A view of the Bay of Naples from Posillipo looking south with the Palazzo Donn'Anna, the Castel dell'Ovo and Vesuvius beyond oil on canvas 91.5 x 152.5cm (36 x 60 1/16in).
PROVENANCE: Probably acquired by Sir Henry Mainwaring of Over Peover, Cheshire, when on the Grand Tour circa 1760, and thence by descent to the present owner.
The present owner's ancestor, Sir Henry Mainwaring (died 1797), was a Grand Tourist and patron of the arts. He succeeded as a youth to the baronetcy in 1726 on the death of his uncle, Sir Thomas. On the 9 February 1760 he arrived with his travelling companion, George Harry Grey, Lord Grey (and later Earl of Stamford) from Naples in Rome. Grey is known to have commissioned views of Rome and Naples from John Plimmer and sat to Mengs, but it was the Dance brothers whom he and Mainwaring particularly favoured. A portrait by Nathaniel Dance of the two men against a Roman backdrop is now at Dunham Massey. The two men also feature in two works which Thomas Patch painted after they travelled on to Florence during the summer of the same year. It seems likely that it was through Sir Henry that the present painting came into the current owner's family in order to furnish the alterations that he made to Peover Hall when he added a new wing in 1762.
The likely provenance and comparable quality of the present painting suggest that it is the primary version of two compositions of this subject by the artist. A second version, signed and dated 1778, of similar dimensions but with minor differences and of lesser quality, was formerly in the collection of Harry Primrose, sixth Earl of Rosebery, Mentmore Towers, Buckinghamshire and formed part of a series which included a View of Capri from the sea in a storm and a View of Santa Lucia (see Nicola Spinosa, Pittura napoletana del Settecento (Naples, 1988), no. 309, p. 163, ill. fig. 408, p. 397).
Naples was the furthest point on the British Grand Tourist's route. In fact the artist, Pietro Fabris, may himself be considered a British ex-patriot since he described himself and was described by contemporaries as 'British'. Indeed, evidence suggests that he was most likely born in London. Chief among his patrons in Naples were the British envoy in the City, Sir William Hamilton, and the latter's close friend and intellectual soul-mate, Kenneth Mackenzie, Lord Fortrose and later Earl of Seaforth. Both men owned villas at the coastal village of Posillipo, from whence Fabris gives us the current view, and while Hamilton's Villa Emma has been located just to the south of the Palazzo Donn'Anna, it is entirely possible that Fabris took the current view from Fortrose's villa. A pair of interior views showing the artist himself painting Fortrose while he entertains his guests in his principal apartments at Naples are now in the National Gallery in Edinburgh (these guests include the young Mozart, his father, Leopold, the composer, Niccolò Jommelli, and Hamilton).
In May, 1770, the traveller, Patrick Brydone, described a bathing expedition in Posillipo. Casini near to the shore served them mainly for sea-bathing when the court moved to this vicinity in summer, while also making it possible to keep an eye on the behaviour of Vesuvius at all times. 'Sea-bathing we have found to be the best antidote against the effects of the sirocco; and this we certainly enjoy in great perfection. Lord Fortrose, who is the soul of our colony here, has provided a large commodious boat for this purpose. We meet every morning at eight o'clock and row about half a mile out to sea, where we strip and plunge into the water ... After bathing we have an English breakfast at his lordship's, and after breakfast a delightful little concert, which lasts for an hour and a half.'
As well as his topographical views of Naples, Fabris was and is celebrated for his records of the colourful Neapolitan street people, or lazzaroni. The artist's two passions are combined to perfection in the present canvas. Elisabeth Vigée Lebrun also described the very atmosphere that Fabris conjures up for us here: 'The "quai de Chiaja" was always so lively that it never ceased to offer me any number of amusing spectacles, whether lazzaroni coming to refresh themselves at a beautiful fountain in front of my windows, or young laundresses washing their linen there. On Sundays young peasants in their best clothes danced the tarantella in front of my house, beating a little drum, and every evening I could see fishermen, the flames from their torches reflected in the sea ... Often I used to take a boat for an excursion and enjoy the magnificent spectacle presented by this city which one always sees in its entirety, like some amphitheatre. Sir William Hamilton had a little cottage on the shore, where I sometimes dined. Small boys came and dived into the sea for several minutes for a halfpenny, and just at the moment when I began to be afraid for them, would surface with the halfpennies in their mouths.'