This is an apparently unrecorded example of the landscape that Watts painted early in his career when staying in Italy with Lord Holland, British Minister to the Court of Tuscany. Having won a premium of £300 in the first competition to find artists capable of decorating the new Palace of Westminster, held in 1843, Watts had set out for Italy to study the great masters of the Italian Renaissance and the fresco technique. He was introduced to the Hollands in Florence and they invited him to stay at the Casa Feroni, where he became an essential element in Lady Holland's salon, thus begining his career as a 'tame' artist or 'genius in residence', later to be continued at Little Holland House. He painted or drew many members of the Hollands' circle, while at Villa Medici, their country retreat at Careggi two or three miles north of Florence, he embarked on a fresco showing Lorenzo de Medici's attendants drowning his doctor in a well. Lorenzo had died at the villa in 1492, and his doctor was suspected of administering poison. Whilst working on the fresco in the spring of 1845, Watts in the words of Lord Ilchester, took 'a violent fancy for landscape (which) diverted him from his strict objective'. It has been suggested that this was a response to the first volume of Ruskin's 'Modern Painters', published in 1843. The best-known product of the 'fancy' is 'Fiesole' (Watts Gallery, Compton), painted from the gallery under the roof of the villa, and there is a view looking in the opposite direction, showing another Medici villa, 'Petraia' (coll. the late Ronald Chapman; exhibited 'Victorian High Renaissance' Manchester, Minneapolis and Brooklyn, 1978-9, no.2). Another example, Mountain landscape (Carlisle Art Gallery; exhibition G.F Watts, Whitechapel Art Gallery, 1974, no.4 repr. in cat.) is very close to the present lot.
While precise dates cannot be assigned to Watts's Italian landscapes, they must all have been executed before his return to London in the spring of 1847 to enter another of the Westminster competitions. Quite apart from their subjects, they form a homogeneous and distinctive group, being more fluently handled and topographically more specific than his later essays in this field. At the same time they anticipate many of the later landscapes in being panoramic in scope. Watts's habit of painting from high vantage points in Italy in the 1840's seems to have established a pattern for his latter landscape pictures.