Opening my Philadelphia Inquirer last weekend, I was excited to see a picture soon coming to auction by an Italian artist who came through Philadelphia in the fall of 1835, where he was enchanted by the Schuylkill River. The painting to be auctioned by Freeman’s Gallery on May 3, 2022, is called “View of the Schuylkill River and Fairmount,” a portion of which is at the top of this blog. Freeman’s thinks it will fetch $100,000 to $150,000. “The Calyo we are offering is unusual in that it is oil on canvas, not the more typical pastel,” said Lynda Cain, who heads the American Furniture, Folk & Decorative Arts department at Freeman’s.
Below is a larger look at the piece.
Another painting by Calyo (1799-1884) quietly sold a couple years ago for nearly that much. That painting had hung in the upriver club of the Undine Barge Club for more than a century. The rowing members became concerned when it seemed to be falling out of its frame and took it to the Philadelphia Museum of Art where LiLy Milroy identified it as likely by Calyo. In the midst of writing the book Boathouse Row at the time, I was intrigued. The painting showed seven eight-oared boats and four four-oared boats and each crew wore distinctive uniforms. I realized that those uniforms and the number of boats exactly matched descriptions I was reading about the first big regatta on the Schuylkill, held Nov. 12, 1835.
Here’s what Charles Keyser wrote in his book of 1872, Fairmount Park, Sketches of its Scenery, Waters, and History.
“The ‘Blue Devil’ participated in the earliest regatta of which we have records (Nov. 12, 1835). In this regatta, the Ariel, Nymph, Dolphin, and another were entered, four-oared barges; and the Cleopatra, Falcon, Sylph, Blue Devil, Metamora, Aurora, and Imp, eight-oared barges.”
Thomas Scharf in his 1884 book, History of Philadelphia, described the men’s costumes — the crews were crazy about their costumes at the time — and this helped nail the date of Calyo’s regatta painting for me, since the men’s uniforms matched his description:
“The Imp had a long black boat, with a broad red stripe. The rowers were dressed in dark trowsers, with a red shirt and cap. The “Blue Devil” was a black boat, with a broad gold stripe. The crew was dressed in dark trowsers, sky-blue shirt and cap, faced with white.”
Take a look:
How the painting got to Undine is likely after the 1867 death of a well known Philadelphia steamboat captain named Benjamin McMakin. A member of Undine, according to club records, bought it at McMakin’s estate sale. But it took two contemporary members of Undine, Philadelphia artist Joe Sweeney and avid historian James H. Hill to go the lengths of getting it identified, restored and sold to help support the club — which also worried that it did not have the means to care for this gouache on paper.
The Schwartz Gallery in Philadelphia has two Calyos on its website — one of Niagara Falls and one of the Schuylkill and WaterWorks There’s also a good biography of Calyo on its website.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art also has a Calyo in its collection– or at least it has a print of it which you can buy for $85. Why not have a Calyo of your own?