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Work Lake Nemi, Sunset
Department of Paintings: English painting
Lake Nemi, Sunset
© 2005 Musée du Louvre / Erich Lessing
The painting is of the Mirror of Venus, as Lake Nemi near Rome was known in antiquity. The subject was extremely popular; the artist and such contemporaries as Francis Towne and Francis Pars painted no fewer than ten versions. Wright made this work in about 1790, nearly fifteen years after his tour of Italy. It is a marvellous evocation of the light and warmth of the Mediterranean setting.
Lake Nemi, the mirror of Venus
The waters of the lake reflect the sloping hills around its shores. A few birds are flying over the lake, while a shepherd on a mule is watching over his flock. The site is spectacular. The history and beauty of the lake have always been a source of fascination for artists and travelers.
The impression of timeless serenity is heightened by the almost perfectly monochrome swathes of orange-brown that give the painting as a whole a rocky, earthy feel. The delicacy and intelligence of the composition gradually become more apparent, combining the impression of heat and torpor in what is a typically Italian landscape. The scene seems immobilized by the heat and the blinding light. It captures the viewer's gaze and holds it fast, as if to focus all his attention on this mythical site.
Italy: the art of painting light
In the eighteenth century, a tour of Italy was an absolute must for all aspiring artists. The light, the influence and reputation of the artists of the Renaissance, and the esteem in which painting was held in Italy all made the country a haven for artists.
In 1773 Wright set out for Italy. He made many sketches and tried to capture the special quality of the Mediterranean light in his paintings. He paid particular attention to details that conveyed the unique atmosphere.
On his return to England in 1775, he used his sketches as a means of keeping his memories of Italy fresh. The attentive observation of details combined with the play of light creates some unusual effects recalling the philosophy of the sublime. The animals and the figure of the peasant highlight the work's skilful blend of imagination and reality.
A multifaceted artist
Wright was born into a wealthy family and studied in the studio of Thomas Hudson in the 1750s. He began painting portraits in about 1760, later showing both history paintings and portraits at the Society of Artists in London.
In 1768 he presented his famous work The Experiment with the Air Pump, now in the Tate Britain in London. This work is one of the great masterpieces of British painting, combining "naiveté and depth," as Flaubert wrote, reflecting the peculiarly eighteenth-century fascination for science and description of the emotions.
Wright's oeuvre is immensely varied: there are very few genres at which he did not try his hand at some point in his career.
Joseph WRIGHT, also known as WRIGHT OF DERBY (Derby, 1734-Derby, 1797)
Lake Nemi, Sunset
Oil on canvas
H. 1 m; L. 1.28 m
Purchased from the Agnew Gallery, London, 1970
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