Lacroix de Marseille painted this serene view of a Mediterranean port while he was living in Italy. The bustling vista in the foreground is typical of the artist’s paintings: fisherman pull in their nets and unload boats while other men and women converse, lounging along the rocky bay. In the background, Lacroix juxtaposes a ruined, ancient temple and more modern, man-made structures with a majestic, sweeping cliff, thereby elegantly confronting artifice with nature. Sunrays gently penetrate the overcast sky, illuminating the entire scene with golden-red highlights.
An old inscription on the reverse of the painting identifies the view as the Calanque d’En Vau, which is a narrow inlet with steep cliffs located between Cassis and Marseille. The Calanque d’En Vau has no architectural features, however, and this seascape fantasy is best understood as the artist’s own invention, perhaps inspired by the picturesque bays that line the French shoreline in this region.
The details of Lacroix’s formative years are obscure. He was born in the port city of Marseille, hence his nickname, and it is generally understood that he trained with Claude-Joseph Vernet. Lacroix’s two earliest known works are pendant seascapes, signed and dated 1743, executed in a style very close to that of his master. Beyond those paintings, there is no notice of the artist prior to 1750, when the Marquis de Vandières met him in Rome. Lacroix may have traveled to the Eternal City with Vernet, as they were working there side by side in 1751, when Lacroix executed precise copies of four works by Vernet, all of which are now at Uppark, Sussex. Two years later, after Vernet returned to France, Lacroix appears to have truly come into his own. He would work for another decade in Italy, where he was known as 'Della Croce’, enjoying tremendous success as a painter of fantasy seascapes such as the present work. Lacroix had returned to Paris by 1776, when he exhibited at the Salon du Colisée. Between 1780 and 1782, he is documented as a participant in the Salon de la Correspondance, an alternative public exhibition to the Salons of the official Academy, of which he was not a member. He died in 1782, in Berlin according to Pahin de la Blancherie.