“The Count’: Achille Vertunni was known by this nickname, ‘for the nobility of his origin, the elegance of his person, his manners, his clothes’ (Levi 1906, p. 41), even during his academic years in Naples. After moving to Rome in 1853, he began to devote himself mainly to landscapes, developing a highly successful stylistic style. He was among the first to realise the potential of the subjects of the Roman countryside, to which he owed much of his commercial fortune.
At the National Exhibition in Florence in 1861, in the midst of the critical debate on the achievement of a unified artistic language, he presented Campagna romana, paesaggio and Veduta delle paludi pontine (Naples, Palazzo della Prefettura), works that reveal his personal interpretation of modern international Vedutism, from Constable to Troyon. The romantic formula of the landscape as far as the eye can see, in which wild nature is cloaked in warm twilight, immediately won over foreign collectors.
“Everyone knows his studio and his works’, wrote the architect Raffaello Ojetti in 1872: ‘all the foreigners who go to Rome to admire its historical, religious and artistic grandeur, from the modest tourist to the rich and powerful sovereign, do not neglect to visit the Italian landscape painter, and observe his studio with pleasure’ (Ojetti 1872, p. 84). So high was the demand for new paintings from patrons, that he encouraged them to set up shop and rely on young helpers. He then invested much of his income in furnishing his studio, a sort of Wunderkammer that attracted the curiosity of the most refined collectors from every corner of the world. Vertunni’s studio in via Margutta, in fact, was for a long time the epicentre of the most elegant Capitoline worldliness, enlivened by balls and dinners with exceptional guests: among them, even General Ulysses S. Grant, former President of the United States of America, who visited in 1878. In that same year, the Ministry of Education commissioned him to write a report on Italian painting at the Universal Exhibition in Paris.
The works he produced in Egypt, where he stayed by 1875, were particularly appreciated. There, the artist acquired a large number of artefacts and furniture for his studio, which the New York ‘Evening Post’ went so far as to describe as ‘more an art museum than a studio’ (Evening Post 1878). In 1881, at the height of his career, his entire collection was sold at auction, for reasons that remain unclear to this day (Querci 2012 and 2016). Vertunni’s star suddenly faded, consigning him to a long, undeserved oblivion.