A Capriccio Landscape

Description: 

As noted by curator Andrew Stevens (Chazen Museum, University of Wisconsin), this “painting is a pastiche of second-hand Italianate architecture and geography imagery supplemented with the artist's own knowledge of Welsh mountain vistas. It is not based on a particular place.” Sandby was never in Naples, but in the 1770s he purchased a group of Neapolitan paintings from the Anglo-Italian artist Pietro Fabris and published these in a series of aquatints, Views in and Near Naples (1777-82). Sandby’s fame rests partly on his pioneering development of aquatint, a print medium especially suited for reproducing watercolors. Sandby’s first series of aquatints, Twelve Views in Wales (1775), was based on his own sketches made in Wales the early 1770s. The pastoral grouping of the gesticulating goatherd and (presumably) his family, in the left foreground of this picture, is itself a hybrid of Welsh and Italian elements, though the female figure specifically recalls Fabris’s studies of Neapolitan laboring-class costume, as do the man and panniered donkey ascending the road to the castle (use the magnifying glass tool to see these figures). The equestrian figure is evidently a tourist or stranger being shown the way. The causeway and bridge extending from these figures diagonally across the middle ground are echoed by a series of increasingly dramatic mountain bridges below the castle and just to the right of the town. Sandby was one of the first landscape artists to tour Wales, pioneering a practice that became very popular from the late 1770s. This composition, particularly the rugged conical hill and steep gorge in the center, shows him still drawing on his own original sketches twenty years afterward. The architecture, particularly the aqueduct and round tower above the lake, suggest the Roman campagna more than Naples, and may be inspired by a set of Italian landscapes that Sandby purchased from another artist, Richard Wilson. Unlike Palmer’s Street of Tombs, which accompanies this painting in the exhibit, "Volcanoes, Science, and Spectacle in the Romantic Period," Sandby’s watercolor uncouples the Italian volcano from its archaeological setting, creating a p,astiche that frees him to emphasize the raw power of the dynamic sublime. [NH]

Accession Number: 

1993.35

Provenance: 

Purchased from the Leger Gallery in 1993.

Exhibition History: 

1996 Poetic Horizons: The Landscape Tradition in Britain, 1750-1850, Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis.

Height (in centimeters): 

38

Width (in centimeters): 

54

Marks Description: 

P. S. 1791

Associated People: 

Richard Wilson: Sandby purchased a series of Italian topographical drawings (showing both landscape and buildings) from his friend and colleague, the landscape painter Richard Wilson (1713-82). These may have been a source for Sandby’s Capriccio. Wilson was a native of Wales and produced the magnificent Summit of Cader Idris Mountain (1775), among other works. According to a curatorial note (Leger Gallery), A Capriccio Landscape is influenced by Wilson's Welsh scenes as well as his depictions of Italian subjects, and combines elements of both with characteristics of the Italian landscape.


Pietro Fabris: Fabris was an Anglo-Italian painter and etcher of landscape and regional costume (active 1740-1792). He claimed English birth, but seems to have spent most of his career in Naples. Through his illustrations for Sir William Hamilton’s Campi Phlegraei, he became one of the most influential painters of volcanoes. Sandby may have become aware of Fabris’s work when the latter exhibited a painting at the Society of Artists (London) in 1772. For more on Sandby’s collaboration with Fabris, see Jenkins and Sloan 130-32, 246-48.

Associated Places: 

The Royal Academy: Paul Sandby began to gain recognition when he aided in the founding of this prestigious academy (in 1768). This recognition increased the popularity and sales of his work. Today the Royal Academy continues to support British art by educating artists, purchasing artwork, and financing exhibitions (S. Hutchison, Royal Academy 250). In 2009-10, The Royal Academy mounted the first major modern exhibition devoted to Sandby’s work, which “slipped into obscurity” in the mid-nineteenth century, to mark the bicentenary of his death.


Wales: Sandby’s Capriccio is influenced as much by his actual experience of Wales as by other artists’ representations of Italian landscape. One of his most influential paintings near the beginning of his London career was Historical Landskip Representing the Welsh Bard in the Opening of Mr. Gray’s Celebrated Ode, probably in oil, exhibited at the Society of Artists in 1761 but subsequently lost (Herrmann, ODNB). Sandby’s fascination with Wales evidently predated his first visit there by some ten years, and his sketching tour of 1771 might be regarded in part as literary tourism. For a more faithful rendering of Welsh mountains, see Richard Wilson’s Cader Idris elsewhere in this gallery. Sandby spent the early part of his career as a surveyor in Scotland.

Subject: 

In this watercolor, Sandby is primarily concerned with depicting the sublime in his portrayal of an Italian landscape: the mountains and smoldering volcano invoke a sense of awe, while the grey smoke, bending trees, and quivering leaves suggest a silent, unseen danger—liable to burst forth and threaten the safety of the tiny human figures scattered about the countryside.

Significance: 

With its elements of the sublime and picturesque, Sandby offers us a view of volcanoes that is typical for the 1790s. The scene is imaginary, and so the observer can see in this painting the early Romantic perception of volcanoes. Sandby’s combination of dark gray colors (for smoke) and dark red colors (for the large caldera), as well as the depicted motion of a strong wind, creates a sublime view of the volcano. Like other early Romantic artists, Paul Sandby is concerned with evoking fear and awe when depicting volcanoes. [MH]

Function: 

A map maker turned landscape painter, Paul Sandby was a founding member of the Royal Academy. His subsequent fame launched his landscape career. He is most famous for his watercolors and aquatints, and A Capriccio Landscape was created to showcase his watercolor talent.

Bibliography: 

Grove Encyclopedia of Materials and Techniques in Art. New York, NY: Oxford UP, 2008.


Hamilton, Sir William. Campi Phlegraei: Observations on the Volcanos of the Two Sicilies. 2 vols. Naples: Pietro Fabris, 1776. Online at: http://ccdl.libraries.claremont.edu/cdm/search/collection/cpo


Herrmann, Luke. “Sandby, Paul (bap. 1731, d. 1809).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. Online ed. Ed. Lawrence Goldman. May 2006. 2 Apr. 2009 http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/24613.


Hutchison, Sidney. The History of the Royal Academy. London: Chapman and Hall, 1968.


Jenkins, Ian, and Kim Sloan, eds. Vases & Volcanoes: Sir William Hamilton and His Collection. London: British Museum, 1996.


Mayer, Ralph. HarperCollins Dictionary of Art Terms and Techniques. New York, N.Y: HarperPerennial, 1991.


Solkin, David H.. “Wilson, Richard (1712/13–1782).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. Online ed. Ed. Lawrence Goldman. May 2006. 2 Apr. 2009 http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/29680.

Long Title: 

John and Carolyn Peterson Trust Purchase
 
 

Painter: 

 

Image Date: 

1791
 

Creation Technique: 

 

Support Medium: