Wilson visited Lake Nemi, some twenty miles southeast of Rome in the Alban Hills, in 1754. This painting probably dates to 1756 or 1757, either just before or after he returned to London. The view, which combines topographical accuracy and picturesque idealization, is bathed in a soft, golden light that follows the precedent of artists active in Rome in the seventeenth century, especially Claude Lorrain.
Wilson’s subject is the terrace of the Capuchin monastery at Genzano, with Lake Nemi below and Monte Circeo and the Mediterranean Sea in the distance to the west. On a rocky promontory at center right is the little hill town of Genzano with its two monuments, the church and bell tower of Santa Maria della Cima, and the Palazzo Sforza Cesarini. The buildings lie along the ridges and sloping wall of the volcanic crater, in the Alban Hills along the Via Appia, less than twenty miles southeast of Rome. Deep and very dark in color, Lake Nemi had been called by the ancient Romans the specchio di Diana (mirror of Diana), goddess of the hunt, who was thought to have been a denizen of the surrounding woods (see Additional Images, fig. 1, for a modern photograph of the site).
A sketchbook of 1754 contains a drawing in graphite of Genzano with the wooded slopes to the north and the walls of the terrace briefly indicated (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven); it is inscribed “Gensano / from the Capuchin.” A finished drawing (Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence), also of 1754, one of a group commissioned from Wilson by the second Earl of Dartmouth, must have been completed (if not begun) in the artist’s studio. The painting may date either before or shortly after Wilson returned to London in 1756–57. William Lock of Norbury, a connoisseur who had been Wilson’s traveling companion in Italy, was its first recorded owner; Wilson may have given it to Lock, or Lock may have commissioned it.
A version with the London dealer Dudley Tooth in December 1955 was attributed to Wilson by Brinsley Ford (letter of August 18, 1979 in departmental files). A variant titled Lake Nemi from a Convent Garden (Capucins at Gensano) was sold at Christie's, London, on November 24, 1998, no. 66, along with a pendant called Lake Nemi, with Two Friars.
Etched by Thomas Hastings in 1820.
[2010; adapted from Baetjer 2009]
William Lock, Norbury Park, near Leatherhead, Surrey; William Parsons; Benjamin Booth, London (by 1790–d. 1807; inv., n.d., no. 25, as "Lake Jensano from a Convent Garden / a finisht Picture—was Mr. Locke's 21 – 17"); his son, Reverend Richard Sawley Booth (d. 1807); his sister, Marianne, Lady Ford, London (by 1814–d. 1849); ?Richard Ford (1849–at least 1851); ?Hon. G. A. F. Cavendish-Bentinck (until d. 1891; his estate sale, Christie's, London, July 11, 1891, no. 537, as "An Italian Lake Scene, with figures on a terrace and buildings on a rock in the background. 17 in. by 20 1/2 in.," for £31.10.0 to Lesser); ?[Lesser Lesser, London, from 1891]; George A. Hearn, New York (until 1905)
London. British Institution. "Pictures by the Late William Hogarth, Richard Wilson, Thomas Gainsborough, and J. Zoffani," 1814, no. 170 (as "Lake of Neimi," lent by Lady Ford).
London. British Institution. 1851, no. 139 (as "Genzano and the Lake of Nemi," lent by Richard Ford, possibly this picture).
Shizuoka Prefectural Museum of Art. "Landscape Painting in the East and West," April 19–June 1, 1986, no. 7.
Kobe City Museum. "Landscape Painting in the East and West," June 7–July 13, 1986, no. 7.
New York. Richard L. Feigen & Co. "Richard Wilson and the British Arcadia," April 29–June 25, 2010, no. 6.
Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. "Earth, Sea, and Sky: Nature in Western Art; Masterpieces from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," October 6, 2012–January 4, 2013, no. 3.
Beijing. National Museum of China. "Earth, Sea, and Sky: Nature in Western Art; Masterpieces from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," February 8–May 9, 2013, no. 3.
New Haven. Yale Center for British Art. "Richard Wilson and the Transformation of European Landscape Painting," March 6–June 1, 2014, no. 47.
Thomas Hastings. Etchings, from the Works of Ric. Wilson with Some Memoirs of His Life, &c. London, 1825, p. 18, ill. [unnumbered pl. 17], "The Original is in the Possession of Lady Ford. abt 81. by [?]5 [i]n Etched by. T. Hastings / 1820".
Adrian Bury. Richard Wilson R.A.: The Grand Classic. Leigh-on-Sea, 1947, p. 68.
Brinsley Ford. "The Dartmouth Collection of Drawings by Richard Wilson." Burlington Magazine 90 (December 1948), p. 345, connects this painting—"of a similar composition"—with one of the finished drawings [fig. 6] evidently commissioned from Wilson by William Legge, second earl of Dartmouth, when the latter visited Rome (the drawing is signed and dated 1754; numbered 15 and labeled Capucins at Gensano on the mount; and numbered 57 on the reverse).
W. G. Constable. Letter to Josephine L. Allen. October 25, 1949, believes that the picture "belonged to Benjamin Booth and descended to the Ford family".
W. G. Constable. Letter to Elizabeth E. Gardner. November 21, 1949, identifies a red wax seal on the reverse as that of M (Marianne) Ford, Booth's daughter, and connects the sketch with three references in Booth's papers which suggest that the painting had been owned previously by William Locke and (?Francis) Parsons.
Brinsley Ford. The Drawings of Richard Wilson. London, 1951, p. 61.
W. G. Constable. Richard Wilson. Cambridge, Mass., 1953, pp. 35–36, 41, 82, 110–11, 125, 208–9, 278, 298, pl. 95a, describes the painting, which "must have been made in Italy," as "so close to" the Dartmouth drawing [pl. 95b] "that it is difficult to believe" it was not "taken direct" from the drawing; observes that Wilson was attracted to the Alban Hills and particularly to Lake Nemi; identifies William Parsons, the comedian and friend of Wilson, as a probable previous owner and notes that the picture may have been lot 537 in the 1891 Cavendish-Bentinck sale.
W. G. Constable. "Richard Wilson: Some Pentimenti." Burlington Magazine 96 (May 1954), p. 147, no. 6, lists among "Unrecorded versions by Wilson of known paintings," as number 6, "Lake Nemi from near Gensano" (Marquis of Lansdowne, Bowood; cat., 1897, no. 190; 16 1/2 x 22 1/2 in.), calling it similar in design to the Metropolitan Museum painting, of replica quality, and taken from the road above the lake.
Ann Clements inAn Italian Sketchbook by Richard Wilson R A. Ed. Denys Sutton. London, 1968, vol. 2, p. 29, fig. 26, and see vol. 1, folio 6r [sketch inscribed "Gensano / from the Capuchini"], identifies the site as Palazzo Cesarini, Genzano, from the Capuchin Monastery, relating the two drawings and the painting.
Malcolm Cormack et al. "Selection II: British Watercolors and Drawings from the Museum's Collection." Bulletin of Rhode Island School of Design 58 (April 1972), p. 233.
Brinsley Ford. Letter to Dean Walker. August 18, 1979, notes that a version, from a recently formed Welsh collection and measuring 16 1/2 x 20 1/2 in., was with Dudley Tooth, Bruton Street, in December 1955.
David H. Solkin. Richard Wilson: The Landscape of Reaction. Exh. cat., Tate Gallery. London, 1982, p. 171, dates the painting to the 1760s.
Katharine Baetjer. British Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1575–1875. New York, 2009, pp. 57–59, no. 25, ill. (color).
Richard Wilson and the British Arcadia. Exh. cat., Richard L. Feigen & Co. New York, 2010, unpaginated, no. 6, ill. (color).
Peter Barnet and Wendy A. Stein inEarth, Sea, and Sky: Nature in Western Art; Masterpieces from The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Exh. cat., Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. [Tokyo], 2012, ill. pp. 36–37, 45 (color).
Keith Christiansen inEarth, Sea, and Sky: Nature in Western Art; Masterpieces from The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Exh. cat., Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. [Tokyo], 2012, p. 207, no. 3, ill. [Chinese ed., Hefei Shi, 2013, pp. 8–9, no. 3, ill. (color)].
Jason M. Kelly inRichard Wilson and the Transformation of European Landscape Painting. Ed. Martin Postle and Robin Simon. Exh. cat., Yale Center for British Art. New Haven, 2014, p. 49, fig. 42 (color).
Paul Spencer-Longhurst inRichard Wilson and the Transformation of European Landscape Painting. Ed. Martin Postle and Robin Simon. Exh. cat., Yale Center for British Art. New Haven, 2014, pp. 239–40, no. 47, ill. (color).
Paul Spencer-Longhurst. Richard Wilson Online. 2014, no. P72, ill. (color) [http://www.richardwilsononline.ac.uk/index.php?a=Home&WINID=1425328581095].