THE Italian artist Giovanni Lusieri has gone down in history as the man who removed the Elgin Marbles from Athens and shipped them to Britain.
But the Scottish National Gallery yesterday unveiled the first exhibition devoted to the art of Lord Elgin’s loyal agent, two centuries after his death.
His stunning landscapes and watercolours have been compared to Venetian master Canaletto, and the show promises to restore his reputation.
Lusieri’s work for Lord Elgin at first consisted of drawing, recording and taking casts of classical monuments in Athens. But when the agenda shifted, he arranged the removal of the marbles from the Parthenon in 1801, working in meticulous detail to crate and ship them.
He was an admired and popular Italian artist in his day but his involvement with the controversial marbles has “blotted out” his talents, the current Lord Elgin told Scotland on Sunday.
“This side of the story with his artistic accomplishments has been hidden. The purpose of the exhibition is to make quite clear what an extraordinarily competent artist he was,” said Lord Elgin, who has lent many works to the exhibition.
Lusieri died in Athens in 1821 after 20 years in what was at the time a little visited Turkish garrison town. Many of his pictures went down in a shipwreck, while others disappeared into private collections. The Elgin family bought the lion’s share of his work after his death.
The Scottish National Gallery’s senior curator, Aidan Weston-Lewis, has worked since 2007 to put the exhibition together. It includes many unseen works from the Elgin family collection. One highlight is a stunning panorama borrowed from the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
“It’s a rare thing to find an artist that hasn’t been properly discovered,” Weston-Lewis said “We are quite happy to put him on the map as a brilliant artist.”
While Lusieri’s work is known to specialists and has featured in shows on the period, this is the first exhibition focused solely on his artwork.
Weston-Lewis compared his watercolours of Rome and Naples to the work of Canaletto, in their meticulous detail and light.
The works on show include a striking watercolour of an owl, which was lying in a drawer at the Elgin family home for probably a century.