Painted in September of 1867, Bay of Baiae, Sunrise is a superior example of Thomas Moran's early work and the second of three paintings that he painted of the site, named after Odysseus' helmsman, Baius, whom is supposedly buried there. Known as Baia today, this area, located seven miles southwest of Naples on the Italian coast, was prosperous during the Roman Empire.
Moran's treatment of light, color and atmosphere in Bay of Baiae, Sunrise manifest the influence of British Romantic painter Joseph Mallord William Turner. Moran had long studied black and white reproductions of Turner's paintings before traveling to Europe in 1862 and again from 1866 to 1867, where he studied the master's work in person, copying some of his images. Turner also depicted the bay of Baiae in his mythical The Bay of Baiae, with Apollo and Sibyl (1823, The Tate Gallery, London) as the fabled history of the place and its crystalline light would have naturally appealed to both artists' romantic natures. Moran was compelled to paint the bay three times, exploring different aspects in each work as indicated by their titles: Temple of Venus and Castle of Baiae painted in June 1867 and Pozzuoli and Bay of Baiae painted in September 1867. Like Turner, Moran used the landscape as a source of inspiration, altering the actual scene for an artistic effect and to capture the character of the vision rather than accurately transcribe it. Moran avowed, "I place no value upon literal transcripts from nature. My general scope is not realistic; all my tendencies are toward idealization. Of course, all art must come through nature or naturalism, but I believe that a place, as a place, had no value in itself for the artist only so far as it furnishes the material from which to construct a picture." (as quoted in L. Nelson, "The Oil Paintings of Thomas Moran" in Thomas Moran, 1837-1926, exhibition catalogue, Riverside, California, 1963, p. 18)
Bay of Baiae, Sunrise is inscribed "Op-28," which refers to the painting's number on Moran's "Opus List." This list, currently in the collection of the Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa, Oklahoma, is the artist's document of his most important works from 1863 to 1868. Moran said of this list, "since Aug 1863 I have numbered every picture that I have painted, to which I attach any value." (as quoted in N.K. Anderson, Thomas Moran, New Haven, Connecticut, 1997, p. 350) The artist's choice to include Bay of Baiae, Sunrise on this list demonstrates his high regard for the work. Indeed, its subject matter, splendid light and heightened attention to detail are exemplary, imbuing the work with a romantic grandeur.
This painting will be included in Stephen L. Good and Phyllis Braff's forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist's work.