WILLIAM CALLOW, R.W.S. (1812-1908)
MERCATO VECCHIO, FLORENCE
Signed l.l. WmCallow / 1900
Watercolour over pencil, heightened with bodycolour
33.7 x 48.8 cm
Charles Tyler Pendle of Great Missenden;
By descent to his daughter-in-law;
Her sale, London, Sotheby's, 17.01.1988, lot 202;
Where acquired by the parents of the previous owners, London
London, Royal Society of Painters in Water-colours, Summer 1905, Mercato Vecchio (since destroyed)
The present view was likely worked up from a drawing made on Callow's trip to Italy in 1879,
now in the Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide (acc. no. 4910D17, see 3rd image above). The artist had also painted the city's old marketplace on a previous trip to Florence in 1878, with that work now in the Sarjeant Gallery Te Whare O Rehua Whanganui, New Zealand (acc. no. 1927/4/1, see final image above). The ‘Old Market’ of Florence took place in the Piazza della Repubblica, and was demolished in 1884. It was replaced by the Mercato Nuovo, which is still held in the Loggia del Porcellino, named after the iconic statue of a Boar by Pietro Tacca which once stood there.
William Callow was the son of builder, who was so encouraged by his son’s early artistic efforts that he arranged for him to be apprenticed him to the artist Theodore Fielding at just eleven years old. Fielding had William formally articled to him two years later. Charles Bentley (1805-1854), who later became a successful marine artist, was a fellow apprentice of Callow’s at the time, and acted as Callow’s first painting instructor. William later worked for his master’s brother Thales Fielding between 1827-1829, before travelling to Paris, then a hotbed of young British artistic talent, to work for the Swiss artist Osterwald, as well as Newton Fielding, Thales’ younger brother, who had decamped to the French capital and was working alongside Bonington. It was Newton who would teach Callow the art of figure-painting, Callow having painted landscapes without staffage until that point.
During his time in Paris, Callow shared a studio with Thomas Shotter Boys, and would go on to take over Boys’ studio and establish a lucrative private teaching practice in Paris. His clients included much of the French and broader European nobility, as well as several French Royals. In these years Callow began his practice of taking extended sketching tours around Europe: he visited the South of England in 1835; the South of France the following year; Switzerland and Germany in 1838; Italy in 1840; Normandy in 1841; the Rhine & Moselle in 1844; Holland in 1845; Coburg, Potsdam and Berlin in 1862; and his final visit to Italy in 1892 (with a number of shorter continental trips in between several of these).
Callow was elected an Associate of the Old Watercolour Society in 1838, which encouraged him to leave Paris a few years later (1841) and set up a fresh draughtsmanship-teaching practice in London. Here he built up a similarly successful and extensive clientele, and would continue his work as a drawing instructor until 1882. During his years in London, Callow became an important member of the Old Watercolour Society: he was elected a full member in 1848 and served as Trustee and Secretary between 1865-1870.
Callow’s works continue to be among the most sought-after of the ‘Golden Age’ of British watercolour artists. His earlier works are indebted to Bonnington and Boys, with similar techniques to the older two artists employed faithfully, particularly the deft use of ‘scratching out’. His later works are less exacting in their detail and are more free in their line, as in the present work.