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The Butter and Milk Man

Nicolino V. Calyo

American Art

The Italian-born Nicolino Calyo settled in New York City in the 1830s, where he made a series of images (including this one) of local tradespeople. African Americans played a crucial role in the economies of New York and Brooklyn, typically working as street vendors, chimney sweeps, domestic servants, farmhands, and dockworkers. Prior to 1827, when slavery was abolished in New York State, the black labor force included enslaved and free individuals (a system of gradual emancipation was enacted in 1799). By 1790, 40 percent of households in Kings County owned slaves—the highest percentage in the nation. In 1820, the county had a population of 9,821 whites, 882 enslaved blacks, and 879 free blacks.

In art of this period, African Americans regularly appear as stereotypes, performing manual labor or providing comic relief. Such imagery, consistent with racial prejudices of the day, ignores the myriad contributions and vital community lives of African Americans. The African Wesleyan Methodist Episcopal Church (later Bridge Street Church), established in 1819, was Brooklyn’s first black church and served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. By the time of Calyo’s painting, Brooklyn’s historic independent black community, Weeksville (in Bedford), had also been founded.
MEDIUM Watercolor over graphite on off-white, moderately thick, smooth textured wove paper
DATES 1840s
DIMENSIONS 10 1/2 x 14 3/4 in. (26.7 x 37.5 cm)  (show scale)
CREDIT LINE Purchased with funds given by Mr. and Mrs. Leonard L. Milberg
MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
CAPTION Nicolino V. Calyo (1799-1884). The Butter and Milk Man, 1840s. Watercolor over graphite on off-white, moderately thick, smooth textured wove paper, 10 1/2 x 14 3/4 in. (26.7 x 37.5 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Purchased with funds given by Mr. and Mrs. Leonard L. Milberg, 1990.16 (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 1990.16_PS9.jpg)
IMAGE overall, 1990.16_PS9.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2020
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RIGHTS STATEMENT No known copyright restrictions
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