This rare and previously unrecorded painting by Taunay is a valuable addition to the few works by the artist that survive. Although not dated, this small canvas appears to belong to the handful of early works painted by Félix-Émile Taunay in Brazil in the 1820s, showing the influence of his father Nicolas-Antoine Taunay and his contemporaries. It may be some years earlier than the other surviving views of Rio by Félix-Émile from the 1820s, such as the two small oils on card in the Geyer collection (Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, at sunrise and by moonlight, both dated 1828), and the larger panoramas of the bay, also 1828 (Baia de Guanabara vista da Ilha das Cobras, and Conserto de um barco. Ilha de Villegagnon – Baia de Guanabara, private collection, Rio de Janeiro).
The view looks down from the elevated Santa Teresa district over the church and point of La Glória, the Carioca Aqueduct (Arcos de Lapa) in the left foreground, and beyond to the mouth of Guanabara Bay, with the distinctive sugar loaf (Pão de Açúcar) on its western shore. The subject follows both in subject and format the celebrated series of views of Rio taken by his father in the immediately preceding years (1816-1821). These latter works by Nicolas-Antoine mostly on small canvases (45 x 57cm. and thereabouts), close in size to the present work.
The little hilltop and district of Glória and Catete was a fashionable residential area. The British Vice Consul, Consul General and chargé d’affaires Henry Chamberlain (1773-1829), in Rio from 1811-29, had a second summer residence on the slopes of the Glória Hill (the first house glimpsed just over the hill to the right of the church). Chamberlain’s eldest son and namesake published his fine early Views and Costumes of the City and Neighbourhood of Rio de Janeiro in London in 1822. The commentary to the plates described the scenery as it was then: ‘This Church, dedicated to the Virgin, as “Our Lady of Glory, “Na. Sa. Da Gloria”, stands on an eminence at the Southern extremity of the Praia da Lapa, and forms a very picturesque object from the Shipping in the Bay. At Night it serves as a Beacon for Boats going to the shore South of the Town, the Beach close beside it being at all times a safe place of landing. … The houses on the point of Land Eastward of the Church are the property of an English Merchant, who having first built one of these for himself, found the situation so desirable, that he soon surrounded it by others, and the Point of Gloria is become, as it were, an English Village.’ The early residents on the hill included Joachim Lebreton, the head of the French Mission, and Auguste-Marie Taunay, Félix-Émile’s uncle (who took over Lebreton’s house after the latter’s death in 1819).
Félix-Émile followed stylistically as well as literally in his father’s footsteps, drawing from the same classical tradition that stretched from Claude Lorraine to Nicolas- Antoine’s contemporary Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes. As in Claude’s great classical vistas, and in Valenciennes’ re-imagined Italian scenery, the emphasis is on light and its effects. Here Félix-Émile paints the entrance to the bay at daybreak, the scene lit dramatically by the rays of the rising sun offstage to the left, with slaves, as if shepherds in a classical landscape, at rest in front of the flowering trees (probably purple Ipes), on the Glória slopes.
Elaine Dias, Historia da Arte, Universidade Federal de Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo, comments at length on the influence of his father Nicolas-Antoine and this classical tradition on the young Taunay’s early views of Rio: 'As obras de Félix-Émile Taunay, sobretudo aquelas datadas dos anos de 1823, 1828 e 1829, representam uma natureza que em muito se aproxima da dotrina clássica europeia, principalmente aquela realizada pelos pintores em excursão pela Itália. Essa maniera de conceber a paisagem foi também cotejada por seu pai no Brasil. Correspondem, em primeira instância, as experiêncas com o emprego da luz dourada … O tratamento da luz na composição dado pelo pintor paisagista, expresso de maniera admirável por Taunay pai no Brasil, singulariza-o em meio a uma série de artistas situados no Rio de Janeiro nessa época … Convém ressaltar que o aspect formal da composição da pintura de paisagem é central nos primeiros anos de carreira de Félix-Émile Taunay. É das primeiras paisagens realizadas no Brasil que temos conheicimento. A preocupação com o caráter da luz, a maneira de compor as nuvens, o cuidado com o reflex e com a vegetação são elementos fundamentais para sua formação como pintor de paisagem. …’ E. Dias, Paisagem e Academia, Félix-Émile Taunay e o Brasil (1824-1851), Campinas, 2009, pp.306 and 310-12)
We are grateful to Elaine Dias for confirming the attribution on the basis of a photograph. Dias remarks that the signature here ‘FÉLIX-EMILE TAUNAY’ may indicate that the painting was made before 1834 or after 1851, as the artist signed ‘FELIX EMILIO TAUNAY’ as director of the Academy of Fine Arts in Brazil, and concludes ‘…this is a beautiful composition painted by Felix, one of the most beautiful ever made by the painter.’ (Private communication, Sao Paulo, 9 October 2013)