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Lake Avernus - I (Lake Avernus with the Temple of Apollo in the Distance)
Private Collection, Wales
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
Lake Avernus - I (Lake Avernus with the Temple of Apollo in the Distance)
Dated 1764
Oil on canvas
42.5 x 54.8 cm
16 3/4 x 23 in.
Private Collection, Wales
P122C
A lake, on the borders of which are the ruins of old buildings; high hills, crowned by a castle on the right; three figures in the foreground; a distant landscape with winding river on the left. The ruins across the lake have been identified as the Temple of Apollo.
BI 1824 (158); BI 1856 (139); RA Old Masters, 1884 (33 - Italian Landscape, lent Huth); London 1925 (18 - Italian Lake Scene, lent Clarke); Manchester 1925 (34 - Italian Lake Scene)
Possibly acquired directly from the artist by Captain William Baillie (1723-92) and thence by descent to Col. Hugh Baillie, by whom sold, Christie's 15 May 1858 (21 - Italian Lake Scene, Three Figures) bt Farrer; Louis Huth, sold Christie's 20 May 1905 (137), bt Grego (£57.15.0); Sir Thomas Devitt, Baronet, 6, Buckingham Gate, London S.W.1., by whom sold Christie's, 16 May 1924 (174 - An Italian Landscape), bt Leggatt (£120.15.0); Frederick Seymour Clarke, 1925 (not in his sale, 10 February 1933); Alexander Cecil Clarke; Rose Mary Elfrida Harvey (née Clarke); Sotheby's, London, 27 November 2003 (13), bt in; Anon sale, Sotheby's London, 23 November 2006 (88); Bonhams 6 July 2011 (95); bt by present owner.
Signed with initials and dated on the rock lower left: RW [in monogram, the R reversed] | 1764
Ultramarine has been used for the blue of the sky. Parts of the boy with the boat in the foreground may have been painted with the reverse end of the brush.
[1] Verso upper right [typescript]: 'S.M. Harvey, Esq., / Cedar Close / HORNING /Tel: 293 / (Plate No. 69A Richard Wilson book)'
[2] Verso upper right: City of Manchester Art Gallery / 1862[?]
[3] Verso upper right: 2533
[4] Verso upper centre, defaced: Italian Landscape / Louis Huth possibly painted by Wilson [?]
[5] Verso centre stretcher: '5758' / [illegible]
[6] Verso left centre [defaced printed details of owners and exhibitions]
Lake Avernus, near Naples fills a volcanic crater on the Tyrrenhian coast of Italy, one mile from Cumae. Mephitic vapours rise from it, preventing any kind of life within or over it, for which reason it was believed by the ancients to be the entrance to the Underworld. Here however the narrative is more quotidian with fishermen negotiating a sale with a woman in a long robe and black headgear. An old suggestion that she might be a sibyl seems unlikely in view of the figures' costumes.
E16 James Roberts after Wilson A View in Italy, The British Museum;
E16A James Roberts after Wilson, Lake Avernus (A View in Italy), National Museum Wales, Cardiff
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By the time he completed the present landscape, Wilson's style had evolved into a sophisticated tension of idealistic and naturalistic elements, as confirmed by the disturbed ancient tombstone leaning against its base and the woman buying fish in the foreground. The present painting was probably that engraved in reverse by James Roberts after Wilson as A View in Italy, published by Boydell in 1765 (E16. See also Roberts's unfinished print in the original orientation, E16A James Roberts after Wilson, Lake Avernus (A View in Italy) , National Museum Wales, Cardiff).
WGC, p.194, pl. 69a
Sir Thomas Devitt's sale, Christie's, 16 May 1924, included two other paintings by Wilson, currently untraced:
173 - An Italian Landscape, with horseman and other figures under some trees, 21 1/2 x 27 1/2 in., from the Golding Palmer Collection, sold to Leggatt for £27.6s. and
175 - A River Scene with horsemen and other figures, 39 x 49 1/2 in., sold to Leggatt for £54.12.
Kate Lowry has noted: Viewed in gilt frame, unglazed. Not backed. Oil on canvas, glue relined. Attachment and turnovers are difficult to assess being partially covered by paper tape sealing the painting in the frame at the reverse, but original canvas turnovers may have been retained in the lining process as commercially-primed canvas is visible in places, when examined from the reverse. At the lower left corner on the face of the painting, a small old loss of paint and ground has left the weave of the original canvas visible; it is simple weave with an open texture. Lining canvas is fine close weave linen. The commercially-prepared ground is pale grey or off-white in colour. Five-member stretcher is not original and dates from the relining, probably late 19th century. It has square mortice joints and provision for keying out. Both signature and date are clearly, but not very neatly, applied in black paint. Under ultra-violet illumination the signature and date underlie old varnish layers and are not obviously retouched. Also under UV the extensive drying cracks in the sky are visible, fairly recently retouched over the varnish layer. Some drying cracks in the middle ground darks have also been retouched and there are retouches around the right leg of the standing male figure and in the woman's robe. A 60-70mm long horizontal retouching in the lake at lower left suggests the presence of an old repaired tear. The foliage of the trees against the sky is not retouched. No pentimenti observed in figures or trees.
The boy bending down near the boat at the edge of the lake appears to have been outlined by the artist using his brush handle in the wet paint. The main blue used in the sky appears to be ultramarine rather than Prussian blue. General condition is sound.
06/01/2017