In the second half of the 18th century Mount Vesuvius entered an intense phase of seismic activity. This coincided with Volaire’s arrival in Naples in 1769 and eruptions occurred regularly in 1771, 1773, 1774, 1775, 1776 and 1779. Volaire seems to have visited and worked en plein air during these eruptions. Many of his earlier images depict figures fleeing the molten lava but by 1794 either the violence of the eruptions had lessened, the local populace had become more accustomed to them or Volaire had adapted his depictions of the natural phenomenon to suit the tastes of his patrons. The present pair, with the elegantly dressed figures marvelling at the spectacle rather than fleeing in fear for their lives, is typical of his work from the late 1780s and 1790s. Volaire painted at least two other known depictions of the 1794 eruptions.1
1. See Literature, cat. nos. P. 122 and P 123, p. 256.
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