With the support of the Art Fund, the Ottley Group, the Oppenheimer Fund, Jean-Luc Baroni, the Society of Dilettanti Charitable Trust and individual contributions; the British Museum has acquired a rare and early surviving work by one of the eighteenth century’s most innovative and technically gifted landscape artists. The work is by Giovanni Battista Lusieri, and is a watercolour of Rome: showing a panoramic view of his native city Rome from Piazza San Pietro in Montorio on the Janiculum, stretching from the Capitoline Hill on the left to the Aventine Hill on the right which is circa 1778–1779.
The painting is one of three surviving views from a four-sheet 180 degree watercolour panorama of Rome from the Janiculum at different times of day from morning to evening. These were bought or commissioned by Philip Yorke (1757-1834). Yorke became 3rd Earl of Hardwicke in 1790, during his time in the city in 1778-9. The watercolour becomes only the sixth work in UK public collections by the artist, and the second in the British Museum collection. The painting remains in the UK following a temporary export deferral placed on it to provide time for a buyer to come forward to save it for the nation.
The deferral followed a recommendation from the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA), administered by the Arts Council of England. The artist was unusual because he worked in watercolour, a medium more closely associated with artists from Northern Europe rather than Italy. The work highlights Lusieri’s technical skills as a draughtsman in watercolour and his significance as a pioneer of panoramic views. The watercolour by an artist whose primary focus was on landscape holds additional interest because it is about time and transience as much as it is about the topography.
Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, stated: “The acquisition of this beautiful watercolour will help bring Lusieri’s work to a new and wider audience, and help us appreciate not only his exquisite craftsmanship but also his place among his contemporaries. I am very grateful to the Art Fund the Ottley Group, the Oppenheimer Fund, Jean-Luc Baroni, the Society of Dilettanti Charitable Trust and individual donors for their support in securing this work which can now be enjoyed by visitors to the Museum.”
The painting will go on public display on 12 December in Room 90 at the British Museum alongside a watercolour by the artist showing a view of the Tiber valley looking north from Monte Mario dated 1781 and a selection of more freely executed watercolours from the same era by Carlo Labruzzi. This exhibition will offer the opportunity to compare and enjoy work by two Italian artists whose patrons included British aristocratic travellers on the Grand Tour. After the display ends on 15 February, the Lusieri will then be freely accessible to visitors in the Prints and Drawings Study Room which is open without appointment five days a week, fifty weeks of the year.
Recent acquisitions: “Visions of Rome: Lusieri and Labruzzi” 12 December – 15 February 2015