In addition to a wealth of pencil sketches of Naples, Turner made seven watercolour studies of the city during his 1819 Italian tour. This luminous watercolour study depicts a panoramic view across the city and bay from the slope of the hill just beneath the Certosa (Charterhouse) of San Martino and the fortress of Castel Sant’Elmo.1 Silhouetted along the horizon are the distant outlines of Vesuvius with its gently smoking crater, the Sorrentine peninsula and, on the right, the island of Capri. Turner’s viewpoint looks directly south from the steep verdant slopes of Sant’Elmo, down onto the roof of the church and monastery of San Nicola da Tolentino in the left-hand foreground. The shoreline stretches across the middle distance including identifiable landmarks such as, from left to right, the lighthouse of the Mole and the towers of Castel Nuovo, then the long façade of the Palazzo Reale, and in the centre, the dome of Santa Maria degli Angeli a Pizzofalcone, and the squarish bulk of the Castel dell’Ovo on the spur of land beyond. A similar pencil study can be seen on folio 12 of this sketchbook (D16100) whilst related views can also be found in the Gandolfo to Naples sketchbook (Tate D15663–D15664; Turner Bequest CLXXXIV 53a–54) and the Naples, Paestum, Rome sketchbook (Tate D16003–D16006; Turner Bequest CLXXXVI 46a–48). Turner later used the composition as the basis for a finished watercolour, Bay of Naples, with Vesuvius – Morning 1820 (whereabouts currently unknown), which was purchased by Walter Fawkes (1769–1825).2
John Ruskin described this work as having the ‘divinest fresh colour’, and the use of limpid watercolour on pure white paper is intrinsically suited to the depiction of clear bright Neapolitan sunlight and landscape .3 The study is unfinished but has been worked up to a fairly advanced level of detail. The artist has used wet washes to establish the basic composition of sea, sky and land, but has employed finer brushwork to describe the architectural structures, mountainous coastline and foreground trees and foliage.