Saved for the nation; the British Museum acquires a watercolour view of Rome by Lusieri

The British Museum has acquired a rare early surviving work by one of the eighteenth century’s most innovative and technically gifted landscape artists, with the support of the Art Fund, the Ottley Group, the Oppenheimer Fund, Jean-Luc Baroni, the Society of Dilettanti Charitable Trust and individual contributions.

Giovanni Battista Lusieri’s watercolour Panoramic view of Rome: Capitoline Hill to the Aventine Hill (circa 1778–1779) shows a panoramic view of his native city Rome from Piazza San Pietro in Montorio on the Janiculum, stretching from the Capitoline Hill on the left to the Aventine Hill on the right.

It is one of three surviving views from a four-sheet 180 degree watercolour panorama of Rome from the Janiculum at different times of day from morning to evening. These were bought or commissioned by Philip Yorke (1757-1834), who became 3rd Earl of Hardwicke in 1790, during his time in the city in 1778-9.

Panoramic view of Rome: Capitoline Hill to the Aventine Hill shows the panorama in the late afternoon with shadows lengthening in the now built over garden of the convent of San Callisto and San Michele in Trastevere in the foreground.

The watercolour becomes only the sixth in UK public collections by the artist, and the second in the British Museum collection, and remains in the UK following a temporary export deferral placed on it to provide time for a buyer to come forward to save it for the nation. The deferral followed a recommendation from the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA), administered by the Arts Council of England.

Lusieri was unusual because he worked in watercolour, a medium more closely associated with artists from Northern Europe rather than Italy. The work highlights Lusieri’s exceptional technical skills as a draughtsman in watercolour and his significance as a pioneer of panoramic views.

The watercolour by an artist whose primary focus was on landscape holds additional interest because it is about time and transience as much as it is topographical. Lusieri captures this slice of the Roman panorama at a particular time, late afternoon, but while the effects of light are enormously convincing, in this closely observed work by an artist known for painting outside, he carefully removes any vestige of the city as a populated space: no-one is in the garden or at a window, no clothes are draped to dry and no smoke hangs in the air. It is a built space, the classical city overlaid but not obliterated by the Christian one. The absence of people gives it a timeless air more powerfully suggestive of time’s passage.

Stephen Deuchar, director of the Art Fund, said: “It is wonderful news that this mesmerising work will stay in the UK and enter a public collection with which it has tremendous resonance. The work is a very important addition to the British Museum’s holdings of eighteenth-century Italian drawings as well as finding relevance within the museum’s wider collections relating to Rome. The Art Fund is delighted to have supported this acquisition.”

Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, said: “The acquisition of this beautiful watercolour will help bring Lusieri’s work to a new and wider audience, and help us appreciate not only his exquisite craftsmanship but also his place among his contemporaries. I am very grateful to the Art Fund the Ottley Group, the Oppenheimer Fund, Jean-Luc Baroni, the Society of Dilettanti Charitable Trust and individual donors for their support in securing this work which can now be enjoyed by visitors to the Museum.”

The work will go on public display on 12 December in Room 90 at the British Museum alongside a watercolour by the artist showing a view of the Tiber valley looking north from Monte Mario dated 1781 and a selection of more freely executed watercolours from the same era by Carlo Labruzzi. This display will offer the opportunity to compare and enjoy work by two Italian artists whose patrons included British aristocratic travellers on the Grand Tour.

After the display ends on 15 February, the Lusieri will then be freely accessible to visitors in the Prints and Drawings Study Room which is open without appointment five days a week, fifty weeks of the year.

Recent acquisitions: “Visions of Rome: Lusieri and Labruzzi” 12 December – 15 February 2014
Room 90, admission free.

Acquired with the support of the Art Fund, the Ottley Group, the Oppenheimer Fund, Jean-Luc Baroni, the Society of Dilettanti Charitable Trust and individual contributions.


Notes to Editors:

The Art Fund is the national fundraising charity for art, helping museums to buy and show great art. Over the past 5 years we’ve given £26m to help museums and galleries acquire works of art for their collections, and placed hundreds of gifts and bequests, from ancient sculpture and treasure hoards to Old Master paintings and contemporary commissions. We are independently funded, the majority of our income coming from over 100,000 members who, through the National Art Pass, enjoy free entry to over 220 museums, galleries and historic houses across the UK, as well as 50% off entry to major exhibitions.

Find out more about the Art Fund and the National Art Pass at www.artfund.org.

Please contact Madeline Adeane, the Press Relations Manager, on 020 7225 4804 or madeane@artfund.org

The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest is an independent body, serviced by Arts Council England, which advises the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport on whether a cultural object, intended for export, is of national importance under specified criteria.

Arts Council England champions, develops and invests in artistic and cultural experiences that enrich people’s lives. We support a range of activities across the arts, museums and libraries – from theatre to digital art, reading to dance, music to literature and crafts to collections. Great art and culture inspires us, brings us together and teaches us about ourselves and the world around us. In short, it makes life better. Between 2010 and 2015, we will invest £1.9 billion of public money from government and an estimated £1.1 billion from the National Lottery to help create these experiences for as many people as possible across the country. www.artscouncil.org.uk

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