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View of Lake Nemi with the Town of Genzano in the background. Pen and brown ink, watercolour and gouache. 37 x 55.8 cm. Circa 1845.
This superbly preserved, large sheet shows a picturesque section of the shore of Lake Nemi in the Alban Hills, some thirty kilometres south-east of Rome. Since ancient times the spectacular landscape around Lake Nemi had exerted a great attraction on Roman patricians who sought recreation and built villas here. In the background one can discern the skyline of the town of Genzano, perched like an eagle’s nest on a mountain range.
In the 18th and 19th centuries the lake, which is of volcanic origin, became a favourite destination for artists residing in Rome. Painters like John Robert Cozens, Jakob Philipp Hackert and William Turner eternalized the Lago di Nemi in vedute in which they mostly preferred panoramic views of the lake, showing its steep, craggy banks. So the vantage point selected by Benouville is unusual: down on the bank of the lake, where the artist has given us a detailed and wonderfully in-depth close-up of the feathery foliage of a holm-oak, a fallen tree trunk, bushes and boulders. The majestic stillness of the broad landscape is impressive. With subtlety and vividness the artist has caught the shifting play of light on the motionless surface of the water. Benouville’s watercolour technique, which conjures up breathtakingly soft transitions and the finest chiaroscuro, is one of genuine mastery, the freshness of its observation of nature giving it a timeless beauty. The artist trained under Léon Cogniet and François Picot, and in 1838 undertook what was to be the first of several Italian tours. A stay of several months in Rome in 1843, during which Benouvelle collaborated very closely with Corot, proved to be a very formative experience. Thereafter the Italian landscape, bathed in its special Mediterranean glow, was to become a central theme of his art. Of particular importance in this connection are Benouville’s gouaches and watercolours, which appeared regularly from 1844 onwards. Their vivacity, lightness of touch and fluid use of colour place them stylistically somewhere between Pierre Henry de Valenciennes and Corot.