Expanding Horizons: Giovanni Battista Lusieri and the Panoramic Landscape
Watercolour landscapes with photorealist sensibilities
This article is from 2012.
Most remembered as the man who arranged the shipping of the Elgin Marbles in his position as artistic retainer to Thomas Bruce, Lord Elgin, this retrospective of Giovanni Battista Lusieri’s relatively little-remembered 18th and 19th century landscape painting career proves to be something of a revelation. As comprehensively and informatively curated as we might expect from a Scottish National Galleries show, it reflects both his interest in gorgeous sunlit Mediterranean panoramas and the ruined architecture of ancient Greek and Roman civilisation.
Divided up by region, highlighting Lusieri’s time in Rome, Naples, Sicily and painting the Acropolis in Greece for Lord Elgin, the fully completed watercolours (his interest in using these instead of oils was a rarity for an Italian painter) shown here are often staggeringly detailed and expansive, displaying an intuitive and very finely-honed feel for the effects of light and shade, and a perfectionist’s eye for every tiny detail of an outdoor landscape. His study of the Bay of Naples is marvellous, the reflections in the water of the bay appearing pin-sharp and the sunlight dissolving into a white haze on the horizon.
In an ambitious triptych panorama of Rome and stunning moonlit evocations of Vesuvius’ eruptions of 1787 and 1794, we can picture a sensibility which would later come to be described as photorealist, a documentarian’s urge to represent all that they see. Ignore the incongruous figures lounging in each foreground, presumably for purposes of scale, and manage expectations as many barely-realised pencil sketches dominate in later rooms – just enjoy the view.
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, until Sun 28 Oct.