ANONYMOUS, “The Burning of the Federal Street” Theatre, 1798, watercolor on paper [facsimile]

ANONYMOUS, “The Burning of the Federal Street Theatre, 1798, watercolor on paper [facsimile]

The Federal Street (or Boston) Theatre was designed by Charles Bulfinch (1763–1844) and completed in 1793. When a porter left some wood under a stove in February of 1798, it caught fire and burned the theater to the ground. Remarkably, its owners rebuilt it in only 9 months. In this watercolor, painted, perhaps, in celebration of the reconstruction of the theater, a central female figure—perhaps Thalia, the muse of comedy—grieves while a cherub appears to be nibbling the mask of tragedy near her feet. To the right, a goddess (Minerva?) holds a scrolled image of the burning theater and leads a trio of artistically inclined cherubs. The structure continued under different names to be a center for public entertainment until 1852, when it was razed.

Courtesy of the Bostonian Society