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Jacob More  Circa 1740-1793
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Jacob More Circa 1740-1793

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A View of the Bay of Naples with the figures of Narcissus and Echo in the foreground.

 

Oil painting on canvas 24 x 40 inches (61 x 101 cm) and contained in its original George III neoclassical frame

 

Provenance: by descent to a private collector in South Africa

 

Jacob More was born in Edinburgh and became a pupil of Alexander Runciman (1736-1785). In 1771, More travelled to Rome, where he stayed for the remainder of his life. In Rome, he lived in lodgings over the English coffee house in the Piazza di Spagna, until 1787, and later nearby in the Strada Rosella, attaining a high reputation as one of the most outstanding landscape artists of his generation, surpassing that of any other British painter then working in Italy. The esteem in which he was held was reflected in his unanimous election to the Accademia di San Luca in Rome in 1781 and with the rare accolade of having his self-portrait accepted for the Gallery of Artist's portraits in the Uffizi in 1784, two of the most prestigious artistic awards available in Italy (for which see Grand Tour, the Lure of Italy in the Eighteenth Century, catalogue to the Exhibition at the Tate Gallery, 1996, no. 26). More's work also received praise not only from British contemporaries such as James Irvine who considered him 'one of the first landscape painters that ever lived' but also in regular reviews in Roman art journals. Aside from his work as an artist More also acted for some ten years as agent and art dealer in Rome for the 4th Earl of Bristol, one of the most inveterate grand tourists, who was also among his most important patrons.

 

The present painting is both topographical and neo-classically anecdotal, as in so many paintings executed at this period by More. The foreground figures, with Narcissus staring at his reflection in the water of the pool, and the nymph Echo reclining on the bank. The story is taken from Ovid (Metamorphoses III). Echo was a "talkative nymph" who "yet a chatterbox, had no other use of speech than she has now, that she could repeat only the last words out of many." She falls in love with Narcissus, whom she catches sight of when he is "chasing frightened deer into his nets." Eventually, after "burning with a closer flame," Echo's presence is revealed to Narcissus, who, after a comic, yet tragic scene, rejects her love. Echo wastes away, until she "remains a voice" and "is heard by all." This is the explanation of the aural effect which was named after her.

 

Then, Narcissus "tired from both his enthusiasm for hunting and from the heat" rests by a spring, and whilst drinking, "a new thirst grows inside him" and he is "captivated by the image of the beauty he has seen" and falls deeply in love with "all the things for which he himself is admired." He then wastes away with love for himself, echoing the manner in which Echo did earlier on. A while later his body is gone, and in its place is a narcissus flower. The pale flower is still found near river banks so that it can be reflected on the water.