WASHERWOMEN BENEATH THE FOUNTAIN OF SAINT HUGO OF GENOA,
NEAR THE PALAZZO ANDREA DORIA
Titled & dated m.r. Genova 1869, signed with monogram l.r.
Watercolour with bodycolour & pencil on paper
45 x 28.5cm
Anonymous Sale, Sotheby's, London, 30.01.1991, Lot 99;
Anonymous Sale, Christie's, 07.07.2010, Lot 409;
Private Collection, Southeast U.K.
Royal Watercolour Society, Summer 1869, Genoa, near the Palazzo of Andrea di Doria
Steve Bond, James Holland: The Forgotten Artist, Leek (1999), p.76
“Still 'the poet's eye, with fine frenzy rolling', cannot but revel in the reveries of Mr Holland. His drawings, moreover, are not, after all, so much poems as studies in polychrome.”
[The Art Journal, Vol. 31 (1869), p.174)
Although this work bears the date of 1869, the scene and view itself was seen by Holland almost two decades earlier, in September of 1851. A sketch taken at that date, from which the present work was worked up into an exhibition piece, can be found in the Tate Britain, London (T08949, see final image for a side-by-side comparison).
The fountain seen in the middle-ground of the present work was, according to local legend, the site of one of Saint Hugo of Genoa’s (1148-1243) miracles: the washerwomen of a nearby hospital were forced to make an arduous journey uphill in order to clean their clothes, and so Hugo opened a spring from a boulder in the Palazzo Doria’s moat, which gushed forth and solved the problem. The square in front of the modern-day Porta Principe railway station is called Aqcquaverde, a nod to this history. The view has since changed dramatically, as the topography around the Palazzo Andrea Doria was radically altered with the arrival of the railways to Genoa; however, the spring still exists and supplies a fountain located in the Via Prè, near the entrance to the Upper Church of S. Giovanni
Holland visited Genoa in September of 1851, having come through Geneva (as was his usual continental route), and exhibited several of the views he painted there in the following years at the Royal Watercolour Society and British Institution. The present work was one of Holland's final paintings, exhibited the year before his death.
James Holland came from a family of pottery designers and painters in Burslem, Staffordshire, and his earliest works were flower pieces related to this practice. James worked from the age of 12 for his family's employer, William Davenport. He came to London in 1819, earning a living as a drawing instructor whilst continuing to paint pottery to supplement his income. He first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1824.
In 1831 he travelled to France, falling under the influence of the (by then) recently deceased R.P. Bonington, whose influence can be felt particularly in Holland's work over the next decade. In 1835, having been elected an Associate of the Old Watercolour Society, Holland made his first trip to Venice, which was to be the site of some of his finest works. He made subsequent trips to Venice; but also visited Portugal, Normandy, Paris, Holland, Genoa, and Innsbruck among other locations.
He was for a time a member of the Society of British Artists and exhibited at the British Institution. Many of his works were commissioned for illustrated annuals of his day, with the views from his trips published back in England to much acclaim. He was a prolific artist, popular in his lifetime and even more so afterwards, with no fewer than 47 public institutions in the U.K. holding works by him