Lake Albano, Lazio, Italy. Steel engraving by Robert Wallis from a drawing by William Turner (1775-1851), published in London, 1840.
European scenes on castle-top Card Cases or Vinaigrette's are extremely scarce, and only a few have been unambiguously
recorded. The silver engraver probably took his inspiration directly from steel print published in 1840.
The original Watercolour by Turner was sold by Christie's in June 1983, and again in June 2003 for £117,250 and most recently in July 2020 for £250,000.
The watercolour was included in William Robinson's catalogue of the collection of G.B. Windus in 1840. This was, after that of Walter Fawkes, probably the most important collection of Turner watercolours formed during the artist's lifetime.
This watercolour was one of a group painted for Charles Heath's projected Picturesque Views in Italy
and exhibited with 38 watercolours for the Picturesque Views in England and Wales
at the Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly, in the summer of 1829. Owing to financial difficulties over the England and Wales
series the Italian project was abandoned, but all three works appeared in The Keepsake
, also published by Heath; the other two views are Florence from San Miniato
and Arona, Lago Maggiore
; these also belonged to Windus.
There is a large group of sketches of Lake Albano, some accompanied by figure studies, in the 'Albano, Nemi, Rome' sketchbook made by Turner on his visit to Italy in 1819. Cecilia Powell has pointed out, however, the equal importance as a source for Turner of the oil painting by Claude that he saw on the same journey in the Barbarini collection in Rome, Pastoral Landscape with a View of Lake Albano and Castel Gandolfo
, 1639, now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. Not only are there great similarities between the compositions, with framing trees on both sides and a group of figures on the right, but Turner also emulates some of the features in the Claude that he had particularly noted in his 'Remarks' sketchbook, also used in Italy in 1819; these include the contrast between 'the trees on the left and centre dark [and] the right tree warm yellow leaves and brown stem', the colours of the female figures that keep 'the Eye to the centre', and the flowers in the centre that 'are painted very sharp'. Turner however adds his own overall warm glowing colour.
When this work was published in The Keepsake for 1829
, it was accompanied by a short story, 'The Sisters of Albano, by the Author of Frankenstein', that is Mary Shelley. The prologue includes a long description of Lake Albano that seems to echo Turner's watercolour and includes a description of the figures, the hunter, the contadina and the pedlar. Mary Shelley goes on to identify the hunter as a bandit, reflecting the danger that still threatened the countryside near Rome at the time of Turner's visit, and also placing Turner's picture in the tradition of Salvator Rosa and as an example of the contemporary revival of such subjects by Turner's friend Charles Eastlake and other artists such as Thomas Uwins, illustrating Eastlake's Sommino Woman and Brigand
, exhibited at the British Institution in 1823. The brigand's interest in the pedlar's wares, described by Mary Shelley as including 'portraits of the Madonna', would illustrate the well-known piety of the bandits.
These local figure types were becoming increasingly familiar in the work of contemporary British artists, and reflected both the romantic appeal and dangers that might be encountered. Indeed, in Turner’s era, the countryside between Rome and Naples was notorious as a place where travellers risked their possessions, and sometimes their lives, at the hands of armed banditti. Turner had direct experience of this while he was in Rome, for his friend Francis Chantrey was held hostage by a group of banditti until he paid £100. It could be, therefore, that the third figure in this group, who is evidently an itinerant artist, represents Chantrey (rather than Turner himself, as has also been suggested). But a further option is that the traveller, whose pictures are clearly fascinating the bandit couple, is intended to be Charles Lock Eastlake (1793-1865), future President of the Royal Academy and Director of the National Gallery, whom he more closely resembles. Turner had known Eastlake for many years and met up with him during his time in Rome in 1819; they would also share a studio there in 1828. This watercolour could even be seen as a personal tribute to Eastlake, painted around the time the younger artist was elected to the Royal Academy, in recognition of a body of work that included paintings and published images of Italian banditti.