Thomas Jones (1743-1803)
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Thomas Jones (1743-1803)

View of the Campi Flegrei from the Camadolise Convent near Naples

Thomas Jones (1743-1803)
View of the Campi Flegrei from the Camadolise Convent near Naples
oil on canvas
50¼ x 71 3/8 in. (127.6 x 181.3 cm.)
Ordered from the artist by Sir William Hamilton, British Plenipotentiary to the Kingdom of Naples, in 1783.
'Memoirs of Thomas Jones; 1782-3', Walpole Society, XXXII, 1951, pp. 113, 115, and 121-2.
Vases and Volcanoes, Sir William Hamilton and his collection, ed. I Jenkins and K. Sloan, Catalogue to the exhibition at the British Museum, 1996, p. 133, under no. 19.
A Dictionary of British and Irish Travellers in Italy 1701-1800, compiled from the Brinsley Ford archive by J. Ingamells, New Haven and London, 1997, p. 563.
Thomas Jones, An Artist Rediscovered, ed. Ann Sumner and Greg Smith, catalogue to the exhibition at the National Museum and Art Gallery of Wales, Cardiff, and the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, New Haven and London, 2003, pp. 66 and 71-2.
London, Royal Academy, 1784, no.114.
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Lot Essay

This dramatic panoramic view is among the most successful and subtly balanced of the large scale landscapes that Jones undertook while living in Naples at the beginning of the 1780s. Bought from the artist by Sir William Hamilton, it was the first picture that Jones chose to exhibit at the Royal Academy, after his return to England, as an advertisent for his skills. Untraced until now, it represents an important rediscovery of a work central to an understanding of the artist's achievement and career.

Jones had travelled to Italy in 1776, at the age of thirty-four, soon after leaving his mentor Richard Wilson's studio, and was to remain there for the following seven years. Having crossed the Alps on 5 November 1776, by the end of November he was in Rome where he lived until moving to Naples in September 1778. He returned to Rome at the beginning of 1779 but in the spring of the following year decided once more to live in Naples where he remained until departing for London in August 1783.

In an entry in his memoirs for 4 October 1782 Jones recorded an excursion to the 'Convent of the Camaldole which is the highest Situation near Naples' which commanded a view of 'all the Coast of Baja, Cuma, Monte Nuovo & Gauro or barbaro, ye lakes of Agnano, Averno & Mare Morto - The City of Puzzuoli - The Solfatara, Astruni, Promontory of Miseno &C - in short, all that tract of Country distinguished by the name of the Campi Flegrei - and which Sr W'm Hamilton has Discussed in his Treatise of Volcano's'. He also commented that 'thinking it a curious subject I made a large and correct Sketch of the whole, with an idea of painting it on a grand Scale ...' (op.cit., p.115). The monumental and active volcanic landscape of the Campi Flegrei, which lies immediately to the west of Naples, had been famous since antiquity, its caves, earth tremors and volcanic flares having given rise to the belief that the entrance to the underworld was located there. Virgil's Aeneid relates how Aeneas, landing near Avernus, asked the Cumaean Sibyl to prophesy his future and was led by her into Hades to meet the ghost of his father who foretold his destiny. Aside from his interest in the artistic possibilities provided by such a dramatic and unususal landscape, with its resonances of the classical world, Jones's decision to paint the landscape on a large scale seems also to have been stimulated by his desire to attain the patronage of Sir William Hamilton, who was then British Ambassador Plenipotentiary to the Bourbon Court at Naples. Hamilton was an important patron of the arts and an arbiteur of taste and Jones had felt the need to call upon him almost immediately on his arrival in Naples, as someone who could perhaps unlock the doors of patronage from both the visiting English Grand Tourists as well as the local aristocracy and who had the potential to secure him wider patronage for his work on his eventual return to London.

The choice of the Campi Flegrei as the subject of a large scale painting was calculated to elicit a favourable reaction from Hamilton who had a deep interest in vulcanology and had written a treatise on the landscape of the area entitled Campi Phlegraei: Observations on the Volcanoes of the Two Sicilies in 1776. In an entry in his memoirs dated 3 August 1782, a month and a half before he recorded his excursion to the Camoldoli Hill, Jones recorded taking Sir William Hamilton to see his work at his house in the Vicolo del Canale and wrote modestly 'Sir William was please to pay me more Compliments on my performances than I expected or thought they deserved And lent me his Treatise on Volcanoes with prints highly colored by his favourite painter M.Fabris -' (op.cit., pp. 113-4). By April 1783 Jones was able to record of his ambitious plan to paint the Campi Flegrei on a 'grand scale' that 'I had by this time almost finished the Picture on Cloth 7 Palms by 5, particularly prepared with a white ground for the Purpose' and to add that 'Sir William Hamilton was pleased with it, being rather explanatory of his description of the Scene - and bespoke it for himself at my price which was 50 Guineas for that Size ... leaving the Charge of conveying it [to England] to me -' (op.cit., pp.121-2). Jones recorded in an entry for 3 and 4 April 1783 further excursions into the country 'particularly to the Camaldole in order to make fresh observations on the Subject' (op.cit., p. 122). Hamilton was kept informed of the progress of the picture and was also involved in the evolution of the composition. His interest in the picture and the degree of his involvement is made clear by an entry in Jones's memoirs for 7 April 1783, in which the artist recorded that on a visit to see Sir William Hamilton he 'attended me to the Study, to see the progress of his picture, & then took me to Pussilippo [sic] to make a drawing of a Palm Tree growing there, in order to have it introduced into the View of the Campi Flegrei' which explains one of the picture's most unusual motifs (op.cit. p. 122).

The finished composition which was transported to England was to be the picture which Jones selected to advertise his skills and the tranformation that his art had undergone over his seven year stay in Italy in his first exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1784. The finished view, which echoed Fabris's earlier composition which had featured in Hamilton's treatise, received several reviews. The Morning Chronicle thought that it showed a 'great deal of Merit ... learning and taste' (13 May 1784) and on another occasion that the choice of subject is 'fine, his execution is masterly, and his effect charming' (29 April 1784). Others such as The St. James's Chronicle were less enthused observing that the middle ground was too 'distinct' so that the 'leaves may be counted' while the 'distant prospect was similar to that of the whole' (4-6 May 1784).


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