John Robert Cozens (British, 17521798)
Watercolor over traces of graphite on white laid paper; 10 x 14 1/2 in. (25.3 x 36.8 cm)
Rogers Fund, 1967 (67.68)
Like many British artists of his era, John Robert Cozens traveled to Italy, where he made sketches in the landscape. Working directly from the motiftypically in graphite or black chalkhe captured the essential forms en plein air, then colored his sketches with watercolor washeseither on the spot, or slightly later, in his Italian lodgings, or (in some instances) upon his return to Britain.
He made this view for William Beckford, the wealthy author, collector, and aesthete whom Cozens accompanied to Italy in 178283. By omitting hard outlines, blotting his fluid brushstrokes, and articulating details of foliage and architecture with delicate touches of color, Cozens achieved a soft, luminous effect. By selecting a viewpoint from below, in which the buildings appear dramatically silhouetted against the sky, he revealed his interest in the aesthetic category of the Sublime. The result is an evocative, atmospheric style of watercolor that would inspire countless artists of the following generation, and prompt John Constable to describe Cozens (in 1835) as "the greatest genius that ever touched landscape."