A View of Vesuvius from Naples

oil painting depicting landscape of Mount Vesuvius and the Bay of Naples

Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson (1767–1824)
A View of Vesuvius from Naples
1793–94
Oil on canvas, 9 5/8 x 15 in.
Collection Mr. and Mrs. Jeremiah M. Bogert

Location: North Hall

Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson was born on January 29, 1767, in the town of Montargis, in north-central France. At sixteen, he enrolled at the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture and by 1784 had joined the atelier of Jacques-Louis David. After establishing himself in David’s atelier, Girodet competed for the Academy’s Grand Prix. A rite of passage for French artists, the scholarship awarded funding to study in Rome for several years at the expense of the state. Girodet won the Prix in 1789, but his departure for Rome was delayed by the chaos of the French Revolution.

He finally arrived in May 1790, and his writings and a few surviving paintings from his time in Italy illustrate his interest in the country’s landscape. One example — A View of Vesuvius from Naples — depicts Mount Vesuvius and the Bay of Naples from the hills of San Martino. Warm gray clouds part to show patches of cerulean sky, and sunlight shines through, reflecting off the lava paths below. The volcano emits violet-gray smoke, which mixes with the clouds above. Geometric shapes in pastel colors represent houses and other architectural structures built on the banks of the bay, dwarfed by the majestic volcano. These, as well as the imposing Castel Nuovo and the faint outlines of ship masts, are the only signs of human life. Daylight illuminates the right-hand wall of the castle, while the remainder of the foreground is bathed in shadow. The picture is balanced and framed by a land mass in the foreground on the left-hand side and a second edifice and two tall, dark trees on the right.

The painting provides a rich counterpoint to the Frick’s small but superb collection of works by Girodet’s contemporaries, including David, Chinard, and Ingres. These Napoleonic artists all studied extensively in Italy, inspired by the artistic heritage of the country, as well as by its monumental landscape.