Lake Avernus - IV

Lake Avernus - IV
Lake Avernus - IV
Lake Avernus - IV
Private Collection / Photograph by owner
title=Credit line
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782) and later intervention
Lake Avernus - IV
After 1765
Oil on canvas
Metric: 63.8 x 76.4 cm
Imperial: 24 1/8 x 30 1/16 in.
No collection
Wilson Online Reference
In the right foreground stand two umbrella pines. On the left is an open ancient stone sarcophagus, with two fishermen and a friar in the foreground, one seated on a log. Behind the group of figures a man bends down to his boat on the lake. On its further shore stand a ruined temple and a bridge with buildings. Beyond is more water, a town and a mountain.
Sotheby's London, 12 November 1997 (83); Private Collection, Midlands; with William Thuillier Fine Art, London
Unsigned; no inscription
Verso inscriptions
[1] Upper right corner of canvas, white chalk: 189
[2] Upper member of stretcher, centre, old hand-written label: [illegible] | TOX
[3] Upper member of stretcher, left, faint inscription: 037 [?]
[1] Upper right corner of stretcher, black ink: 189.
Lake Avernus, to the west of Naples beyond Pozzuoli, lies in the volcanic region of the Phlegraean Fields. In classical mythology, this was the site of Hades or the Underworld. The entrance to Hades was said to lie in a nearby grotto, inhabited by a prophetess, known as the Cumaean Sibyl. The area features in Virgil's epic poem, The Aeneid, a text well known to Wilson's educated and well-travelled clients. In Book 6 the Sibyl helps the Trojan prince, Aeneas, to enter Hades in quest of the spirit of his father, who foretells his destiny as the founder of the Roman nation.
Related Drawings
D257 Lake Avernus, Monte Nuovo, the Island of Capri and Part of Baiae, The British Museum
D382 Italian Landscape with Umbrella Pine in Foreground, The Art Institute of Chicago, The Leonora Gurley Memorial Collection
Related Prints
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
See 'Links' tab
Related Works by Other Artists
[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)
Critical commentary
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. Of the four known versions in this orientation, perhaps connected with the print by James Roberts of 1765 (E16), P125C is the best.
More Information
Lake Avernus was frequently depicted by artists in the 18th and 19th centuries, including Thomas Jones, Giovanni Battista Lusieri (1754-1821), Jakob Philip Hackert and J.M.W. Turner.
Kate Lowry has noted (25 September 2021): The painting was viewed off the wall and in its frame.
Frame: Rococo style carved and gilded. No backboard or glazing. Probably not the original frame but suited to the period of the painting.
Support: Original canvas is medium weight linen. The painting has been relined onto a much finer weave linen canvas using animal glue. The treatment was possibly carried out in the late 19th century. The weave of the original canvas is quite prominent at the face of the painting due to pressure applied during lining. The original turnovers appear to have been removed at the time of lining and it is now attached to the stretcher by the lining canvas turnovers. It was not possible to examine the edges of the original canvas, which are covered by the frame rebate. Even tension of the support suggests the attachment to the stretcher and there appear to be no damages to the original canvas or its lining. Adhesion between lining and original canvas is still good. The style of stretcher indicates that it dates from the lining treatment and is not original. It is constructed of pine and consists of seven members; joints are square mortice and tenon with provision for keying out. All keys but one are present and the stretcher is not much keyed out. Keys are not taped or tied in any way. Vection cracks in the paint of the upper sky, and at either side of the composition, indicate the width of the original, slightly narrower, stretcher members.
Labels on stretcher reverse: Centre top paper label almost illegible due to heavy staining; however the words 'Richard Wilson RA' are visible. The label probably dates from the relining treatment. A small luggage-type label bears the number 189 and this is also chalked on the reverse of the lining canvas.
Ground: This is visible in sky where paint is worn or cracked. It is dark red in colour, similar to the grounds found in some of Wilson's early works in imitation of earlier Italian and French painters. It appears to be in good condition and is probably an oil ground.
Paint film: Seen in normal light the general effect is slightly woolly and forms less well defined than one would expect of Wilson. The foliage of the main tree at the right hand side of the painting is very thin and appears to have been much over-cleaned. The clouds at upper left have a purplish tint, and the distant mountain is a very strong blue, uncharacteristic of Wilson. The middle ground to right of centre is much too dark in tone, and so appears to jump forward, upsetting the aerial perspective. One of the best parts of the work is the group of trees, their trunks back lit at the left of the composition, very reminiscent of a motif in P182 View of the Wilderness in St. James's Park.
When viewed under UV light it is clear that all the areas of the painting have been retouched and that this may well have altered the colour and tonal balance of the work. In the upper part of the painting the sky has been retouched all over, using small dabs of paint, possibly on more than one occasion; similarly the rubbed foliage of the main tree at the right of the composition has also been retouched. In the darker areas of the foreground and trees, an older layer of varnish has not been removed, but instead the forms have been strengthened by retouching in the surrounding dark tones. The white of the man's shirt in the centre foreground fluoresces very brightly under UV, suggesting the use of a modern pigment here. The yellow highlight on the rock right of centre also fluoresces unusually brightly.
The painting as a whole does not appear to have suffered any major damages and the paint film seems secure. There is some drying crackle in the remaining worn paint of the foliage at upper right against the sky but otherwise no major cracquelure or lifting of original paint.
Surface film: There is an overall even coating of resin varnish in fair condition.This probably postdates the lining treatment. The darker areas of the painting still bear the remains of an earlier varnish film.
General observations: There is nothing to suggest that the painting is not by Wilson, however, it is hard to judge the actual quality of the painting with all the retouching it has undergone and with the extreme thinness of the main area of foliage at the upper right due to over-cleaning. A full cleaning and careful restoration might serve to improve its appearance and help to establish its status.
Updated by Compiler
2021-11-15 00:00:00