The iconic view of Naples as seen through the cleft between Virgil’s Tomb at the left and the rocky outcropping at the right was a principal attraction of the Grand Tour. Catel used this plein-air sketch as the basis for a larger composition (Museum Folkwang, Essen) that features a dog and two human figures, one of whom might be the Russian state official Prince Alexander Nikolaevich Golitsyn, who accompanied the artist on a trip to southern Italy in 1818.
The iconic view depicted here was a principal attraction of the Grand Tour. From the same spot as the author of this study, artists including Achille-Etna Michallon and Johann Joachim Faber produced essentially the same composition: seen through the cleft between Virgil’s Tomb at left and the rocky outcropping at right is the spectacle of Naples climbing up the facing slope, with Castel Sant’Elmo at its peak. When it appeared on the art market about 1999, this unsigned work was attributed to the French painter Jean-François Robert (1778–1832) on the basis of stylistic affinity with a pair of Neapolitan views, now in a private collection, one of which is signed and dated 1805 (see Mackinnon 1999; photos of these unpublished paintings, formerly with Didier Aaron, New York and Paris, are in the Department of European Paintings archive file). Robert did indeed excel at the sort of finely detailed rendering seen in this study, and it is no coincidence that he was a foremost painter of landscapes on porcelain, two superb examples of which are found in the Museum’s collection (2011.545–46).
The sketch was recently recognized as a study by Catel that served as the basis for his painting of the same composition (Museum Folkwang, Essen). The finished painting includes a figure tentatively identified as Count Alexander Nikolaevich Golitsyn (1773–1844), who accompanied Catel on a trip to southern Italy in 1818. The neoclassical Villa Lucia, visible in both works, was not completed until that year (see Romanticism and Nature: A selection of 19th century paintings and oil sketches, Daxer & Marshall, Munich, and Thomas le Claire, Hamburg, 2004, pp. 20–21, ill., and Andreas Stolzenburg, Franz Ludwig Catel [1778–1856]: paesaggista e pittore di genere, exh. cat., Casa di Goethe, Rome, 2007, p. 53, fig. 29).
The attribution of this sketch is supported by close technical similarities with another painting by Catel, A View of Naples through a Window, of 1824 (Cleveland Museum of Art; see Charlotte Hale, Examination Report, July 26, 2011, and Dean Yoder, email, November 9, 2011). The attribution is affirmed by Stolzenburg (emails, December 22, 2011, and May 3, 2012; all documentation in Department of European Paintings files).
[Asher Ethan Miller 2013. Note: in addition to the invaluable contributions offered by the persons named above, the cooperation of Susanne Brüning, Sabine Rewald, and Marcia Steele is also gratefully acknowledged.]
private collection, France (until 1999 or 2000; sold to Mackinnon); [James Mackinnon, London, until 2000; sold on February 8, 2000 to Whitney]; Wheelock Whitney III, New York (from 2000)
New York. W. M. Brady & Co., Inc. "Land, Sea and Sky, 1770–1870," October 6–21, 1999, no. 4 (as by Jean-François Robert).
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. 30).
Hamburger Kunsthalle. "Franz Ludwig Catel. Italienbilder der Romantik," October 16, 2015–January 31, 2016, no. 138 (as "Blick vom Grab des Vergil auf den Vomero-Hügel mit Castel Sant’Elmo in Neapel," ca. 1818).
James Mackinnon. Land, Sea and Sky, 1770–1780. Exh. cat., W. M. Brady & Co., Inc. [New York and London], 1999, unpaginated, no. 4, ill. (color), dates it 1805 on the basis of a pair of views [now in a private collection]; states that a finished painting depicting Virgil's Tomb "now to be identified as by Robert" was recently on the art market [the painting, subsequently identified as by Catel, is now Folkwang Museum, Essen].
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. 27, 44, fig. 30 (color).