Description & Technical information

One of the first trips that Muirhead Bone made outside Britain was a long stay of about a year and a half - from the autumn of 1910 to the summer of 1912 – in central and northern Italy, accompanied by his wife Gertrude. Bone made a number of drawings and etchings of the cliff town of Orvieto in Umbria, some of which were used to illustrate an article written by his wife Gertrude and published in the magazine Country Life in February 1914. As Dodgson writes of this time, ‘at Orvieto, on its great cliffs, with its golden wine and the mellow, almost equally golden, stone of the west front of its great cathedral – there, and in many a mountain stronghold of Central Italy, further from railways and less renowned, he made a memorable series of drawings, now scattered among many collections.’

In her 1914 Country Life article, Gertrude Bone noted that ‘the great Duomo of Orvieto is almost always empty, save for tourists and intoning priests. Built on the tide of one of those waves of inspiration which visited Italy, it would seem as though with the ebbing of that wave the people’s interest in their treasure slackened and they returned to the half-pagan beliefs which sustained their ancestors.’

This unusual view of the façade of the great cathedral at Orvieto is dominated by the 14th century bronze sculpture of The Archangel Saint Michael and the Dragon by Matteo di Ugolino da Bologna, cast in 1356, which adorned the top of the gable above the right-hand (south) door of the Duomo. (Matteo di Ugolino succeeded Nino Pisano as capomaestro of the works at the Duomo.) Now replaced by a copy, the sculpture of Saint Michael and the Dragon is today in the collection of the Museo del Opera del Duomo in Orvieto. To make this drawing, Bone stood at the level of the open arcade running above the three gabled doors and below the rose window, leaning out to draw the sculpture and the piazza below.

During his time in Italy Bone produced thirty-two copper plates and several fine drawings, some of which were sent from Italy to London and Glasgow to be sold by his dealers. A number of his drawings of Italy were exhibited at the Colnaghi and Obach gallery in London in 1914, to very positive reviews. Other drawings by Bone of the cathedral of Orvieto are today in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. 

In a letter to The Times written shortly after Bone’s death, the artist Sir William Russell Flint noted that ‘Muirhead Bone’s extraordinarily alert and sensitive eye was merely the instrument of his inner vision and uncanny perception. In his more sombre architectural subjects dignity always prevailed. His buildings seemed part of Nature, carrying ornamentation and finicky detail as a great oak carries its leaves…We have lost one of the great draughtsmen of all time.’

Period:  20th century
Medium: Pencil on two sheets of joined paper
Signature: Signed, dated and inscribed Muirhead Bone / Orvieto 1912 at the lower right.

Dimensions: 505 x 288 cm (198⁷/₈ x 113³/₈ inches)
Provenance: An unidentified triangular collector’s mark with the initials RSM (not in Lugt) stamped in brown ink on the verso.

Exhibitions: Possibly Berlin, Austellunghaus am Kurfürstendamm, Fünfundzwanigste Ausstellung der Berliner Secession: Zeichnende Künste, November-December 1912, no.83 (‘Orvieto’).

Categories: Paintings, Drawings & Prints