(American born Italy, 1799 - 1884)

Schuylkill River and Waterworks

Watercolor and gouache on paper, 20 1/4 x 30 5/8 inches

The Fairmount Waterworks was surrounded by public gardens and became celebrated for its scenic attractions as for its technological achievements. Beginning with Lemon Hill in 1844, the city purchased adjoining plots of land to protect the water supply by preventing industrial development upriver from Fairmount, marking the beginning of Fairmount Park, which was officially established in 1855. Many visitors to the city wrote about the beauties of the site and artists made views of the area the subjects of innumerable paintings and prints. The inscription on one popular print went so far as to call it ¡°one of the most beautiful spots in the world.¡±1

In Philadelphia: Three Centuries of American Art, Kathleen Foster identifies two Calyo views of the Fairmount Waterworks: a bird’s-eye view, looking down on the Waterworks from the promenade beside the reservoir on top of the hill, and the one in this gouache, from a vantage point on the west bank of the Schuylkill, near the Upper Ferry Bridge.2

Calyo produced at least two other versions of this view: a gouache in a private collection ( 26 1/8 x 36 1/4 inches)3 and one in the collection of the Mellon Bank Corporation in Pittsburgh (44 1/4 x 59 1/2 inches).4 The Schwarz and Mellon versions have the same sort of boat in the foreground; the boat in the third version is slightly different. The Schwarz and Mellon versions also include a mounted figure and a group of three figures on the towpath in the foreground, whereas the version in a private collection includes a tree in the left foreground. The most important difference between the Schwarz and Mellon versions and the third version may suggest precise dating of the Schwarz picture. According to Mr. and Mrs. Laurence Eisenlohr, whose unpublished history of the Waterworks is cited in Philadelphia: Three Centuries of American Art,5 the retaining wall of the south garden was extended in 1836 to include a plot of land added in 1835. The Schwarz and Mellon versions show a shorter retaining wall with four trees planted in front of it, suggesting 1835 as their date of execution. Although Mr. and Mrs. Eisenlohr suggest that the version in a private collection depicts the retaining wall before it was extended, that work has six trees planted in front of the wall, and additional trees planted upriver in front of the engine house, suggesting that it was painted later than the other two.

The Schwarz and Mellon versions are virtually identical, differing mainly in their dimensions and palettes. The Schwarz variant shows a jet of water rising above the south garden, which is not in the Mellon variant. There was a fountain with a boy and dolphin in the middle of the south garden as well as Allegory of the Schuylkill River (sometimes called Nymph and Bittern) by William Rush (1756-1833) near the base of the hill by the millrace. For a hundred years it was the combination of utility, civic accomplishment, and beauty that made Fairmount a favorite resort for Philadelphians and a major attraction for visitors; today the scenic beauty remains and the preserved complex is an important National Historic Landmark (designated May 1, 1976) of architectural, technological, and social significance.


1. Jane Mork Gibson, “The Fairmount Waterworks,” Philadelphia Museum of Art Bulletin, vol. 84, nos. 360-61 (summer 1988), p. 3.
2. Kathleen Foster in Philadelphia: Three Centuries of American Art (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1976), pp. 299-300.
3. Ibid., repro. p. 300.
4. Gibson, “The Fairmount Waterworks,” Philadelphia Museum of Art Bulletin, repro. p. 29.
5. Foster in Philadelphia: Three Centuries of American Art, p. 300.

About the Artist

(American born Italy, 1799 - 1884)

The portrait, landscape, and panorama painter Nicolino Calyo, a descendant of the Viscontes di Calyo of Calabria in southern Italy, was born in Naples, where he studied at the Royal Academy. He traveled through Europe, and lived briefly in Malta and Spain. He immigrated to the United States in 1834 and set up a studio in Baltimore. On June 16, 1835, the Baltimore Republican reported that Calyo was on his way north to paint views of Philadelphia and New York. He arrived in the latter city in time to record the damage of the Great Fire of December 1835, and two of these paintings were reproduced in aquatint by William James Bennett (1789-1844). From 1838 to 1855 Calyo is listed in the New York City directories as a “portrait and landscape painter” or “professor of painting.” In the late 1840s he was working with his Italian-born son John A. Calyo (1818-1893) as “N. Calyo & Son,” historical painters and teachers. During this period, his home in New York became a gathering place for exiled Europeans, including the future Napoleon III (1808-1873). Calyo revisited Spain briefly and worked as Court painter to Queen Maria Cristina (1806-1878), but in 1874 returned to New York, where he remained for the rest of his life. He showed paintings in the exhibitions of the American Society of Painters in Watercolor in New York from 1867 to 1869.

Calyo painted scenes of the Mexican War of 1846-48 and a forty-foot panorama of the Connecticut River, but he is better known for his watercolor and gouache views of Baltimore, New York, Philadelphia, and the areas surrounding these cities. His Italian training “dominates his method . . . conditioning his liberal use of gouache, which imparts an opaque, slightly chalky surface to his work, setting it apart from the ‘English’ style of transparent watercolor more familiar to American artists of that period.”1

1. Kathleen Foster in Philadelphia: Three Centuries of American Art (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1976), p. 300.