Anton Sminck Pitloo
(Arnhem 1790 - 1837 Naples)
Lago di Nemi, Italy, 1811-37
Oil on paper, laid down on canvas, 21.5 x 27 cm
In this paysage intime by Anton Sminck Pitloo the compositional arrangement and choice of thematic focus have been carefully thought through. However, with its sure, rapid brushwork this unconventional, close-up depiction of a segment of landscape acquires the vitality of a study. The painting was almost certainly the product of direct observation – a hypothesis borne out by the fact that paper was used as a support.
The chilly light that suffuses the landscape is not the only factor to suggest that the time of year is winter. The tree at the right has lost most of its foliage. The few withered leaves that remain have the same copper tinge as the surrounding hills. Accents of light flicker across the surfaces of the tree’s trunk and branches, and highlight the stones and grasses in the foreground. The lake behind them is veiled in a wispy haze. Its steep banks, indicative of its volcanic origin, are carefully articulated in shades of copper-brown.
Pitloo’s technical versatility ranges from summarily executed atmospheric studies which exploit the play of tonal values to masterly depictions of finely observed detail. The present landscape is a very fine example of the latter.
The Lago di Nemi is very close to the small town of Ariccia. Here, foreign-born artists would converge on the Pensione Martelli, a lodging house where painters met to exchange ideas and discuss theoretical approaches, to compare their work and very often to plan painting trips together. Two particularly popular local motifs were the picturesque crater lakes Lago di Nemi and Lago Albano.
Anton Sminck Pitloo1 began his artistic training in his native Arnhem. He went on to study in Paris and Rome supported by a grant he had received from Louis Bonaparte, King of Holland (1779-1844), in 1808. Louis was Napoleon’s younger brother. Napoleon had put him on the throne of the newly created Kingdom of Holland in 1806. In Paris, Pitloo first continued his studies under the celebrated architect Charles Percier but took up landscape painting in 1810. He began to frequent the studios of Jean-Joseph-Xavier Bidauld (1758-1846) and Jean-Victor Bertin (1767-1842). Bertin was to instruct Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot in landscape painting.
Pitloo is known to have spent three years in Paris. Records show that he was in Rome in 1811, where he frequented Dutch artistic circles and was in contact with painters like Abraham Teerlink, Hendrik Voogd and Martin Verstappen. Pitloo’s work attracted several distinguished patrons – commissions from Louis Bonaparte and the Duke of Berwick are documented. In late 1814 he accompanied the Russian diplomat Count Grigory Vladimirovich Orlov on a visit to Naples. Pitloo was to live in the city until his death in 1837 at the age of forty-seven.
In the eighteenth century, Naples became highly popular as one of the obligatory stages on the Grand Tour. It was also a key destination for many artists from England, Germany and France, such as Joseph Wright of Derby, Jakob Philipp Hackert and Joseph Vernet. The city continued to attract leading painters well into the nineteenth century, among them Turpin de Crissé (between 1808 and 1824), Franz Ludwig Catel (a regular visitor from 1812 onwards), Joseph Rebell (between 1813 and 1815), Wilhelm Huber (between 1818 and 1821), JMW Turner (in 1819-20), Achille-Etna Michallon (in 1820) and Johan Christian Clausen Dahl (in 1820-21). Carl Gustav Carus and Corot both visited in 1828.
Pitloo opened a private academy of painting at his house on the Vico del Vasto in Chiaia, the waterfront district of Naples, in 1820. His studio became an important meeting place for talented young artists such as Achille Vianelli, Giacinto Gigante and Gabriele Smargiassi. The group included Teodoro Duclère, who would later marry Pitloo’s daughter. From this nucleus emerged the School of Posillipo. The School was based on a revival of interest in the eighteenth-century veduta tradition and developed a new focus on plein-air painting. The period 1815 to 1830 has been described as decisive in the development of Neapolitan painting, and Pitloo [was] indisputably the key figure in the period.2 He was appointed professor of landscape painting at the Accademia di belle arti di Napoli in 1824. He contributed work to exhibitions at the Real Museo Borbonico of Naples in 1826 and 1830.
1 Marina Causa Picone and Stefano Causa (eds.), Pitloo. Luci e colori del paesaggio napoletano, exhib. cat., Museo Pignatelli, Naples 2004.
2 Picone and Causa, op. cit., 2004, p. 44.