The corner of the balcony visible at lower left in this composition indicates Renoir’s vantage point overlooking the bay of Naples. His position afforded an iconic view of the harbor with the volcano Mount Vesuvius in the background, wafting smoke into the sky. Inspired by the southern Italian light, Renoir painted another version of this vista at a different time of day (The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Mass.). James Duncan, a wealthy sugar refiner, purchased the present work in 1883, making it the first Impressionist picture acquired by a Scottish collector.
Use your arrow keys to navigate the tabs below, and your tab key to choose an item
Renoir’s Travels in 1881-82: The artist departed for a much-anticipated visit to Italy in mid-October 1881 and stayed for three months, stopping for extended periods of time in Venice, Rome, and Naples. He studied the art of the Italian Renaissance, particularly the frescoes of Raphael in Rome, and he was also much interested by the wall paintings of Pompeii in the museum of Naples. He was thinking about modifying his own style, and—by way of generating income and advancing his position with clients—he also planned to paint views of familiar sites that would be easy for his dealer Durand-Ruel to sell. He was accompanied for at least part of the time by Aline Charigot, his mistress, of whose existence very few people were then aware, though she evidently modelled for one of his most important nudes, Blonde Bather (Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, 1955.609), dated 1881, while they were in Italy. On January 15, 1882, Renoir went to Palermo to sketch the composer Richard Wagner for his patron, the French publisher Georges Charpentier. Later in the month, he was working with Paul Cézanne at L’Estaque in the south of France, while in March, traveling by way of Marseilles, he went with Aline to Algiers hoping to improve his health. He finally returned to Paris in May. Renoir’s letters explain that he was constantly experimenting, and it was during this sustained period abroad that he achieved a more solid, classicizing, and monumental figural style.
The Italian Views: The largest number of view paintings are of Venice, and the subjects are those best known to visitors: the Grand Canal, Piazza San Marco, the waterfront with Palazzo Ducale from the island of San Giorgio, and the harbor basin, or bacino, with the church of Santa Maria della Salute. While in Naples, Renoir painted Sorrento and Capri in addition to twice depicting the waterfront of the city proper, looking over the avenue and promenade and across the Bay of Naples toward the twin peaks of Vesuvius. To do so, he placed his easel at an upper story window with a balcony in a building (not his hotel) near the northeast corner of Piazza Municipio. This is the most famous sight that Naples offers.
In recent years it has been agreed among scholars that the present canvas shows morning while a much more colorful painting in the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute (1955.587) depicts evening. The Met’s view is angled slightly further to the left than the one in Williamstown and includes the steeple of the church of Santa Maria del Carmine. The Clark picture omits not only the steeple but also the projecting balcony. In a letter of November 26, 1881, to Paul Berard (Distel 2010), Renoir wrote that he planned three paintings of Vesuvius at different times of day, indicating that he must have had Monet’s series concept in mind. However, there is no evidence of the existence of a third picture.
The Painting: This canvas, with thick dabs of pigment applied over the taped edges, appears to have been painted quickly. The individual figures are largely illegible. A donkey laden with produce and two carts, one drawn by a pair of bullocks, with their drivers, and a single open carriage with two passengers seen from behind can be made out. At the lower right, beside a green kiosk, an opening in the sea wall gives access to the water. The sails of the Neapolitan fishing boats beyond have not yet been raised. The mist over the far shore and beneath the peaks, a soft golden yellow, would have been fugitive, and difficult to capture. The dominant colors are lavender with a muddy gold, beige, pale blue, and touches of bright green. In some passages in the sky, overlapping diagonal strokes form a loose basket weave pattern. Renoir achieves an unusually pale, vaporous effect.
Katharine Baetjer 2021
Inscription: Signed and dated (lower right): Renoir. 81.
[Durand-Ruel, Paris, 1882–83; stock no. 2391; bought from artist on May 22, 1882, for Fr 700; sold on May 1, 1883, for Fr 3,000 to Duncan]; James Duncan, Benmore House, Dunoon, Argyllshire, Scotland (1883–ca. 1886/88); [James S. Inglis, New York, until 1888; sold on July 18, for Fr 275, to Boussod, Valadon]; [Boussod, Valadon & Cie, Paris, 1888–91; stock no. 19390; sold on December 24, 1891, for Fr 2,600, to Durand-Ruel]; [Durand-Ruel, New York, 1891; sold to Palmer]; Mrs. Potter Palmer, Chicago (until 1894; sold on June 28 to Durand-Ruel); [Durand-Ruel, New York, 1894–1911, stock no. 1192; sold on May 23 to Emmons]; Arthur B. Emmons, New York and Newport (1911–d. 1922); Mrs. Arthur B. Emmons (Julia W.) New York and Newport (1922–d. 1956)
Paris. Durand-Ruel. "Exposition des oeuvres de P. A. Renoir," April 1–25, 1883, no. 32.
New York. Wildenstein. "Renoir," April 8–May 10, 1958, no. 33 (as "Bay of Naples").
San Francisco. California Palace of the Legion of Honor. "Paintings by the Sea," July 1-30, 1961.
Santa Barbara Museum of Art. August 8–September 3, 1961.
Ann Arbor. University of Michigan Museum of Art. "Pompeii, As Source and Inspiration," 1977, no. 46.
Naples. Museo di Capodimonte. "Capolavori Impressionisti dei Musei Americani," December 3, 1986–February 1, 1987, no. 43 (as "Il golfo di Napoli").
Milan. Pinacoteca di Brera. "Capolavori Impressionisti dei Musei Americani," March 4–May 10, 1987, no. 43.
Amsterdam. Van Gogh Museum. "Theo van Gogh," June 24–September 5, 1999, no. 65 (as "La baie de Naples").
Paris. Musée d'Orsay. "Theo van Gogh: Marchand de tableaux, collectionneur, frère de Vincent," September 27, 1999–January 9, 2000, no. 65.
London. National Gallery. "Renoir Landscapes: 1865–1883," February 21–May 20, 2007, no. 65 (as "The Bay of Naples [Morning]").
Edinburgh. National Gallery Complex. "Impressionism and Scotland," July 19–October 12, 2008, unnumbered cat. (pl. 2).
Charles Sterling and Margaretta M. Salinger. French Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Vol. 3, XIX–XX Centuries. New York, 1967, pp. 154–55, ill.
Barbara Ehrlich White. "Renoir's Trip to Italy." Art Bulletin (December 1969), pp. 339, 343, 345, no. 10, fig. 19, ill., as "Vesuvius, Evening".
John Rewald. "Théo van Gogh, Goupil, and the Impressionists." Gazette des beaux-arts, 6th ser., 81 (January 1973), pp. 28–29, 62 n. 60, fig. 15.
Barbara Ehrlich White. Renoir: His Life, Art, and Letters. New York, 1984, pp. 116, 122, 127, ill. (color).
Gary Tinterow et al. Capolavori impressionisti dei musei americani. Exh. cat., Museo di Capodimonte, Naples. Milan, 1987, pp. 96–97, 112, no. 43, ill. (color).
Katharine Baetjer. European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Artists Born Before 1865: A Summary Catalogue. New York, 1995, p. 482, ill.
Richard Shone. The Janice H. Levin Collection of French Art. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2002, p. 51, fig. 23.
Colin B. Bailey inRenoir Landscapes: 1865–1883. Exh. cat., National Gallery. London, 2007, pp. 68, 80 n. 127, fig. 48 (color).
Christopher Riopelle inRenoir Landscapes: 1865–1883. Exh. cat., National Gallery. London, 2007, pp. 48, 249–51, no. 65, ill. (color), compares it to the similar view in a painting in the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, noting that contrary to past opinion, this work depicts a morning scene while the Clark version depicts the evening; states that Renoir may have looked down upon the bay from his window or balcony at the Hotel Trinacaria, above the northeastern end of the quay at the Piazza Municipio.
Guy-Patrice Dauberville, and Michel Dauberville, with Camille Fremontier-Murphy. Renoir: Catalogue raisonné des tableaux, pastels, dessins et aquarelles. Vol. 1, 1858–1881. Paris, 2007, p. 221, no. 167, ill.
Frances Fowle. Impressionism and Scotland. Exh. cat., National Gallery Complex. Edinburgh, 2008, pp. 13, 23, 65, 123, 129, 143, colorpl. 2, states that James Duncan purchased it in May 1883, making it the first Impressionist painting to be acquired by a Scottish collector; notes that it was also the only Renoir purchased by a British collector in the nineteenth century.
Andrew McDonald Watson. "James Duncan of Benmore, the First Owner of Renoir's 'Bay of Naples (Morning)'." Metropolitan Museum Journal 43 (2008), pp. 195–200, fig. 1 (color), notes that it was sold by Durand-Ruel to Duncan on May 1, 1883 for Fr 3,000, making it the first Renoir painting sold by Durand-Ruel in Scotland and the only known Renoir acquired by a British collector in the nineteenth century.
Andrew Watson. "James Duncan of Benmore: A Remarkable Victorian Collector." Journal of the Scottish Society for Art History 14 (2009–10), pp. 44, 46, 47 n. 4, p. 49 n. 54, fig. 6.
Andrew M. Watson. James Duncan: An Enlightened Victorian. Edinburgh, 2010, pp. 58–59, 66, 71, 78, ill. (color), and ill. on cover (color).
Anne Distel. Renoir. New York, 2010, p. 205, colorpl. 188, associates with this picture a letter he dates November 26, 1881, from Renoir in Naples to Paul Berard in which he discusses doing three paintings of Vesuvius at three different times of day.
John House inNineteenth-Century European Paintings at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. Ed. Sarah Lees. Williamstown, Mass., 2012, vol. 2, p. 680, fig. 281.1 (color), under no. 281, compares it to Renoir's "Bay of Naples, Evening" (1881, Clark Art Institute, Williamstown) and notes that such pairs of canvases of the same scene at different times of day were unusual for Renoir and show the artist following his friend Monet's example.
John Collins inRenoir Paintings and Drawings at the Art Institute of Chicago. Ed. Gloria Groom and Jill Shaw. Chicago, 2014, para. 6, under no. 14, fig. 14.2 (color) [https://publications.artic.edu/renoir/reader/paintingsanddrawings/section/138973], notes it was painted at about the same time as the more carefully modeled still lifes “Fruits of the Midi” (1881, Art Institute of Chicago) and “Onions” (1881, Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown).
Sylvie Patry inInventing Impressionism: Paul Durand-Ruel and the Modern Art Market. Ed. Sylvie Patry. Exh. cat., Musée du Luxembourg, Paris. London, 2015, p. 113, fig. 78 (color) [French ed., "Paul Durand-Ruel: le Pari de l'Impressionnisme," Paris, 2014, p. 88, fig. 61 (color)].
The Met Collection API is where all makers, creators, researchers, and dreamers can connect to the most up-to-date data and public domain images for The Met collection. Open Access data and public domain images are available for unrestricted commercial and noncommercial use without permission or fee.
We continue to research and examine historical and cultural context for objects in The Met collection. If you have comments or questions about this object record, please complete and submit this form. The Museum looks forward to receiving your comments.