Lithographs by Currier and Ives are ubiquitous in antique stores, estate auctions and Victorian homes. Billing itself as “the Grand Central Depot for Cheap and Popular prints,” the firm published more than 7,500 lithographs from 1835 to 1907, touching on every phase of American life. Employing or copying the work of fine artists, they chose subjects with mass-market appeal, reflecting the sentiments, values, and aspirations of ordinary Americans.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art observes that “In this print, three paddle wheel steamboats are navigating around a bend in the river. The ‘Queen of the West,’ shown broadside at the right of the image, has just made the turn; a rocket (the ‘parting salute’ of the print’s title) fired off the upper deck of its stern acts as a signal to the two other boats approaching the bend. A full moon, shining through the clouds at left, dramatically illuminates the edges of the clouds and is reflected upon the water. Originally printed as a black and white lithograph with a cloudless sky, hand-coloring transformed the image into a captivating moonlit night scene, further accented by the orange fiery smoke belching out of the smokestacks, and the colorful firework explosion of the signal rocket.”