fairest city of the western world,
Shall spread o'er hills and plains, gilt domes and spires shall rise,
And freedom's banner ever be unfurl'd." (Bruff, Address 1874)

After sixty years of government service, J. Goldsborough Bruff died painlessly on 14 April 1889, shortly before 8:00 p.m., in the house at 1009 24th Street, N.W., that he had occupied since 1872. After a funeral conducted on April 17th at the house by Reverend Dr. Byron Sunderland, a Presbyterian minister, and attended by members of Washington Commandery Number 1, Knights Templar (the Federal Lodge of Masonry) and many representatives of the Oldest Inhabitants Association, he was interred in Site 89 of Range 97 near the Masonic Monument in the Congressional Cemetery. He would doubtless have preferred a headstone of his own design, but the straightened circumstances in which he left his family dictated the least expensive plain small marker inscribed "Jos. Goldsborough Bruff. Died 1889, Eliza A. Bruff. Died 1897" that identifies the last resting place of the artist and his wife. The last entry in his personnel file at the National Archives is a letter from Senator James F. Wilson of Iowa, dated 25 July 1898, seeking appointment as a charwoman for Bruff's unmarried daughter, Celeste. Admirers of much of the superb decorative detail in the Treasury Building may wish to reflect upon the scant reward its designer received from his government.

Almost half of the fifty-eight drawings (ADE - UNITS 1929-1938; 2323) by Bruff in the Prints and Photographs Division are for decorative architectural elements. Thirteen are designs for mantelpieces (ADE - UNIT 1929), five are for brackets (ADE - UNIT 1934), three for capitals (ADE - UNIT 1935), two for iron fence finials ("pickets") (ADE - UNIT 1931) and others for "stair details," a gas bracket, ornamental plaster, a building plan (ADE - UNIT 1933), and an interior wall elevation. Eighteen drawings for gravestones and mortuary monuments (ADE - UNIT 1930) form the largest subject group aside from the architecture-related designs. The other twelve are a landscape and miscellaneous designs for objects ranging from a saber handle to a claret jug (ADE - UNIT 1938). Of the miscellaneous group, one of the largest, most handsome and fascinating, has, unfortunately, suffered major losses. This fragmentary drawing (ADE - UNIT 1937), executed in pen, ink and wash represents a certificate, or possibly, a frontispiece inscribed:

This Sheet Emblazoning the Achievement [s of] American Arms in Mexico is Respectfully Dedicated to the Army and Navy of the United States by their very obedient servant J. Goldsborough Bruff. City of Washington, D.C.

Along with the elaborately lettered inscription, the upper half depicts an eagle (right wing longer than the left) with a banderole reading E Pluribus Unum in its beak, its talons clutching an olive branch and thunderbolts. Above the eagle is a cluster of thirteen stars in a glory, and below the national bird is a trophy composed of a wreath supporting a medallion of Washington's head (not well drawn), a Roman sword with eagle-headed pommel, a trumpet, and the oak leaves of valor, palms of victory, and olive branches of peace. This plethora of symbolism is typical of Bruff's approach to design. The lower half presents an uninscribed drapery with a cord-edged border of stars and foliage. The drapery is suspended by tasseled knotted cords and is fringed at the lower edge. Banners inscribed "Artillery," "U.S. Infantry," etc. flank the drapery, while below it, at the bottom of the sea (indicated by coral and a shell) are the broken and scattered armaments of the fallen foe. This dramatic composition was presumably intended for duplication, probably by lithography.

A pen and ink tondo of "Father Time" (ADE - UNIT 1930, no. 18, D size) signed "Designed and drawn by J. G. Bruff" shows a semi-draped, winged, and bearded old man with a scythe and hourglass. Presumably designed to be executed in relief on a tombstone or mortuary monument, this undated work appears to date from Bruff's latter years, when he drew so many of his eighteen death-related designs. A drawing of a "Monument to the Memory of Sister Clementine" (ADE - UNIT 1930, no. 5, A size) signed "J G. Bruff Des." and dated April 1876, combines a winged hourglass representing the brevity of life with the inverted torches of death, the anchor of hope, and the cross of salvation on a truncated base, a typical mélange of elements demonstrating Bruff's preoccupation with symbolism. A drawing dated 22 April 1881 and signed "JG Bruff Des." (ADE - UNIT 1930, no. 10, A size) represents an obelisk on a molded plinth. The top is fretted, and the shaft bears an uninscribed oval. Bruff placed the all-seeing eye of the God of Judgment at the top of his obelisk. This example is less cluttered with symbolism, for which Bruff's Victorian age had a passion, than many of his designs for monuments.

Perhaps the most unusual in form in this grave marker series is Bruff's design (ADE - UNIT 1930, no. 6, B size), a table tomb with baluster ends and an upright header with an ecumenical combination of a shield of David, a cross, and the sacred monogram, IHS (Iesus Humanae Salvator). The design is dated June 1879. A design dated December 1880 and signed "J. Goldsborough Bruff Des. Et Del" (ADE - UNIT 1930, no. 9, B size) shows a granite obelisk with a "crowning ornament, cross &c. of bronze." The juncture of the cross shaft and arms has a triangle, symbol of the Trinity and the all-seeing eye of God. "Des. et Del." after the signature suggests that this design may have been intended for reproduction, perhaps by lithography. A signed drawing dated 1877 (ADE - UNIT 1930, no. 17, A size) of urns may or may not have been intended for cemetery use. The forms are simple, one ornamented by a head wearing a Phrygian cap of liberty framed by a band of stars. A drawing of two gravestones (ADE - UNIT 1930, no. 3, A size) signed "Designed and drawn by J. G. Bruff" may have been for a family memorial. The inscription reads, "Sacred to the Memory of AB." This drawing is undated. Another drawing of two monuments (ADE - UNIT 1930, no. 7, A size) is dated December 1880. Front and side elevations of each are shown, one to stand six feet high, the other five feet, two-and-a-half inches tall. The left-hand monument has corners carved as inverted torches and is topped by an urn bearing the intertwined initials "AB," a star, and drapery. The right-hand monument is pedimented and ornamented by a cross and crown, anchor, star, and wreath above a cross with star, palms, and draped swag, a piling on of symbols characteristic of Bruff.

A drawing (ADE - UNIT 1930, no. 4, A size) signed "Drawn by J. G. Bruff Ornamental Designer and Draughtsman, Washington City," and dated 18 July 1860, is the earliest but one among the grave monument series. It represents a monumental granite headstone with white marble insertion and is perhaps the least attractive of Bruff's monuments. The unusually explicit signature suggests that Bruff himself liked the design. A drawing showing the front and back of an altar to Our Lady of Loretto (ADE - UNIT 1930, no. 13, A size) may have been intended for a cemetery chapel, as it includes sketches for a "Gate of Heaven" as well as an "Eastern Gate" and a fountain. An English paraphrase of the Roman Catholic prayer to the Virgin Mary beginning "Sub tuum praesidium confugimus" is included. Bruff, a Presbyterian, did not have a firm grasp of Catholic symbols. Those in this drawing are scattered and not well integrated into the design. The earliest in the series (ADE - UNIT 1930, no. 1, A size) represents a very classical sarcophagus and is dated 23 April 1845. The sarcophagus is ornamented with putti (not very well rendered), and swags with pendant pinecones. An undated drawing (ADE - UNIT 1930, no. 14, A size) of an urn or vase, ornamented by a palm tied with a bow of ribbon, may have been intended as a memorial piece. It is signed "Designed and drawn by J. G. Bruff."

A drawing of a well-formed urn (ADE - UNIT 1930, no. 16, B size), ornamented with swags and the winged head of a putto, or angel, is signed and dated August 1877. The ornament indicates that the urn was intended as a memorial. Another signed drawing (ADE - UNIT 1930, no. 15, B size) of the same date depicts an urn with winged hourglasses flanking the neck and lid above a mantled circular portrait and wreath. A drawing (ADE - UNIT 1930, no. 8, B size) of a grave monument for James Albert Anderson (1800-1880) is signed and dated January 1881. It is inscribed "From time to eternity in the 80th year of his age. May 10th 1880." The symbolism is composed of the all-seeing eye and winged hourglass. An undated drawing (ADE - UNIT 1930, no. 11, B size), "Design for a Soldiers Memorial for Monroe Co., N.Y." represents a pyramidal form with details including the Sword of the Union, liberty cap, wreath, and the motto "E Pluribus Unum."

One of the most interesting of the monument drawings is "Design for a Grand National Monumental Sphinx, Guarding our Liberties" (ADE - UNIT 1930, no. 12, B size). It is dated March 1873, and signed "J. Goldsborough Bruff, Designing Artist, City of Washington." The Phrygian cap is inscribed "Liberty." and notations indicate that the monument was to be 11'3" high, with an 18" base. It was to be executed in granite, a symbol of "lofty aspirations keen ... An emblem of keen far-sightedness, energy, strength, valor, and immortality. In the Egyptian style of the finest era of their arts," according to the artist's penciled notations. The last of the memorial group is a drawing (ADE - UNIT 1930, no. 2, A size) of an undated stele with a seated, mourning, female figure and the inscription "Esto Perpetua."

It is not clear whether most of these designs were commissioned or whether they were exercises done for the artist's pleasure or as expressions of grief for departed friends. Probably the Monroe County, New York, monument, and that for James Albert Anderson, were executed, but that has not been ascertained. Bruff was not at all unusual in his concentration on death. During the latter third of his century, after the slaughter of the Civil War and, in the United Kingdom, the death of the Prince Consort, mourning was common to the point of morbidity.

The second-largest group of drawings is a series of designs for mantelpieces. A signed drawing (ADE - UNIT 1929, no. 9, C size), dated January 1880, shows a relatively simple mantelpiece with leaf-sheathed engaged colonettes on plinths. There is a pediment above the mantelshelf. Another signed drawing (ADE - UNIT 1929, no. 6, A size) is simply dated 1880 and depicts another rather simple mantelpiece with five stars in the architrave, incised néo-grec scrolls, and a moon face in the pediment. A third drawing (ADE - UNIT 1929, no. 13, C size) is signed and dated 4 March 1880. It shows a mantelpiece ornamented by a shell, flanked by swags of naturalistic fruit in the architrave. Néo-grec paterae introduce another style a bit inconsistent with the naturalism of the swags.

One of the best (ADE - UNIT 1929, no. 5, C size) of the thirteen mantelpiece designs is one signed and dated 27 October 1879. The Gothic style of this design is consistently worked out, very harmoniously. Bruff rarely tried his hand at Gothic design. Another drawing (ADE - UNIT 1929, no. 3, C size) carries eclecticism a step further, adopting an Islamic arch for the fireplace opening. Orientalism was in vogue in the eighteen seventies and eighties, and this drawing is dated 11 November 1879. The heads in the spandrels introduce a non-Islamic eclectic touch. A design dated January 1880 (ADE - UNIT 1929, no. 8, C size) is quite retardataire, as it employs an arched opening, a shape that had been supplanted by rectangular fireplace openings for at least a decade. The mantelpiece has a simple, heavy rectangular keyblock and molded spandrels. The design (ADE - UNIT 1929, no. 2, C size), dated 1 October 1879, is decidedly more up-to-date. The style is Gothic with poppy-head finials atop the slender shafts. This attractively handsome design has scale indicated. Another Gothic mantelpiece (ADE - UNIT 1929, no. 4, C size) is dated November 1879, and was designed to be executed in brick, terra cotta, and tile. Fleurs-de-lis and bellflowers give the Gothic flavor to the design. A drawing dated 26 February 1880, (ADE - UNIT 1929, no. 11, C size) shows a mantelpiece in a decidedly Eastlake manner with incised lilies and stylized leaf forms, possibly a variant of the classical waterleaf. Bruff was fond of endive-like leaf forms.

A March 1880 mantelpiece drawing (ADE - UNIT 1929, no. 12, C size) is decidedly old-fashioned for its date. The opening is arched, and there are wreaths in the spandrels. Swags complete the ornamentation. One of the most elaborate of the mantelpiece designs (ADE - UNIT 1929, no. 7, C size) is dated January 1880, and is decidedly late neo-classical in style. Caryatid figures support the mantelshelf, and the rectangular fireplace opening is bordered with egg-and-dart molding. A center flower, eagle heads, and the motto E Pluribus Unum complete the ornamentation of this absolutely first-rate design. Another classical design (ADE - UNIT 1929, no. 10, C size) is dated 21 February 1880, and is in a decidedly néo-grec vein of neo-classicism. This design, like ADE - UNIT 1929, no. 7, C size), is one of the very best among the mantelpieces. The ornaments include a lyre, garlands, urns, and foliated supports. The last on the list (ADE - UNIT 1929, no. 1, C size) is dated September 1879. It shows a mantelpiece with fasces and lamps, both classical motifs, and carries the notation, "Very hurriedly drawn on bad paper" in Bruff's hand. Almost all of these designs date from 1879 and 1880. It has not been determined whether or not they were actually executed or for what structures in the Treasury Department they were intended. Some, even many, may have been private work or simply done for the artist's pleasure.

Among the architectural drawings, there are five for brackets. One, (ADE - UNIT 1934, no. 4, B size), is dated October 1877, titled "Forms." and shows two brackets, one with an elaborate, interlaced, vine motif and some Eastlake-like incising. A drawing (ADE - UNIT 1934, no. 2, A size), titled "New Applications of Forms" and dated September 1877, shows the side and front elevations of a bracket. Another drawing of a single bracket (ADE - UNIT 1934, no. 3r, A size) is dated October 1877, and shows a particularly fanciful design. The presence of similar brackets in the George Hatch House on Dayton Street in Cincinnati suggests a common printed source as the inspiration for both Bruff and the Cincinnati architect. The drawing titled "Forms" (ADE - UNIT 1934, no. 1, A size), and dated October 1877, shows two brackets with fretted soffits, one ornamented by a shield and olive branch, the other by a swag-draped shield. A drawing of four brackets (ADE - UNIT 1934, no. 5, A size), dated October 1877, shows some with "Eastlake" incising and others with spearheaded leaves of néo-grec character. One last drawing of a bracket (ADE - UNIT 1934, no. 4, B size) is neither signed nor dated. Titled "Full size details," it shows a section and profile of a keystone-like shape, ornamented with a flower. Whether or not any of these brackets were used has not been ascertained. Like the mantelpiece drawings, the brackets show Bruff experimenting on occasion with novel forms, giving vent to his inventive drive.

There are three drawings for capitals among the architectural designs. A very good original design (ADE - UNIT 1935, no. 2, C size) shows a variant of the Corinthian order combining Ionic volutes with a two-tier waterleaf base. The drawing is signed and dated July 1877. A drawing for a pilaster capital (ADE - UNIT 1935, no. 1, A size) of the same date could readily be mistaken for the work of Viollet-le-Duc. The third of the group (ADE - UNIT 1935, no. 3, C size) is attributable to Bruff and is undated. It appears to be copied from a published source and shows a Corinthian pilaster capital labeled "From Pompei."

Eight other drawings relate to architecture. An undated drawing (ADE - UNIT 1933, no. 2, C size) for a gas bracket is interesting, although repulsive to herpetophobes. The bracket, in the form of a rattlesnake, is datable to the 1850s, when Bruff designed a series of gas fixtures, including a similar bracket, for the Treasury Building. He drew extensively upon his overland journey to California for the sculptured scenes of Native American life and Western fauna with which he ornamented several of his gaseliers. An undated interior wall elevation (ADE - UNIT 1933, no. 3, C size) shows an arched doorway with a mantled keystone, and a panel with foliated corners, connected by elongated twigged branches in the naturalistic manner characteristic of numerous mid-nineteenth-century neo-Rococo designs. A design for stairs (ADE - UNIT 1933, no. 5, C size) shows details of a newel post with a socket for a gas candelabrum, and a baluster plan. It is not clear whether the notation, "Completed November 30, 1882" refers to the drawing or the stairs, but probably the reference is to the stairs. Where they were remains undetermined. A drawing (ADE - UNIT 1931, no. 1, B size) for cast metal pickets, probably intended for execution in cast iron, is dated 1878.

The five ornamental forms shown appear to have been intended as finials for the pickets of fences. A related drawing (ADE - UNIT 1931, no. 2, B size) is dated March 1878 and shows two designs for "novel forms" of picket finials, presumably for cast-iron fences. Bruff designed several fences for the Treasury Department. A handsome lithograph (ADE - UNIT 1936) of an antique marble vessel with lion monopedia is not by Bruff but is significant as illustrating the type of source materials he collected. It was an illustration in a German publication by Karl Weitbrecht. The remaining architectural drawings by Bruff are a pencil, pen, and ink plan (ADE - UNIT 1933, no. 1, A size) of an unidentified building. The very simple floor plan is open, without subdivisions, and may have been for a storage structure. The verso bears pencil drawings of twelve ancient coins, possibly in Bruff's own collection. The last drawing in the group (ADE - UNIT 1933, no. 4, C size) is particularly significant because it is clearly identified as "Ornamental Plaster Cornice over iron Ante-room, Secty. of the Treasury's Office, W. Wing, Treasy Ext." It is dated July 1863, while the West Wing was under construction during Isaiah Rogers' tenure as Supervising Architect.

Miscellaneous drawings of varied subject matter include pencil tracings (ADE - UNIT 1932, no. 1, A size and no. 2, A size) of intertwined initial letters typical of the fancy monograms in style after the Civil War, and two drawings for calling card display holders. The first (ADE - UNIT 1938, no. 3, A size) is drawn in pencil, pen, and ink and is dated October 1880. The design shows a calling card rack in the shape of a lyre, a charming example of Victoriana. The second (ADE - UNIT 1938, no. 2, C size), a full size drawing in pen and ink, is also dated October 1880 and shows card holders in the Roman and Grecian styles. These highly imaginative designs for genteel trivia of the Victorian era are delightful examples of Bruff at his most playful. Bruff tried his hand at furniture design quite successfully in a drawing (ADE - UNIT 1938, no. 5, C size) for a stand or pedestal dated 1 December 1881. The stand was to be 4' 4" high and was in the Eastlake style. Color notes indicated that it was to have been polychromed.

Three studies for armorial bearings are among the miscellaneous drawings. One drawing (ADE - UNIT 1932, no. 4, B size) undated, shows three coats of arms, all mantled, with unicorns, giants, and dogs as supporters. Another drawing (ADE - UNIT 1932, no. 5, A size) is inscribed "The National Crest as first correctly emblazoned by J. Goldsborough Bruff in 1873; here re-drawn, February 1883." This rendering of the United States shield looks as though it might have been designed as a ceiling centerpiece like that in the north entrance lobby of the Treasury Building. The last of the three drawings (ADE - UNIT 1932, no. 3, A size) is a tracing on sized linen showing coats of arms and armorial symbols. It is unsigned but attributable to Bruff, whose interest in symbolism was manifested in much of his work.

A drawing of a clock face (ADE - UNIT 1938, no. 4, A size) is signed "Designed par JGB" and dated June 1881. Bruff's use of the French "par" instead of "by" may have been suggested by a French mantel clock, as numerous such timepieces were imported and commonly in use. It seems more probable that this drawing was made for a portable clock than for one on the exterior of a building. The hours are indicated by Roman numerals with small Arabic numerals marking the minutes. The hour hand terminates in a gloved hand with extended index finger, and the minute hand carries a winged hourglass. Bruff's inventiveness as a designer is again demonstrated in a drawing (ADE - UNIT 1938, no. 6, C size) of four saber handles, one with a snake as embellishment and two with eagles. The earliest drawing (ADE - UNIT 1938, no. 1, C size) in the miscellaneous category shows a very elegant silver claret jug and goblet drawn on 1 July 1854. These vessels, in the neo-Rococo style that flourished in the 1840s and 1850s, are ultra fashionable for their date, unlike some of Bruff's later and somewhat old-fashioned designs for mantelpieces. This drawing, in which pencil is used as well as ink, is certainly among the most attractive and charming in the entire Bruff collection. One drawing (unprocessed) stands apart from all others in the Library's Bruff material, as it is a landscape, not a design for execution in three dimensions. The view, done in pen and ink with color added may date from around 1849. The work is unsigned but attributable to Bruff's hand. The scene may be Western and belong to the series of many studies from nature executed during the artists California trip. Stylistically, there seems nothing to preclude that. The view shows trees and a rough-hewn rail fence.

Aside from the fifty-eight drawings by J. Goldsborough Bruff in the Library of Congress, three other depositories contain extensive collections of his work. Record Group 121 in the National Archives preserves twenty-nine signed Bruff drawings plus approximately eighteen drawings attributable to him. All were done for the U.S. Treasury Department, and all but two (for the Baltimore Custom House) are for the main Treasury Building in Washington. The most significant are Bruff's drawings for decorative work of his own design, including sixteen for gas fixtures, several of which depict figurines of Native Americans, some mounted and hunting bison and deer. A tepee with pictographs, and menacing Western fauna including cougars, bear, wolves and rattlesnakes are other motifs with which Bruff memorialized his Gold Rush adventure in designs for Treasury Department lighting fixtures.

Rattlesnakes appear to have fascinated him, as they appear on several fixtures, including a snake-form gas bracket like that in the Library of Congress (ADE - UNIT 1933, no. 2, C size). Most of his gas fixture designs are more conventional. One half-scale pen and ink drawing (32" x 21") dated July 1857 for a Treasury south wing gaselier is now in the office of the Chief Curator of the Treasury Building, not in the National Archives. Three different figurines of seated Native Americans contemplating gas jets disguised as campfires ornament the branches of the fixture.

Bruff's claim to have designed the ornamental work for the south, west and north wings of the Treasury Building is supported by his drawings for the railings of the southeast and southwest stairway railings (combining oak and olives branches springing from fasces), the plaster cornice moldings of the south and west corridors (American fruits and flowers, maize, etc.), and the bronze railing of the Cash Room balcony. Among his other noteworthy Treasury drawings in Record Group 121 are two elevations for Isaiah Rogers' proposed north wing, one signed by Bruff and dated 6 March 1863, and an elevation for Rogers' proposed revision of Robert Mills's east wing, abolishing the colonnade to gain more space. Bruff's authorship of the fence around the Treasury grounds and a proposed fountain in the west grounds is attested to by his extant drawings.

A Bruff drawing unrelated to his Treasury work is preserved in Record Group 42 in the National Archives. That drawing, a design for the Washington Monument, dates from 1876, when a centennial year competition was held to complete the monument. Bruff's proposal appears to have been influenced in part by Mills's columnar Washington Monument in Baltimore. In Bruff's design, a Greek Doric hexastyle portico with a seated Goddess of Liberty, flanked by banners and cannon in its pediment, carries a rectangular plinth above which dances a row of caryatids supporting a star-studded shelf at the base of a tall column. The shaft is entwined by a ribbon bearing the names of the states. The column is crowned by small triumphal arch surrounded by a balustrade. The arch bears bas reliefs of winged figures upholding a tablet inscribed "Washington." Atop the arch stands (slightly off center) a figure of Washington clad in a rather skimpy toga and holding a scroll.

The other two repositories containing extensive collections of Bruff material are the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University and the Huntington Library in San Marino, California. The material at Yale comprises diaries, journals and sketch books containing, according to the Beinecke Library Curator of Western Americans, "hundreds of illustrations." The Huntington Library has 264 drawings by Bruff. The drawings in the collections at Yale and the Huntington Library all pertain to Bruff's overland trip to California and subsequent travel, before his return to Washington in 1851. Although they are of quintessential historical interest, they throw no light upon the artist's capacity as an ornamentalist.

Bruff was a member of the National Institute for the Promotion of Science at Washington, founded in 1840. The Institute cared for certain collections until its dissolution in 1862, when those collections were turned over to the Smithsonian Institution. Among the National Institute papers in the Smithsonian Archives is a letter dated 14 August 1843 in the form of a rebus containing sixteen symbols addressed by Bruff to Corresponding Secretary Francis Markoe, Jr. Bruff was presenting the National Institute with fossils and Potomac River shells. The rebus provides visual puns attesting to Bruff's sense of humor.

A group of sixteen drawings (present whereabouts unknown) retained by the family when the Library of Congress acquired the Bruff material throws further light upon the artist's development. They are known through electrostatic copies on file at the Library. A copy, probably from an engraving, of a "Statue of Minerva (Hurrying on to Victory) in the Belvidere [sic!] of the Vatican," drawn on a measured grid appears, to be one of Bruff's earliest extant works. It is a competent line drawing with minimal shading. A head of a man wearing a classical helmet, his shoulders draped in a toga, is more fully realized than the "Minerva." It is carefully modeled in penciled chiaroscuro and is also drawn on a measured grid. The signature reads, "J. Goldsborough Bruff Del. 1823." Both these works have the look of exercises done in drawing class and may well have been part of Bruff's training while enrolled at West Point.

A watercolor or ink and wash drawing of Dalhousie Castle, unfortunately tattered and torn, is the most impressive work of art per se in the family's collection. It is signed "J. G. Bruff Del." and dated April 1838. The partially ruinous castle looms over a landscape inhabited by a milkmaid, a man and his dog, two cows, and some sheep. Whether this skillfully rendered scene was based on a print or was a wholly original work, perhaps intended to be lithographed, cannot be ascertained without further research.

A "Bas-Relief Design for a Tomb," dated June 1878, represents a Roman lamp supported on a winged hourglass. A plume of very plume-like smoke ascends to a rayed star, and the lamp bears an eye (with eyebrow), encircled by a serpent swallowing its tail. This drawing, laden with symbols of immortality, relates to the series of eighteen or so designs for gravestones and monuments among the Bruff drawings in the Library's collection. The artist seems to have been much preoccupied with thoughts of death and his belief in life beyond the grave as his years exceeded the biblically allotted three score and ten.

Three drawings, one dated 1878 and captioned "Forms," for cast-iron fence finials relate to the two in the Library. They are elaborate variations on the standard forms. More significant are three fully realized designs for mantelpieces. The first, captioned "Design for a Marble Mantel, by J. G. Bruff, Oct 1879," shows a neo-classical mantelpiece. Details show the architrave, guilloche-and-wave pattern ornament, and central palmette at full scale, the pilaster guilloche and head ornaments at half scale, and the lintel rinceau and pilaster capital design at full scale. This lavishly carved mantelpiece was one of the finest and most handsome ever designed by Bruff. A second mantelpiece drawing is dated February 1880. It is less au courant than the one just described, as it has an arched fireplace opening, a form that had become passé. The leaf forms in the spandrels show néo-grec influence, and, again, there are scaled details. This design is decidedly eclectic. The last mantelpiece drawing is undated. The style is imaginative Gothic, with oak leaf, ballflower and other ornament, including an American shield bearing America's official motto, E Pluribus Unum. The design is consistent and handsome. A design for a silver dollar (reverse only), and a sketch for an elaborate coat of arms are also in this group of now missing works by Bruff.

In 1856 Bruff drew a series dealing with evil passions and the horrors of inebriation characterized by Andrew Cosentino and Henry Glassie as "bitter, crude, yet hypnotic." Two, "Jealous Heart" and "Deceptious Heart," are reproduced in their The Capital Image (p. 68). The present whereabouts of the series is unknown. A Bruff watercolor, dated 21 June 1869, in the possession of a descendant of the architect Alfred Bult Mullett exhibits both skill and charm. It was signed "With the Compliments of J. Goldsborough Bruff, Designing and Graphic Artist" and presented to Mrs. Mullett, whose name, Pacific Pearl Mullett, is spelled out in coral branches above a large shell filled with Pacific Ocean shells and some pearls. The large shell is flanked by two views of the Golden Gate, one from the Bay side and one from the sea. The views were copies, as they were dated 1850. The Pacific references were pertinent, as Mrs. Mullett was born in mid-ocean.

At least five lithographs after drawings by Bruff were made. The earliest known are two views of the Gosport Dry Dock. One shows the dock open to receive the 74-gun U.S.S. Delaware on 17 June 1833. The other represents the ship in the dock. Two lithographs after Bruff illustrated Robert Mayo's Synopsis of the Commercial and Revenue System of the United States in 1847. The lithograph in that work captioned "Commerce and Navigation - Lake, Internal, and Coasting Trade" shows warehouses, a train, ships, a flag telegraph, and goods scattered about with labels. An eagle perches on a bale against which Liberty leans holding an American shield leaning against an anchor, while Mercury flies through the sky. The other illustration, captioned "Elements of National Thrift and Empire," shows the Capitol, the Smithsonian Institution, the Washington Monument (greatly elongated) a harbor, a canal, and a waterfall. In the foreground, Liberty supports a portrait of Washington in front of agricultural implements. Labels litter the foreground. An 1848 lithograph titled "Taylor," a president Bruff admired, displays his name against a background of minuscule depictions of Old Rough and Ready's exploits (PGA - Bruff --Taylor, B size).

Bruff stated that he made all the maps for the Florida and Mexican Wars. The Geography and Map Division has at least five manuscript maps by Bruff.

Sources:

Robert Mayo, A Synopsis of the Commercial and Revenue System of the United States as Developed by Instructions and Decisions of the Treasury Department for the Administration of the Revenue Laws. (Washington, D.C.: J. & G.S. Gideon, 1847); Joseph Goldsborough Bruff, Address Delivered Before the Society of Oldest Inhabitants of Washington City on Washington's Birthday, February, 1874 (Washington, D.C., 1874); J[oseph] G[oldsborough] Bruff, "Indian Engravings on the Face of Rocks Along Green River Valley in the Sierra Nevada Range of Mountains." Annual Report of The Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution for the Year 1872 (Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1873): 409-412; Washington Evening Star, 16 April 1889; Anonymous, "A Old Resident Dying. J. Goldsborough Bruff is fast nearing life's end -- His House is a Veritable Museum," Washington Post, 18 April 1889; Washington Weekly Star, 18 April 1889; Joseph Goldsborough Bruff, Gold Rush, the Journals, Drawings and Other Papers of J. Goldsborough Bruff, Captain, Washington City and California Mining Association, April 2, 1849-July 20, 1851. Edited by Georgia Willis Read and Ruth Gaines. With a Foreword by F. W. Hodge. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1944); Ralph K. Andrist, "Gold!," American Heritage 8 (1962): 6-27, 90-91; George R. Stewart, "The Prairie Schooner Got Them There," American Heritage 8 (Feb. 1962): 4-17, 98-102; Thomas Francek, "Winterkill, 1846 - the Tragic Journey of the Donner Party," American Heritage 28 (Dec. 1976): 28-41; Clark E. Spencer "Canines to Canaan - The Story of Some Forgotten Four-Footed Pioneers," American Heritage 33 (Feb./March 1981); 58-64; Andrew J. Cosentino and Henry H. Glassie, The Capital Image - Painters in Washington, 1800-1915. (Washington, D.C.; Smithsonian Institution Press, 1983): 54, 66-68, 70, 78, 169, 254; Denys Peter Myers, Gaslighting in America - A Pictorial Survey, 1815-1910 (New York: Dover Publications, Inc. [1990]); Anonymous, Catalogue of the Library of the Late J. Goldsborough Bruff (nine-page pamphlet in ADE Architects file).


Prepared by: Denys Peter Myers. Last revised: 2005


Top of Page Top of Page
  Home >> Center for Architecture, Design and Engineering >> Biographies and Essays
  The Library of Congress >> Researchers
  October 22, 2010
Legal | External Link Disclaimer

Contact Us:  
Ask a Librarian