At the age of twenty-one, with the help of patrons John Delafield of New York and Henry Carey of Philadelphia, Weir set sail for Livorno, Italy, on December 15, 1824. He stayed first in Florence for a year, studying briefly with Pietro Benvenuti, one of Italy’s leading neoclassical painters....
At the age of twenty-one, with the help of patrons John Delafield of New York and Henry Carey of Philadelphia, Weir set sail for Livorno, Italy, on December 15, 1824. He stayed first in Florence for a year, studying briefly with Pietro Benvenuti, one of Italy’s leading neoclassical painters. In December 1825, he moved to Rome, where he shared lodgings with the American sculptor Horatio Greenough [92.2642, 1973.601]. Weir drew from the antique at the French Academy in Rome; copied Raphael, Michelangelo, and Titian at the Vatican and in private collections; and sketched the classical ruins and surrounding countryside. In January 1827, he traveled to Naples. Greenough arrived soon after, but became ill with malaria. Though Weir nursed his countryman, Greenough did not recover his health; in late March, Weir sacrificed his plans for further travels in Italy to accompany the sculptor back to the United States. Weir never returned to Europe, but he had made sufficient water color sketches and ink drawings to supply him with material for paintings for the next fifty years. Weir’s Bay of Naples was completed soon after his return. His vantage point was probably in the vicinity of the Camaldoli Monastery, situated on the highest point in the city. George Hillard, in his travel book Six Months in Italy (1853), called the view from this spot the most beautiful he had ever seen. The artist Sanford Robinson Gifford [64.428] had described its “magnificent panorama, rich in natural beauty and classical associations” and “the broad bay with long sweeping lines of Vesuvius.”Another traveler wrote: [Block quote] I had seated myself on the brow of the eminence whence the fathers of the Camaldoli look down on the fairy scene below. And how beautiful was that scene! The sun had not yet sunk into the ocean, but the brightness of his rays was lost in the rich red glare of a vast but thin cloud, through which they seemed to be diffused. The purple light was spread over the bay . . . a thousand skiffs were waiting to catch the lazy breeze, or stealing silently along.  [/Block quote] In Weir’s painting, Mount Vesuvius, which had erupted as recently as 1822, appears at center. The domes of the city of Naples are visible in front of the volcano, and the island fortress of Castello dell’Ovo [47.1196] juts out into the bay. Dark shadows in the foreground heighten the effect of the bright light on the monastery buildings and the haze enveloping Vesuvius. Monks, sheep, and visitors, as typical regional subjects, serve to reinforce the “Italian” nature of the scene. Soon after Weir’s visit, other American artists working in Italy, among them Thomas Cole [47.1198], would also include such figures to enliven a landscape. The characteristically Italian umbrella-shaped stone pine [47.1247] that frames the scene also helps to identify the setting as Mediterranean. Although the early history of Weir’s panel is unknown, Bay of Naples must have reminded its original owners of one of the most beautiful panoramas in the world, rendered by one of the first American artists lured by the splendor of Italy. Aside from Italian scenes, Weir also painted historical, literary [48.486], and religious works, portraits, landscapes, and genre scenes; he is best known for his large painting Embarkation of the Pilgrims, which was installed in the rotunda of the United States Capitol in 1843. Weir spent forty-two years as instructor of drawing at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, where his students included James Abbott McNeill Whistler [42.302], Robert E. Lee, William Tecumseh Sherman, and Ulysses S. Grant. He is the father of artists John Ferguson Weir [23.162] and Julian Alden Weir [47.1289]. Notes 1. Sanford R. Gifford, “European Letters,”March 10, 1856–August 10, 1857, typescript, vol. 2, pp. 154–55, Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Art, Washington, D.C. 2. “Ischia and Procida, from the Camaldoli, Recollections of a Solitary Traveller,” in The Atlantic Souvenir (Philadelphia: Carey, Lea & Carey, 1828), 314. Janet L. Comey
Before 1973, private collection, Chicago; about 1973, with Renee Andre, Phoenix, Ariz.; 1993, sold by Renee Andre to the MFA. (Accession Date: February 24, 1993)
Emily L. Ainsley Fund