Simon DENIS (Antwerp 1755 - Naples 1813)
Tivoli, walker in the cave of Neptune
Oil on paper mounted on canvas
H. 48 cm; L. 35 cm
The work of Simon Denis was rediscovered in the early 1990s.
Originally trained by the Antwerp landscape gardener and animalist Antonissen, who taught him the careful observation of nature, our young Flemish then went to Paris around 1775 where he then produced relatively classic pastoral landscapes; he was supported there by the art dealer Lebrun.
In 1786, thanks to Lebrun, he moved to Italy, and settled first in Rome, where he lived until 1801/1803.
Simon Denis quickly became very popular for his atmospheric little oils on paper, made outdoors, in a very free technique, in the spirit of Valenciennes, whom he could have met briefly in Paris. Michel Hilaire describes him as a key figure in the Roman artistic milieu: he frequents mainly French painters, but also a few "Nordic" such as Voogd or Verstappen.
Simon Denis works for prestigious English clients like Lord Bristol.
In 1803 he was admitted to the Academy of Saint Luke in Rome, before moving to Naples until the end of his life; he was appointed court painter there in 1807, succeeding Hackert, and received rents and titles of nobility there.
In Tivoli, the cave of Neptune was one of the favorite natural sites of neo-classical and romantic artists (Wright of Derby, Valenciennes, Rémond, Von Rhoden ...)
Simon Denis went to Tivoli for example in 1789 (with Ménageot and Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, the wife of his Parisian patron), 1793 and 1801, as dated works indicate to us, but it is almost certain that during his stay in Rome he frequented the place much more often, located only about thirty kilometers from Rome.
The artist here perfectly recreates the almost subterranean atmosphere of the place; you can almost feel the sound and resonance of the waterfall in this monumental cavity, as well as the humidity with the misty water vapors whose whiteness opposes the dark hues of the rock walls. Once, Denis introduces a picturesque element with the presence of a walker observing the natural elements.
The fingerboard is large and relatively sketchy, not paying attention to details.
The marouflage on canvas of the sheet of paper unfortunately prevents us from having access to its reverse on which the artist often traced his initials, but the stylistic comparisons allow us to attribute this beautiful image in full to Simon Denis.