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View of New Orleans, circa 1852
Nicolino Calyo (1799-1884)

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Watercolor and gouache on paper
5 x 7 3/4 inches
Signature Details: Inscribed lower center on boarder
Status: Private Collection, New Orleans, Louisiana

Born in Naples, Nicolino Calyo was an accomplished American nineteenth century view painter who brought the discipline of his classical European training to vibrant portrayals of the American scene. He studied at the Naples Academy, where he learned Neoclassical, Italian, and Dutch landscape techniques and traditions. Calyo fled Italy in 1821, having participated in an unsuccessful rebellion against Ferdinand I. Over the next several years, he traveled, sketched, and painted in Europe.

In 1834, Calyo settled in Baltimore. There, he held exhibitions of his large-scale European views before departing for Philadelphia and, ultimately, New York, which became his permanent home in 1835. Calyo arrived ready to produce views of the great fire of New York, which occurred on December 16-17, 1835, a pair of which were engraved as prints by William Bennett in 1836. Over the next several years, Calyo also created numerous characterizations of urban workers, vendors, and other street figures in the manner of Jacques Callot; a group of these were published in 1840 as the Cries of New York.

As an experienced landscape artist and traveler, Calyo made watercolor and gouache sketches on location, and this example attests to his itinerancy on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. Some of the studies became sources for larger scale landscapes on paper, as well as the panoramas that he exhibited in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and New Orleans.

Calyo traveled south to New Orleans in 1837 to exhibit his panorama of the New York fire and then returned in 1852 to display his diorama of the Mexican War. Around this time, he rendered this view of New Orleans, a valuable topographical document of the city at mid-nineteenth century. With precision and detail he portrays architecture, churches, and other identifiable landmarks, including the spires of St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic, First Presbyterian, and Methodist Episcopal Churches on the left, and the large-domed St. Charles Hotel in the center. The smaller dome at the left represents the Odd Fellows Hall (built in 1851-1852), which helps to date the image to this time period. Because Calyo was such a talented figure painter (unlike many self-taught landscape artists of his time), the staffage figures on the river banks in the foreground give his work exceptional quality and a lively human presence. Calyo portrays the light, color, and atmosphere of the view through his skilled use of watercolor and gouache.

Calyo continued to be active in scenic painting through the 1850s. From known works, he appears to have done less painting during the succeeding decades before his death in 1884. Calyo remained cosmopolitan and international in perspective and politics during his entire lifetime.

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This essay is copyrighted by Robert M. Hicklin Jr., Inc. and may not be reproduced or transmitted without written permission.


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