GABRIELE CARELLI (1820-1900)
THE AMPHITHEATRE AT TAORMINA, ETNA IN THE DISTANCE
Signed, titled & dated l.r. 1891
Watercolour with bodycolour
51 x 72 cm
Taormina, the ancient amphitheatre near Messina in Sicily, is a subject Carelli returned to on several occasions during his career like many of his contemporaries. Artists and tourists alike saw the location as the perfect combination of Mediterranean sunshine, classical ruins, and the dramatic background of Mount Etna.
Gabriele Carelli was one of a family of artists renowned in their native Italy, and he became the best-known member of this dynasty in England. He was born in Naples, the second son of the artist Raffaele Carelli, a member of the so-called ‘School of Posilippo’. Like his elder brother Consalvo, he studied first under his father, before moving (with his brother) to Rome. He returned to Naples after several years in Rome and made a successful start to his career, with a studio at Largo del Vasto, close to his father’s own studio. Gabriele’s father had been patronised by William Cavendish, the 6th Duke of Devonshire, since the 1830’s and had travelled with him on tours of Sicily (in 1834) and Asia Minor (1839). In 1847, Cavendish engaged the younger Carelli and brought him back to England as his personal painter. Carelli spent time on the Devonshire estates, painting the gardens and architecture, working in watercolours (unlike his father, who had specialised in oils).
Carelli returned to Italy in late 1847 and partook in a failed nationalist revolt against the Bourbons, avoiding capture thanks to his father’s efforts to hide him and the younger son Achille in his studio. Gabriele continued to work in Naples for the next several years, falling under the influence of the Belgian artist Frans Vervloet, who had joined the Posilippo School and was working in Naples. From around 1860 onwards Gabriele spent more time in England, developing a distinguished list of clients there who often employed him to paint their estates.
Carelli moved entirely to England in 1866, settling in Kenilworth, Warwickshire, remaining until 1883 (he also kept rooms in London). He married an Englishwoman in 1868, with whom he had a son, Conrad, who would grow up to become a watercolourist like his father. Carelli appears to have been somewhat kept out of British artistic circles despite his popularity and impressive list of clients: he was unsuccessful in his candidature to the N.W.S. in 1866; however, he did exhibit four works at the Royal Academy and elsewhere in Liverpool and Manchester. These exhibition pieces were almost all based on sketches made on regular and extensive journeys across Britain and Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East.
Following one such tour, to Spain in 1879-1880, Carelli was brought to the attention of the Empress Victoria by her Lady-in-Waiting, Lady Waterpark. The Queen was a fervent collector and competent amateur watercolourist, who patronised numerous artists throughout her long reign with an engagement and sophisticated taste not seen for generations in the British monarchy. She purchased numerous works from Carelli and commissioned him to record the Royal Mausoleum at Frogmore House, the results of which can be found in the Royal Collections Trust. Over the course of his career Victoria purchased more than twenty-five works by Carelli, as well as supporting his son Conrad at the beginning of his career – suggesting more than the usual bond between patron and artist. Carelli purchased a summer home in Menton, on the French Riviera, and retired there towards the end of his life. He travelled remarkably often and extensively, visiting (among others) Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Spain, France, Switzerland, Sicily, Malta, Egypt, and the Holy Land.