William Marlow is probably best known for his views of London and the Thames, but much of his work is influenced and informed by his experiences travelling in France and Italy in the 1760s. In my previous blog post I mentioned the painting ‘The Waterworks at London Bridge on Fire’ (1779) by Marlow bears an distinct resemblance to his earlier painting titled ‘Vesuvius Erupting at Night’ (1768) [see below].

This painting from the Berger Collection of the Denver Art Museum in Colorado. The gallery website states that it is ‘…the first by a British artist to represent the subject. He exhibited the painting at the Society of Artists exhibition in London in 1768, prompting this rapturous response from a reviewer: “A dreadful scene! but so elegant is the execution . . . that while we look with pleasure on its beauties, we cannot help getting into the belief that we are indeed on the spot, and really beholding an eruption of that terrible volcano.”’

The more famous depiction of Vesuvius erupting is by Joseph Wright of Derby: ‘Vesuvius in Eruption, with a View over the Islands in the Bay of Naples (c.1776-80) from the Tate Collection [see below].

During his lifetime Wright painted more than 30 views of the erupting volcano, despite the fact that given the dates he was in Italy he was unlikely to actually witnessed the event.

Joseph Wright of Derby’s paintings of Vesuvius and other subjects are frequently referenced in terms of the age of Enlightenment and the Romantic obsession with the sheer power of nature, but Marlow rarely gets a mention. The Government Art Collection holds a further work by Marlow on the subject titled ‘View of Vesuvius’ and another, ‘An extensive view of the Bay of Naples from Pausilipo, with Vesuvius beyond’ is in private hands [see below].

Interestingly Marlow’s works have often been attributed to better known artists such as Joseph Wright of Derby and Richard Wilson. With so little information available on his life and career, it does rather seem he hasn’t received much credit despite his works being held in such high esteem and in terms of ‘Vesuvius Erupting at Night’, of considerable cultural significance too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *