Washes of brown and grey inks (and watercolour) on pencil lines
13 ¼ “ x 18 1/8 “ (350 x 460 mm) - framed 21 ¾” x 26 ¼ “ (55.2 x 66.6 cm)
Provenance: Pingenet Collection (according to a label on the back) - private collection from Eastern France
This large wash drawing is a slightly enlarged version of a composition executed by Hubert Robert in 1761, at the end of his stay in Rome. This composition is a marvellous synthesis of the painter's art: the clatter of the waterfall, in a grandiose setting inspired by antiquity, is opposed to the intimacy of a genre scene, made up of a few peasant women performing some agricultural work.
1. The stay in Italy, an important founding stage in Hubert Robert's carrier
Hubert Robert came from a privileged family of Lorraine origin, linked to the Choiseul-Stainville family, where his father was an intendant. The protection of this powerful aristocratic family enabled him to study classical art at the Collège de Navarre (between 1745 and 1751). After a first apprenticeship in the workshop of the sculptor Slodtz (1705 - 1764), he was invited by Etienne-François de Choiseul-Beaupré-Stainville (the future Duke of Choiseul, then Count of Stainville) to join him in Rome when the latter had just been appointed ambassador.
Hubert Robert arrived in Rome on 4 November 1754, aged twenty-one, and remained there until 24 July 1765. Thanks to his patron, he obtained a place as a pensioneer at the Académie de France without having won the prestigious Prix de Rome. On his arrival in Rome, he frequented the studio of the painter Giovanni Paolo Panini (1691 - 1765), the inventor of the ruins painting, and also benefited from the proximity of Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s studio (1720 - 1778). During his eleven-year stay in Rome, Hubert Robert studied the great Italian masters and drew many of the great archaeological sites, multiplying the sketches which he would use throughout his career, becoming one of the masters of the "ruin landscape".
Back in Paris in 1765, he was very successful. He was accepted and admitted to the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture on the same day, July 26th 1766, which was very unusual. He was appointed draughtsman of the king's gardens in 1784, then guard of the Royal Museum from 1784 to 1792. Arrested in 1793 and detained in the prisons of Sainte Pélagie and Saint-Lazare, he was released in 1794 after the fall of Robespierre and undertook a second trip to Italy. In 1800, Hubert Robert was appointed curator of the new Central Museum and died at his home in Paris in 1808.
2. Description of the artwork
This composition, formerly called "La Cascade du Belvédère Pamphile" , is undoubtedly inspired by the water theatres of the Frascati villas. Hubert Robert presents a hemicycle of columns with rustic bossages at the foot of which is a cascade of water falls into a basin. The hemicycle is flanked by two high walls, pierced by window wells topped with antique masks, which support a terrace bordered by a balustrade crowned with statues. Two reclining lions frame the fountain symmetrically and one can see on the right the start of a staircase along the wall; another staircase can be seen along the waterfall inside the hemicycle.
The bubbling character of the waterfall, whose whiteness is rendered by reserves of paper left blank, contrasts with the quietude of the figures depicted in front of the basin: two women are chatting in the foreground while three other women are cutting rushes behind them. A figure dressed in antique style is climbing the stairs along the wall on the right.
The setting is particularly spectacular: the wall is seen from three-quarters of the way up, revealing in the foreground on the right a bunch of twisted trees whose foliage seems to rise above that of the trees planted on the terrace.
A label on the back indicates that this drawing was exhibited in 1891, perhaps for a sale. Henri Chabeuf (1836-1925) wrote about it in the Journal des Arts on 28 August 1891, under the pseudonym of André Arnoult: "It is an exquisite, blond piece, very superior, without any doubt, to the paintings of this painter, who was too much admired by Diderot, and who did classical Romanticism with so much spirit. With imperceptible freedom and effect in addition, it would be worth a Fragonard, and of even more beautiful quality; but this je ne sais quoi which is missing here is perhaps everything in art.”
3. Related works
In 1761 Hubert Robert imagined this composition in a drawing sold on 20 March 2017 at Million et Associés (lot 77). This drawing, signed and dated but unfortunately very badly faded, came from the Mariette collection. It appears with another drawing under number 1348 in the catalogue of his sale which took place between November 1775 and January 1776 ("un temple en rotonde, d'où sort de l'eau en cascade").
A second drawing, very similar in size to the Mariette drawing (330 x 445 mm versus 320 x 445 mm), was presented at Sotheby's in New York on 29 January 2014 (lot 93). This drawing was also signed and dated Robert, 1763 Roma, indicating an execution later to the one in the Mariette collection.
Very similar in composition, it differs from that in the Mariette collection by the addition of some watercolour highlights, mainly in the central group of women, in the waterfall and in the clothing of the right-hand figure.
Another reworking of the same composition in black stone, now attributed to Robert Ango, went on sale at Christie's in London on 30 January 2014.
The very poor conservation of the Mariette drawing, compounded by the fact that we have only a low quality reproduction of it, makes an accurate comparison with our drawing difficult. It seems to us that our drawing, which is slightly larger, has been slightly completed on the right, as can be seen in particular at the left of the broken oblique branch in the foreground.
It is quite common for Hubert Robert to have used different media for the same composition, and to have translated from a drawn version (in wash or red chalk) into a painted version. This is probably what happened here with The Pavilion with a Waterfall, a painting made on his return to Paris between 1765 and 1767 and presented at the Salon of 1767. This painting is now in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. It is larger in size (53 x 71 cm) and has many variations in the figures at the foot of the basin. This painting, a variant of which was in the Camille Groult collection, was presented in the exhibition held at the Louvre in 2016.
We have chosen to keep the original 19th century rod for framing this drawing. It has been gilded to enhance the brilliance of this magnificent wash.
Main bibliographical references :
(collective) – Les Hubert Robert de Besançon – Milan 2013
(under the leadership of Guillaume Faroult) – Hubert Robert 1733-1808 Un peintre visionnaire – Somogy/ Louvre éditions 2016
Louis Antoine Prat - Le Dessin Français au XVIIIe siècle - Paris 2017
Sarah Catala – Hubert Robert de Rome à Paris – Eric Coatalem 2021
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