Catalogue entry: English Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) wrote of his friend, American artist Washington Allston, "he was gifted with an artistic and poetic genius unsurpassed by any man of his age." Not only a painter, Allston designed sculpture and architecture, wrote artistic theory, essays, poetry, and even a novel. Born in South Carolina and educated at Harvard, Allston spent most of his career in Boston, with the exception of two extended periods in Europe in 1801-1808 and 1811-1818, which included four years in Rome (where he met Coleridge) and several years in England. It was in England, at the height of his career, that he painted Italian Landscape in 1814. Like Coleridge, Allston's sensibilities aligned with the Romantics, who gave preference to emotion, faith, and spirituality over rational intellect. They also idealized the freedom of Nature in contrast to the constraints of culture. In this painting, Allston depicts an imaginary Italian landscape in which humanity and nature have grown together into a harmony where past and present coexist. A combination of scenes and events that he witnessed during his stay in Italy is arranged according to his memory and imagination and filtered through the experiences of his own life. The rustic figures contemplating a fountain may suggest an allegory of life (the overflowing water) and death (the sarcophagus shape of the fountain) played out against a backdrop of ancient ruins, a walled medieval city, and a Vesuvius-like mountain in the distance. As in all of his landscapes, Allston imbues the painting with silence, light, mystery, and beauty.
Rights: Purchased with funds from the Florence Scott Libbey Bequest in Memory of her Father, Maurice A. Scott