William Stanley Haseltine

U.S. 1835-1900
The Bay of Naples 25.0131

The Bay of Naples represents one of William S. Haseltine's earliest attempts at a scene from classical literature, being one of the sites described in the poems of Homer, Horace, and Virgil. The hill of Posillipo, from which Haseltine painted this view of Vesuvius, was especially celebrated. A popular stop on the Grand Tour-it was at his villa here that Virgil composed the Aeneid, and it became the site of his tomb. The painting reveals not only Haseltine's awareness of history, but also his adherence to Claudian classical pictorial tradition. The painting's unusual vertical format emphasizes the dramatic stone pines that dominate the scene and dwarf the figures, a recurring motif in Haseltine's later views of Italy. A landscape and marine painter, Haseltine studied painting in his native town of Philadelphia before enrolling at the Düsseldorf Academy in 1854. He accompanied Albert Bierstadt, Worthington Whittredge, and Emanuel Leutze on a sketching trip down the Rhine and to Italy in 1856, returning briefly to the U.S. in 1858. Haseltine eventually settled in Rome, and he rarely exhibited his work, even though he was a member of the National Academy. While he was a close friend of Bierstadt, Haseltine did not desire to paint epic American scenes, preferring early in his career portray New England seacoasts with the attentiveness of a scientist. Later, Haseltine followed the seventeenth-century models of Claude Lorraine and Nicolas Poussin in depictions of classical Italian landscapes. Italy and its landscapes attracted many American and European artists well into the nineteenth century. There, artists had the opportunity to study firsthand the classical past and live inexpensively in surroundings described in classical literature. Bound up with the myth of Italy, artists felt linked to an artistic ancestry that did not exist in America. By mid-century, there was a large enclave of foreign artists in Rome that almost outnumbered the Italians.




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