BENNETT, William James (c.1784-1844)
View of the Ruins after the Great Fire in New York, Dec. 16th & 17th, 1835 as seen from Exchange Place
New York: Lewis P. Clover, 1836. Aquatint in colors by W. J. Bennett after Nicolino Calyo (1779-1884), with extensive additional hand-coloring in watercolor and with the hand-scribed borderline in black ink, characteristic of early printings. Re-backed with re-margined left and right sides. Repaired tears in the sky and in the bottom margin. Image size (including text): 16 1/4 x 23 inches. Sheet size: 19 1/4 x 24 3/4 inches.
The ruin on the left is the Old Garden Street Church; this aquatint "is the only contemporary representation that we have of this church, as rebuilt in 1807" (Stokes, Iconography ..., page 618).
Nicolino Calyo, an Italian portrait and miniature artist emigrated from Italy in 1834. An eyewitness to the Great Fire of 1835, he sketched the catastrophe as it unfolded throughout the day and night. He later painted a number of compositions based on these sketches, in gouache, and some of these were used by Bennett to create his aquatint engravings of the fire and its aftermath.
William James Bennett was born and studied in England, exhibiting romantic landscape subjects there between 1808 and 1825. In 1826 he moved to New York City. As well as engraving the compositions of other artists, including important compositions for John W. Hill, Bennett produced original aquatints after his own designs. Bennett's series of views of American Cities set a standard, and established a compositional formula, for topographical art in America for succeeding generations of artists in all media; they remain the most memorable and beautiful examples of the genre.
Lewis P. Clover, the publisher, demonstrated impressive imagination and ingenuity in the copy for his advertisement promoting these views of the Great Fire: "These beautiful ruins," he wrote, "are fast disappearing, and in a few months no vestige of them will be left: in a few years, they will linger as a dream in the memory of the present generation, and the recollection of the most disastrous fire that ever befell this city will, like all earthly things, pass into oblivion."
Stokes, Iconography of Manhattan Island , page 617, illustrated plate 114b; NY Public Library, The Eno Collection of New York City Views , page 27; Collection of Percy R. Pyne II: a Catalogue of Engraved Views plans &c of New York City , number 165 (describes this state as from the " excessively scarce first issue "); Stauffer 141; Déak, William James Bennett , number 32.