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William James Bennett
after Nicolino Calyo
VIEW OF THE GREAT FIRE IN NEW YORK, DECR. 16th & 17th 1835. AS SEEN FROM THE TOP OF THE BANK OF AMERICA CORNER OF WALL & WM. STREET [caption title].
New York: Lewis P. Clover, 1836. Aquatint with additional handcoloring, 19¾ x 27 inches (50½ x 68¾ cm). Small repaired marginal tears, just touching black border on top and bottom. Overall a very good, bright and clean copy. Item #WRCAM59059
A scarce and dramatic aquatint view of New York in the midst of the devastating fire of 1835, executed by the skilled and prolific William Bennett after an original watercolor by an eyewitness of the event. The original artist, Nicolino Calyo, was an Italian painter who emigrated from Italy in 1834, specializing in close observation of people and places. He was present at the Great Fire of 1835, and sketched day and night as the city was destroyed. He painted a number of compositions in gouache based on his sketches, and Bennett created his aquatint engravings from his images. The fire supposedly began on Merchant Street and quickly spread to Pearl Street and grew wildly out of control. Frigidly cold temperatures meant frozen pipes and fire hoses which hampered containment efforts, and it wasn’t until conditions improved a few days later that the damage could be surveyed and the rubble cleared. Seven hundred houses over seventeen blocks on the south east tip of Manhattan were destroyed in the conflagration. Included in that destruction were the Merchants’ Exchange (pictured left center) and the Fulton Insurance Company, the destruction of which provided a sobering reminder of the fragility of the city’s seemingly unstoppable economic progress. Former Mayor Philip Hone wrote about the disaster in his journal:
“How shall I record the events of last night, or how attempt to describe the most awful calamity which has ever visited these United States? The greatest loss by fire that has ever been known....I am fatigued in body, disturbed in mind, and my fancy filled with images of horror which my pen is inadequate to describe. Nearly one half of the first ward is in ashes....”
William James Bennett (ca. 1787-1844) was born in England and received his training at the Royal Academy. He emigrated to the United States in 1826, and is best known for his views of American cities, including the Hudson Valley Region, Niagara Falls, and numerous port cities such as New York, Charleston, and Buffalo. With the arrival of William Bennett and several other émigré artists such as William Guy Wall and John Hill, the quality of aquatint engraving in America was elevated to a level equaling that of European printmakers. A striking example from this important period in early American viewmaking. DEÁK, PICTURING AMERICA 438. STOKES, ICONOGRAPHY OF MANHATTAN ISLAND, p.617. STAUFFER 140.