92. Anicet Charles Gabriel Lemonnier

Rouen 1743 – 1824 Paris

Vesuvius in Eruption, 1779

The eruption of Vesuvius at the beginning of August 1779 was one of the most devastating of the eighteenth century. Contemporary accounts describe a “fountain of liquid transparent fire”,1 as well as the heat, noise, stench of sulphur, and ever-changing colours of the smoke that accompanied the display. One of the most intriguing depictions of this eruption is this small study by Anicet Lemonnier, a near-contemporary of Valenciennes who spent 10 years in Italy after winning the Prix de Rome. There is an abstract quality to the cropped view selected by the artist, in which the slopes of the mountain are rendered somewhat amorphous by the clouds of smoke and steam. The artist painted the scene very quickly, and volcanic ash particles incorporated into the pigment confirm that this work was painted in the open air.

1William Hamilton, ‘An Account of an Eruption of Mount Vesuvius, which happened in August, 1779. In a letter from Sir William Hamilton, K.B.F.R.S. to Joseph Banks, Esq., P.R.S. Naples, October 1, 1779’, The Royal Society Publishing, 70, January 1780, p. 55 ; https://doi.org/10.1098/rstl.1780.0004 (consulted on 30 October 2020).