Frederick MCCUBBIN | View of Naples (Castle St Elmo)

Frederick MCCUBBIN
Australia 1855 – 1917

View of Naples (Castle St Elmo) [Bay of Naples] 1908
oil on canvas
signed and dated 'F McCubbin/ 1908' lower right
34.5 (h) x 50.0 (w) cm
Private collection


McCubbin spent six hours in Naples in June 1907 on his journey to London. He was enchanted by the colours of the Bay of Naples, and writing to his wife on 1 July observed the presence ‘Everywhere [of] subjects!’. He continued:

if you could only see this lovely land—the weather has been divine—covered with Cities and villages down to the water’s edge and castles and towns piled high on mountain side—Calabria and the Straits of Messina with the emerald coast of Sicily and Mount Etna in the distance—houses piled up on ravines with churches everywhere—and then Naples, divine, with the Castle of St Elmo [Castel Sant’Elmo] to the right and Vesuvius to the left in the early morning—I saw Capri upper and lower piled on its rocky sides—and then through the mist the lovely Bay of Naples sparkling in the sun.

He based this work on a drawing and an oil ‘impression’ that he sketched in Naples in June 1907 (private collection). He also noted that after returning to his boat St Elmo looked ‘inviting to sketch so I make a pencil sketch, and then away to fair Northern Italy along a coast studded with castles and palaces and villages with an everlasting background of hills covered with olive and vine’ (Mackenzie 1990, pp 253–4).

When McCubbin showed his European and Australian landscapes at the Guild Hall in Melbourne in 1908, a reviewer commented that ‘the effect of the distant shipping is cleverly handled in a view of Naples from the sea’ (Herald, Melbourne, 14 May 1908, p 4), and when he exhibited this work again with the Victorian Artists’ Society, another critic described it as: ‘Naples rising white above the bay with its shipping’ (Age, 14 July, 1908, p 6).

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