Lot 92
  • 92

Carlo Bonavia

200,000 - 300,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Carlo Bonavia
  • A Storm Off a Rocky Coast
  • signed lower left:  c. bon / avia f.
  • oil on canvas


Private Collection, France;
Anonymous sale, Paris, Pierre Bergé & Assoc., 23 July 2006, lot 56;
With Colnaghi's, London;
From whom acquired by the present owner.


The following condition report has been provided by Simon Parkes of Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc. 502 East 74th St. New York, NY 212-734-3920, simonparkes@msn.com , an independent restorer who is not an employee of Sotheby's. This canvas is not lined and although the cracking is evenly raised throughout, the paint layer is stable and no attention to the structure of the work is recommended. The surface is in lovely condition. There are almost no retouches at all. The only retouching visible under ultraviolet light is in the center of the upper right portion of the sky where a small restoration measuring about half inch by quarter of an inch is visible under ultraviolet light. Clearly the condition here is unusually good and commendable.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

In spite of the increasing number of works by him that have come to light in recent years, Carlo Bonavia remains an elusive figure to art historians.  He is thought to have gone to Naples from Rome, but little is known about his life beyond the time frame of his activity in that city:  View of the Pier and Lighthouse at Naples, inscribed and dated 1751 (London, Christie's, 11 March 1983, lot 18) and View of the Castel dell'Ovo, inscribed and dated C. Bonavia P.A. 1788 (Honolulu, Hawaii, Academy of Arts, Samuel H. Kress Collection, no. K1667; acc. no. 2991.1) bookend Bonavia's career and are believed to be his earliest and latest extant pictures.  Although Bonavia appears to have been trained in the Neapolitan landscape tradition of Salvator Rosa (1615-1673) and Leonardo Coccorante (1680-1760), he was most strongly influenced by the French marine and landscape painter, Claude-Joseph Vernet (1714-1789), who worked in Naples between 1737 and 1746.  Bonavia's paintings share with Vernet's a delicate Rococo palette and an atmospheric, rather than analytical, approach to landscape.     

In this dramatic scene of shipwreck and salvation Bonavia has captured the essence of nature's fury.   The viewer is presented with the last glimpse of peaceful blue sky before a torrential storm blows in from the sea.  The panic of the sailors is almost palpable as they struggle to secure their boats and flee to the relative safety of dry land.  In the massive, rocky shoreline with its crashing waves and in the threatening apocalyptic clouds unleashing sheets of driving rain, one can almost glimpse the sublime.  The tiny figures who struggle against the elements and raise their hands towards the heavens in supplication heighten the emotion of the scene.  A similar, but larger, view of A Storm Off a Rocky Coast was sold London, Sotheby's, 3 July 1996, lot 51 for $191,000.

Bonavia's idyllic landscapes and evocative marines were popular with the Grand Tourists who stopped in Naples on their way to Pompeii and other famous sites.  Counted among his patrons were Lord Brudenell and Graf Karl Joseph Firmian, Austrian ambassador to Naples from 1753 to 1758, whose inventory included 17 works by the painter, most of which still have not been identified.  Although Bonavia was well respected during his own lifetime, he was all but forgotten until the 20th century, his works often mistaken for those of Vernet.