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Lake Avernus - II
Tate, London 2014
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
Lake Avernus - II
c.1764 (undated)
Oil on canvas
24 x 30 cm
9 7/8 x 11 13/16 in.
In the left foreground stand two umbrella pines. On the right is an open ancient stone sarcophagus, with three figures in the foreground. A lake stretches out behind and on its further shore beyond a bridge are wooded slopes with a ruined tower.
Bequeathed to the National Gallery by Richard and Catherine Garnons 1854; transferred to the Tate Gallery in 1919
Linen canvas, simple weave
Lake Avernus lies in a volcanic region on the south west coast of Italy, between Naples and Cumae. In classical mythology this area or 'Phlegraean Fields' (burning fields) was associated with the infernal regions. Because of its location among dark, gloomy woods and its reputed depth, Avernus was believed to be an entrance to the underworld. It was situated close to the grotto of Deiphobe, the Cumaean Sibyl, a celebrated prophetess, who in Virgil's Aeneid, conducted the Trojan prince, Aeneas, to the underworld to meet the spirit of his dead father. Like many Grand Tourists Wilson, with his classical education, must have been attracted by its classical associations as well as its great natural beauty. In contrast to the Claudean setting, the figures in the foreground appear to be simple fishermen, probably selling their catch to the figure on the right, not a sibyl as has been said in the past.
D382 Italian Landscape with Umbrella Pine in Foreground The Art Institute of Chicago, The Leonora Gurley Memorial Collection
E16A James Roberts after Wilson, Lake Avernus (A View in Italy), 1765. National Museum Wales, Cardiff (17.157)
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[1] J.M.W. Turner, Wilson Sketchbook, 1796-97, pp. 100-101, Tate, London
[2] William Delamotte (1775-1863), Lake Avernus, Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford (WA1961.36)
WGC, p. 194, pl. 69b
Wilson visited Lake Avernus to the north of Naples in 1752 and again in the spring of 1753 with his patron, William Legge, 2nd Earl of Dartmouth. As a result, he painted two pictures of the area. He himself, his pupils and copyists replicated both subjects on many occasions.
Relined. Surface cleaned and varnished 1887.