Watercolor on engraved lines
670 x 465 mm (framed 85.2 x 63.3 cm)
Provenance: Edward Croft-Murray (1907-1980), curator of drawings and prints at the British Museum from 1954 to 1973
Giltwood frame in the Louis XVI style
In this dazzling watercolor painted around 1781-1784, Louis-Jean Desprez depicts the final bouquet of fireworks fired each year in Rome, above the Castel Sant'Angelo, to celebrate the feast of Saints Peter and Paul on June 29. The contrast between the majesty of the show and the dense crowd on the other side is striking...
1. Louis-Jean Desprez, a cosmopolitan life between Italy and Sweden
Born in Auxerre in 1743, Louis-Jean Desprez probably began his apprenticeship with the engraver Charles-Nicolas Cochin (1715 - 1790) at the age of 12. He was then trained at the Royal Academy of Architecture where he followed in particular the courses of Jean-François Blondel. After winning the Prix de Rome for architecture in 1776, he became a boarder at the Académie de Rome and arrived in Rome on September 3, 1777.
He was quickly hired by the Abbé de Saint-Non to contribute to the illustration of the Voyage Pittoresque. He left with him for Naples, probably in November of the same year 1777, and travelled through southern Italy, Sicily and Malta until 1779, drawing 130 plates for the Voyage Pittoresque.
Back in Rome in 1779, he joined in 1781 with Francesco Piranesi (1758 - 1810), in the production of large etched compositions that he decorated with watercolors. These views presented as "watercolor drawings" were sold in Piranesi's Roman store to the wealthy tourists of the Grand Tour, competing with those produced by Volpato and Ducros.
The Swedish king Gustav III, who arrived in Rome on December 24, 1783, met him in his studio on March 23, 1784, and quickly offered him the direction of the scenery for the royal theater in Stockholm. Settled in Sweden in 1784, Desprez was entrusted in 1787 with the supervision of the works of the royal palace of Haga and became the first architect of the king in 1788. Only the foundations were built for this monumental palace, the project being abandoned after the assassination of King Gustav III during a masked ball on March 29, 1792. Desprez remained in Sweden after the death of his patron where he built the conservatory of the botanical garden of Uppsala and some other buildings before ending his days in Stockholm.
2. Description of the work
Our watercolor depicts the final bouquet of the fireworks that are fired each year over the Castel Sant'Angelo to celebrate the feast of Saints Peter and Paul (June 29). The contrast is striking between the mass of the Castel Sant'Angelo, enveloped in the smoke of the fireworks, the majesty of the explosion in the sky and the dense crowd massed on the other side of the river, in the middle of which carriages and carts make their way with difficulty.
On the right, in the foreground, a platform is erected above a fairground boat; the mass of spectators depicted from behind evokes the Mondo Nuovo, a famous fresco by Giandomenico Tiepolo, first painted at Villa Valmarena in 1757 and again at Villa Zianigo in 1791 (this fresco has been detached and is on display at the Ca' Rezzonico in Venice).
The details of the crowd, massed on the balconies of the building on the left of the scene, or judged on the statues of the Ponte San Angelo are quite fascinating to examine but it is a technical feat that we would like to highlight. A probably wet rocket did not ignite properly and went directly into the Tiber, leaving behind a long white smoke treated in reserve along its sinuous course.
3. The collaboration between Piranesi and Desprez
The two artists planned to execute 19 large views of Rome and Naples, as well as a large number of smaller engravings. Only half of the large engravings were published, the adventure having been cut short by the departure of Desprez to Sweden: three views of Rome (The Illumination of the Cross, The Pauline Chapel and The Girandola above the Castel Sant'Angelo), and six of Naples (The Eruption of Vesuvius, the Temple of Semiramis in Pozzuoli, The Grotto of Pausilippe, the Temple of Isis seen from the front, The Entrance of the Gate of the City, Mamia's Tomb.) The Grotto of Pausilippe, the Eruption of Vesuvius and the Girandola above Castel Sant'Angelo are the three most original and sought-after compositions of the series.
Piranesi continued to print some of the engravings, reworked with burin and sometimes printed in color after Desprez' departure, but those watercolored by Desprez constitute the best copies.
4. The other copies of the work
We can think that about fifteen copies of the Girandole were watercolored by Desprez. In 1933, Nills Wollin listed six copies in public collections (National Museum of Stockholm in Sweden, Salpêtrière, Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow and Archangelskoje Museum in Russia) and 5 copies in private hands, but this list is not exhaustive as we should add those of the British Museum and the Ecole Polytechnique.
5. Our presentation of the work
We also offer for sale La Grotte du Pausilippe by the same Desprez and we have realized for these two watercolors similar frames allowing to present them as a pair, even if we sell them separately.
Main bibliographic reference :
Nils Wollin - Original engravings by Desprez - John Kroon Malmö 1933
Delevery information :
The prices indicated are the prices for purchases at the gallery.
Depending on the price of the object, its size and the location of the buyer we are able to offer the best transport solution which will be invoiced separately and carried out under the buyer's responsibility.
15 000 €
3 500 €