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Arresting Depiction of New York’s Worst Fire in its History

New York City/ Fire History. BENNETT, William J. (Engraver)/ CLOVER, L. P. (Publisher) [New York, 1836]
View Of The Ruins After The Great Fire In New-York, Decr. 16th. & 17th. 1835. As Seen From Exhange Place,… . 19 ¾ x 26 ¼ inches
Aquatint with original hand color. Lightly toned, else excellent condition.


Dramatic rendering of the aftermath of the Great Fire of 1835, “the most devastating conflagration in New York’s history and the largest in America up to that date…one of the most significant events in the city’s history” (Augustyn & Cohen). The fire covered 52 acres and destroyed 674 buildings. Its severity was in large part caused by the fact that it occurred on the coldest night in the city in 35 years, resulting in the freezing of water and leaving firefighters impotent against the blaze. However, because the fire occurred in the financial and commercial area of town, only two lives were lost.
The view looks to the southeast along Exchange Place in the heart of the financial district; masts of ships can dimly be seen in the background. It depicts the devastation as seen on the morning following the fire, with buildings hollowed out and possessions stacked in the street. The large structure at left is the façade of the South Reformed Dutch Church. At the center in the background are the remains of the Merchant Exchange, the center of New York’s financial world, and the first home of the Stock Exchange.
The view was based on the paintings of Nicolino Calyo (1779-1884), who had sketched the fire as it was happening. It was engraved by William James Bennett (c. 1784-1844), the English Romantic landscape painter and engraver, who emigrated to New York in 1826 and would go on to produce the finest aquatint views of American cities of the 19th century.

Deak, G. G. William James Bennett, no. 32; Eno Collection 157; Deak, Picturing America 439; cf. Augustyn & Cohen, Manhattan in Maps, p. 117.

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