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 produced 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.)
[2013; adapted from Miller 2013]