Charles-François Grenier de Lacroix, called LACROIX DE MARSEILLE (Marseilles, c. 1700 – Berlin, 1782)

View of the Bay of Naples with Vesuvius Erupting

62.5 x 97 cm. (24 58 x 38 316 in.)

Oil on canvas; Signed lower left on a rock "De Lacroix Roma 1763"

Charles-François Grenier de Lacroix, known as Lacroix de Marseille, was a marine painter who enjoyed quite a reputation during his lifetime. Inspired by the famous Claude-Joseph Vernet, whose pupil he was in Rome under the name of "Della Croce," Lacroix developed his own clientele by bringing a certain preciousness to his works. Thus he was able to extend his Italian sojourn and remain for some twenty years, although the exact dates remain to be determined.

In Naples, the capital of the Kingdom of Two Sicilies, Lacroix de Marseilles found his greatest source of inspiration: the bay is an excellent exercise for landscape painters. The view here gives us a spectacular panorama of the city and of Vesuvius, which was sublimely fascinating on account of its eruptions and the tragic consequences it had had on Herculaneum and Pompeii in 79 C.E.

In addition to depicting the sea, which he loved and knew very well, the rocky coastline is systematically animated by characters skillfully punctuating the composition with a few splashes of color. In a customary schema, the artist places the figures going about their tasks in the foreground oblivious to the extraordinary display behind them.

A natural poetry emanates from his work, whether it’s at night or in the day or, as here, at twilight with the whole bay bathed in the warm orange hues of sunset. The calm peacefulness of this image is offset by the spectacular eruption in the background which is as terrifying as it is grandiose.

Lacroix de Marseille is one of the landscape painters whose attention to detail invites him to integrate Vesuvius as the principal subject of his large-scale compositions: the volcano closes the composition and frames the field of vision. Constantly changing, it is also a terrific outdoor painting exercise and a constant challenge for a painter.

The storm clouds rapidly pass over the column of fire, and sometimes hide it partially or completely, and others reveal it in all its splendor, the different shades produced by the reflection of the light on the white clouds (…)

Many artists thus depicted Vesuvius as a definition of Neapolitan identity for a clientele of tourists on the Grand Tour.

Vesuvius entered into eruption in 1766, three years after the creation of our picture. One can easily imagine that Lacroix de Marseille was still in Naples that year, because he dated another canvas also depicting the volcano in 1767. Most of the artist’s works which have come down to us depicting this natural spectacle were taken at night, whereas this view constitutes rare evidence of an eruption in the daytime.

Bursting with details, our picture is a combination of high artistic quality and rigorous almost scientific representation. Very clear and legible, Lacroix’ coloristic eloquence enables him to transcribe faithfully the image which is before him of blazing smoke and escaping lava shooting out of the volcano. Beyond the volcano which captures the viewer’s attention, the artist also endows the sea with its most brilliant luster with beautiful reflections of ship silhouettes.

Among the many 18th-century marine painters, Charles-François Grenier de Lacroix deserves a special place for the remarkable quality and liveliness of his works which his mentor Joseph Vernet recognized: some of the master’s signed paintings are in fact the result of his pupil’s skillful brushwork.

“The eruption the next day was surely the most terrific and alarming, but this one is so beautiful and sublime that even the most fertile imagination would not know how to paint it.”

The artist rises to the challenge several times in depicting the sublime tragedy of the eruption of Vesuvius, a precious historic document for scholars today.

Provenance :

  • Private Collection
    transl. chr
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