Hubert Robert (Paris 1733 – 1808)

Architectural Caprice: roman ruins animated by figures (The Pantheon, Trajan’s column, Dioscures, Pyramid of Caius Cestius, Triumphal Arch)

Watercolor, pen, black ink, and watercolor highlights on three assembled pages.
Monogrammed and dated with ink on the verso: 1761

Hubert Robert, at the tender age of 21, undertook the trip to rome in 1754. He stayed there ten years and lodged at the tfrench academy even though he hadn’t competed for the Prix de Rome. Normally only winners were admitted as the King’s pensioners in the academy, but robert benefited from the patronage of the Duc de Choiseul, tfrench ambas- sador who then became minister of tforeign affairs, as well as from that of the marquis de marigny, who was the general Superintendant of art and manufacturing before becoming Director of the King’s Buildings. Thus, hubert robert was specially authorized to participate in courses and lessons given by the academy’s Director, Charles Natoire. rRobert was formally admitted as a student in 1759.

Italian 18th century artists working in Rome took to heart the idea of painting, drawing, and engraving all aspects of their city. at the academy, when Natoire succeeded Jean-François de troy as Director, he added new exercises to the students’ study program in which he strongly encouraged landscape drawing. hubert robert evolved in this ambience. Influenced by Panini (1691-1765) and Piranesi (1720-1778), he committed himself to glorifying rome through the depiction of her monuments.

Architectural Caprices depicting arbitrarily regrouped ruins, sculptures, and existing monuments soon constituted a separate genre. In our drawing, the oblique point of view conceived from slightly above the scene makes it possible to appreciate the perspective and increases the impression that everything is gigantic. Play of light rendered through sepia and brown washes reinforces these qualities while figures animate the scene.

Here the artist has assembled five of the monuments that were most symbolic of the city and also stood for the three pillars of the roman empire. The civil, religious, and military cults of ancient rome are repre- sented by the Pantheon, the Pyramid of caius cestius, the sculpted sarco- phagus, trajan’s column, and one of the statues of the Dioscures. The cult of the Dioscures, that is to say, the brothers castor and Pollux, was one of the largest in the ancient city.

An identical drawing, entitled « ruins » and dated 1758, is in the hermitage museum (watercolor, pen and ink on paper, 34 x 65.5 cm / 13.4 x 25.8 in). Its less finished character suggests that it could be a prepa- ratory drawing for ours.

Hubert Robert’s works were copied by his fellow students at the academy and other young artists. In fact, artists sojourning in rome didn’t hesitate to copy each other in order to sell their drawings to collectors who were becoming more and more avid for them. Perhaps the architectural caprice of Roman Monuments and Washerwomen in the Metropolitan Museum of art, New York could be understood in this context. It was formerly attri- buted to hubert robert and reproduces the major features of our drawing.


• Former collection Maurice de Wendel
• Galerie Cailleux, April 1951, « Le dessin français de Watteau à Prud’hon », n°117
• Sale Hôtel Georges V, salon Vendôme, Paris, March 18th, 1981, lot 103


• J. CAILLEUX, Rome 1760-1770 : Fragonard, Hubert Robert et leurs amis,
Paris, galerie Cailleux, 1983
• J. DE CAYEUX, Les Hubert Robert de la collection de Veyrenc, Valence, musée de valence éditeurs scientifiques, 1985
• P. STEIN, Eighteenth-century tfrench drawings in New York Collection, New York, metropolitan museum of art, 1999

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