Completed British 20th C, except portraits, North West England: Artists and Subjects, South East England: Artists and Subjects 21 Can we identify the mountain location on this reverse of a watercolour by Adrian Bury?

Topic: Subject or sitter

This cannot be Pulborough - there must have been a muddle over titles. There are no mountains in the Weald, where Pulborough is situated in West Sussex - nor lakes for that matter. This may not be an English view at all.

Martin Hopkinson, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. A note has been added to the artwork description: ‘This is a view from Bellagio looking along the south-western branch of Lake Como, the artist's apparent position being the shore below what is now the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni’.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the discussion. To anyone viewing this discussion for the first time, please see below for all the comments that led to this conclusion.


The Collection has commented: ‘We’re afraid we don’t know the location. There is no inscription to help. But we can explain where the mistake in the title comes from. We think it is not the title which is wrong, but the photograph, which is in fact of a study on the verso of a more finished picture which looks much more plausibly like Sussex [see attachments]. The photo could be changed, or another record made altogether. A colleague who is a keen wild swimmer pointed out that there are only a few Lake District lakes with islands so it should be possible to identify which it is from that. We’ve had a go at comparing the mountains to photos, but haven’t had much luck so am very happy to see what a public discussion might throw up. As you suggest, it may not be England at all.’

The balustraded terrace at left, with the suggestion of broad water-stairs, indicates a lakeside (i.e. non-tidal) and probably Italianate/ classical building. The fact it is on the back of a British scene, plus the heavily wooded island without buildings, suggests also UK (Lake District?). One would see the same architecture and offshore pilings on the Italian llakes with mountain surrounds, but their islands are generally more built-on.

Brenda Lambourne,

The islands at the Keswick end of Derwentwater were my first guess, but the mountains look rather too steep for the Lake District and there is no property with that kind of Italianate terrace on the shore.

Alison Golding,

I think this might be Lake Como, looking south-west from Bellagio. Google Earth seems to confirm - there's a "street view" from the ferry off Bellagio which is close to the angle for the watercolour.

Guillaume Evrard,

Lake Como sounds good; seems to match biographical details too.

If Lake Como, it may be a view up the left side of the lake towards the peninsula (rather than an island) shown here, which I think is the same as in Alison's link above:

The sequence would thus be a slight Italian sketch later recycled for a finished English view on the other side of the sheet.

{On second thoughts, the 'step' effect is probably just dark ripple reflections from the terrace wall.)

Are we really going to get any more definite than this?

Malcolm Fowles,

I think we can be more definite. Google Maps shows only one island in the whole of Lake Como: Isola Comacina,9.1753953,15.77z

This view is probably looking NE from the present day Via Statale south of Sala Comacina. The lakeside is mostly built up, but two street views give a glimpse of the island. The more southerly of them at,9.162541,3a,75y,96.9h,69.3t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1scEpGn5Xa_-G7b65AU65S_w!2e0!7i16384!8i8192 is just south of a present day ferry landing.

Malcolm Fowles,

However, where is the peninsula? It should be behind the island seen from the left of the lake and would be obscuring the island seen from Bellagio. Consider the overview photo at

Other possibilities include a view from the peninsula; from a boat; some other lake; and artistic licence.

While a consensus appears to be emerging around Lake Como, Andrew now asks the more general question about Bury’s travels. When this discussion started, I dug out my copy of his memoir, ‘Just a Moment, Time’, 1967 (Charles Skilton), a book I acquired about 30 years ago, not because I was interested in the author, but because I also had his monograph on Joseph Crawhall. By way of background his chapter on Lake Garda begins by saying that he came late to the Italian Lakes, but ‘thanks to several annual visits, I became acquainted with all of them’ (p. 91). Having attended Julian’s in Paris in 1914, Bury worked in newspapers during the Great War but resigned from the Sunday Pictorial in 1922 to go to Italy, first to Milan to look up a girlfriend, and then to Rome where he arrived at the same time as Mussolini – but not, as he says, ‘by the same train’. No dates are given for his visits to the lakes and Garda is the only one described, with ‘Mountains near Torbole, Lake Garda’, illustrated.

None of this helps to narrow down the lake and mountain location depicted in the watercolour, but it may obviate the necessity of consulting the most obvious source. It could well be the case that annual volumes of The Old Watercolour Society’s Club that Bury edited in the 1960s contain other clues, if anyone possesses a set. For what it’s worth I feel sure this, as Alison, Pieter and Malcolm have observed, is Como and not Garda. However, as Pieter says, until we find an image that more accurately matches the contours of the distant peaks in relation to the island or peninsula, we can’t be completely precise, and in the meantime, Isola Comacina seems a likely option.

Guillaume Evrard,

This is to second and amplify Alison Golding's message (9 July), to propose that the view is from Bellagio indeed (with some compression/artistic licence in the outlines of some hills),
and even possibly from the policies/lakeshore of an establishment currently trading as 'Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni' (opened in 1873 as Grand Hotel Bellagio,,
looking up the southwestern branch of the lake (towards the town of Como)
with the peninsula in the middle ground part of the town of Tremezzina (Villa del Balbianello, Tomb of Guido Monzino).

Please see attachments for evidence.

I have just removed two posts advertising watercolours commercially. Any repeated posting of commercial material will lead to any individual's Art Detective account being deleted.

Looking especially at the photograph in Guillaume Everard's second attachment of 13/07/2021, I am convinced that this is a view from Bellagio looking along the south-western branch of Lake Como; also that the conspicuous promontory in the middle distance is part of the town of Tremezzina with the Villa Balbianello etc. Admittedly, a degree of artistic licence is evident in the scale of the surrounding mountains. I agree that the possible viewpoint is below what is now the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni (where perhaps Adrian Bury stayed?).

Alison Golding,

There appears to be consensus that the answer to this question is Lake Como from Bellagio, with very helpful confirmatory images from Pieter, Guillaume and Marcie and biographical details from Kenneth putting the artist in the Italian lakes. Perhaps it has missed its sign off because of of the original attribution of an English subject?

Just to support Alison, above, that the location has been satisfactorily resolved so the discussion could now close.

Adapting Richard Green's summary of 06/02/2022 12:59 a brief description could be: 'A view from Bellagio looking along the south-western branch of Lake Como, the artist's apparent position being the shorel below what is now the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni.'

Pieter, many thanks, I am emailing the Society's Honorary Curator to confirm their acceptance of this recommendation. Regards, David

Pieter, the Collection have replied: 'Thanks for this, and yes, of course please add the correct description as is suggested'. David