When Bidauld painted this sketch, Lake Fucino was the largest body of water in the Abruzzi region of central Italy. (It was later drained.) Bidauld’s fastidious approach to working out of doors rivals the Salon pictures he executed in his studio. A colleague of the artist recounted: "Each day he painted or drew on the spot, always in a different place, learning to make studies by making finished paintings, and to make finished paintings by making studies."
Bidauld arrived in Rome on November 4, 1785, and remained there until 1790. His Italian studies reveal that he was an intrepid traveler who sought out novel views in the rugged interior of the peninsula. Bidauld began to exhibit at the Paris Salon in 1791, soon attracting collectors and earning an enviable reputation among his fellow artists—he is included in Louis-Léopold Boilly’s stylish group portrait of 1798, Gathering of Artists in the Atelier of Isabey (Louvre).
The body of water seen in the present study was known as the Lake of Fucino. It is approximately seven and one half miles across, from the position occupied by Bidauld when he sketched it, at Avezzano, on the northwest shore of the lake, to the southern shore on the far side. At one time the largest body of water in the mountains of the Abruzzi region, it formed part of the Kingdom of Naples when Bidauld visited, in or by 1789. In the distance, the Vallelonga splits two mountain ranges: Monte Alto ascends from the water’s edge at left, with the taller Monte Ara dei Merli behind it. The horizon at right is defined by the profile of the massif known as Stazzo Paone. Bidauld omitted the village of Trasacco, also located on the south edge of the lake. (The last water in the lake, which was pestilential, was drained in 1875, resulting in an absolutely flat plain subsequently devoted to farming and industry. The subject represented here was identified for the first time in February 2010. Geographical identifications were provided by an officer of the Corpo Forestale dello Stato at Avezzano.)
Following Bidauld’s death the artist’s granddaughter published a biographical pamphlet, which included the following remarks on the Italian sojourn that yielded these studies: "Full of enthusiasm for the picturesque magnificences that unfolded before his eyes, he traveled many times to the Papal States, Tuscany, the kingdom of Naples, and brought back from these excursions not, like so many other artists, partial sketches [croquis informes], but finished drawings [dessins arrêtés], surprising in their number, and one hundred painted studies [études peintes], which are like completed paintings [tableaux achevés]. . . . M. Bidauld left a precious collection principally composed of one hundred painted studies, executed from nature [d’après nature] in Italy from 1785 through 1790, as well as a great number of drawings, the majority from the same period. The painted studies, which established the reputation of this master among his contemporaries, were almost entirely unknown to the younger generation of collectors [amateurs] and artists, and the exhibition of these paintings was no less pleasing to true friends of the arts than they were helpful to the renown of M. Bidauld." (Mme J.-M. de Gaulle, Notes sur la vie et les ouvrages de M. Bidauld, paysagiste, membre de l’Institut, [Paris], 1847, pp. 5, 8.)
[Asher Ethan Miller 2013]
the artist, Paris (until d. 1847; estate sale, Hôtel des Ventes Mobilières, Paris, March 25–26, 1847, possibly one of "39 Etudes de ciel, eau et sites dont on ne peut désigner les lieux," under no. 60); [Jérôme Fourier and Pascal Zuber, Paris, until 1988; sold on July 19 to Whitney]; Wheelock Whitney III, New York (from 1988)
Washington. National Gallery of Art. "In the Light of Italy: Corot and Early Open-air Painting," May 26–September 2, 1996, no. 31 (as "Mountains and a Lake," lent by a private collection, New York).
Brooklyn Museum. "In the Light of Italy: Corot and Early Open-air Painting," October 11, 1996–January 12, 1997, no. 31.
Saint Louis Art Museum. "In the Light of Italy: Corot and Early Open-air Painting," February 21–May 18, 1997, no. 31.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Path of Nature: French Paintings from the Wheelock Whitney Collection, 1785–1850," January 22–April 21, 2013, unnumbered cat. (fig. 9).
Jeremy Strick inIn the Light of Italy: Corot and Early Open-air Painting. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Art. Washington, 1996, p. 142, no. 31, ill. (color), dates it 1785–90; notes that, although the site has not been identified, it is one of several oil studies in which the artist adopts a broad horizontal format to depict "a mountainous landscape receding into the distance".
Asher Ethan Miller. "The Path of Nature: French Paintings from the Wheelock Whitney Collection, 1785–1850." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 70 (Winter 2013), pp. 12, 44, fig. 9 (color).
There is a version of the Metropolitan study, also painted in oil on paper, laid down on canvas, but of somewhat smaller dimensions (9 5/8 x 17 in. [24.5 x 43 cm]) and lacking elements found at the edges of the present composition (sale, Sotheby’s, Monaco, July 2, 1993, no. 153, ill.). As is also the case with his contemporary Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes, there are cognates of a number of Bidauld’s oil studies, although their purpose has not yet been ascertained.
At least three other works by Bidauld depict related subjects. One is the study described in the catalogue of the artist’s posthumous sale (see Provenance) under no. 43 as “Vue de l’Avellino, montagne près du lac de Celano, dans le royaume de Naples” (cf. An Eye on Nature II: The Gallic Prospect; French Landscape Painting 1785–1900, exh. cat., Stair Sainty Matthiesen Inc., New York, 1999, pp. 46–47, no. 2, ill.). The other was described under no. 49 in the sale catalogue as “Autre de la ville d’Avezano et du lac de Cellano, dans le royaume de Naples.” It was purchased on behalf of King Louis Philippe, who donated it to the Louvre (inv. no. 2601). Signed and dated 1789, this work is thought to have served as a study for the now unlocated painting exhibited in the Salon of 1793, “Vue de la ville d’Avezzano, au bord du lac de Cellano, royaume de Naples.” (Celano is another town that borders Lake Fucino).