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Sanford Robinson Gifford (American, 1823–1880), La Riviera di Ponente, 1856. Signed and dated lower left. Oil on board, 7 3/4 x 10 1/2 inches. Courtesy of Questroyal Fine Art, LLC.

“The Grand Tour was a socialized practice of travel that focused on the arts as a means of bestowing knowledge and moral virtue upon young men from the European nobility and upper gentry,” explains Thomas Crow, director of the Getty Research Institute. It was also a search for adventure, inspiration, and discovery. The tradition of touring the Continent on a cultural journey culminating in Italy, a center of the classical past, is continued today by tourists, artists, and scholars alike, but its true form was embodied by eighteenth-century British aristocrats who sought firsthand knowledge of the land of “noble ideas.” Their quest, usually lasting one to eight years, also provided an opportunity to collect antiquities and commission works from contemporary artists to take home as souvenirs—proof of an acquired canon of taste.

European artists took to the well-traversed Grand Tour routes for various reasons: the artistic inspiration derived from viewing great Renaissance and baroque masterpieces, magnificent sites like St. Peter’s and volcanic Mount Vesuvius, the particular Italian light and scenery, antique ruins, and Rome, the hallowed seat of classicism. In the tradition of their European compatriots, multitudes of American artists—from West to Whistler—followed in the age of romanticism prior to World War I.

Shown here are works from a suite of current and upcoming Getty exhibitions:

Naples and Vesuvius on the Grand Tour, December 21, 2001, to March 24, 2002, at the Getty Research Institute Exhibition Gallery. This exhibition explores Naples as a tourist destination through objects that relate to Sir William Hamilton, British ambassador to Naples from 1764 to 1800, and the consummate host to Grand Tourists. Hamilton passionately collected art and antiquities; he also commissioned artists to contribute works, such as hand-colored engravings of erupting Vesuvius, for his publications designed for travelers.

Rome on the Grand Tour, January 8 to August 11, 2002, at the J. Paul Getty Museum. The paintings, pastels, drawings, sculpture, artists’ sketchbooks, antiquities, books, and prints in this exhibition relate the Eternal City’s prominence on eighteenth-century British travelers’ itineraries.

Drawing Italy in the Age of the Grand Tour, February 5 to May 12, 2002, at the J. Paul Getty Museum. Drawings, as portable visual records, were especially appealing to the traveling collector. The veduta, or expansive view, a genre in Italian art that reached its height of popularity during the age of the Grand Tour, is the subject of this exhibition. J. Paul Getty Museum, tel. 310.440.7360, www.getty.edu.

Ignaz Marcel Gaugengigl (German-American, 1855–1932)
An Italian Street Scene, ca. 1876–1878
Signed lower left
Oil on board, 17 1/2 x 10 1/4 inches
Original frame by Hastings & Davenport
Courtesy of Brock & Co.

In the last third of the nineteenth century, Venice hosted an influential set of American painters including Robert Blum and John Singer Sargent. The watershed event in Blum’s career took place in 1885–1886 when he exhibited Venetian Lace Makers, his first salon-scale work to garner critical acclaim and medals. In the summer of 1887, Blum returned to paint scenes of Venetian life. Art critic Royal Cortissoz declared: “No painter of Venice has surpassed [him] in the fragility of his impressions, in their delicacy of fibre, in their ravishing precision….His Venice is a dreamy pageant.”

Gifford loved the light. His finest impressions were those derived from the landscape, where the air is charged with an effulgence of irruptive and glowing light. He has been criticized for painting the sun: for dazzling the eye with the splendors of sunlight verging on extravagance. But is it not a quality of genius, in all the arts to verge on extravagance and yet remain calm? —John F. Weir, 1880

Sanford Robinson Gifford was an intrepid traveler. He visited Italy for the first time in 1854, and in 1857, he toured Italy again, along with Germany, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. The concentrated sunlight of la Riviera di Ponente, a narrow strip of coast and steep alpine foothills in northeast Italy, provided enticing imagery for Gifford. Sunlight produced evocative effects in this region, as ponente literally means “the spot on the horizon where the sun sets.”

Gifford described his enchantment with la Riviera di Ponente in his journal: “On one side the far stretching blue water, the calm surface dotted with the white and picturesque lateen sails; on the other slopes of the Apennies [sic] enriched with vine, olives, gardens, woods, and villas.” In the work shown here, Gifford depicts these elements with the addition of two laboring female figures and a Romanesque cathedral. He bathes the scene in an effervescent light in an effort to enshrine its beauty and romanticize the peasant’s noble way of life.

I.M. Gaugengigl began his artistic training in 1874 at the Royal Academy in Munich. The young Bavarian artist, “with a desire to see the world and note the methods of the various schools,” visited Italy and then Paris for further traditional study, finally settling in Boston by 1878.

Suggested Reading:

Trevor J. Fairbrother, The Bostonians: Painters of an Elegant Age, 1870–1930 (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1986), 208.

Theodore Stebbins, The Lure of Italy: American Artists and the Italian Experience, 1760–1914 (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1992).

Ila Weiss, Poetic Landscape: The Art and Experience of Sanford R. Gifford (Newark, NJ: University of Delaware Press, 1987).

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