25.50 x 35.8 cm. (10 x 14 1⁄8 in.)
Brown wash and white gouache highlights over black pencil.
Situated and dated lower right: ’Villa (?) 2 avril 1848.’
• Anonymous sale, Paris, Hôtel Drouot, Mes Poulain-Le Fur, June 1st, 1988, n°83
• L. Del’Furia, Félix Ziem: le génie et l’adresse, 1821 – 1911, Ziem Museum, Marseilles: Ed. Arnaud Bizalion, 2014
• J’ai rêvé le beau. Felix Ziem, peintures et aquarelles du Petit Palais, Paris, exh. cat. Martigues, Images en Manœuvres, 2011
• Félix Ziem (1821-1911: voyages, impressions et paradoxes, exh. cat. Beaune, Aix-en Provence, Museum of Fine Arts, 2011
• F. Verlinden, G. Fabre, L. Marchetti, La traversée d’un siècle: Félix Ziem, 1821-1911, Paris: RMN, 2001
While Félix Ziem’s name is associated with brilliant pictorial compositions of Venice or an Oriental enchantor who enthralled collectors, his drawings constitute a discreet pendant which reveal his artistic breadth. Ziem was first and foremost a draughtsman. After attending the architecture section of the School of Fine Arts in Dijon, he worked as a construction supervisor in Marseilles where his talent with a pencil caught attention. Noticed by the Duke of Orleans who was one of the first purchasers captivated by his watercolors, he soon left his job to open a studio. Settled in Nice in 1841, he developed a wealthy clientele of English nobility, Russian princes, and French aristocrats.
In 1842, the artist left for Italy for the first time. He punctuated his travels with many drawings which would constitute a vast formal repertory from which he would draw ceaselessly throughout his career, as he elaborated pictures in his studio inspired by his stays in Rome, Florence, Venice, Constantinople, Germany, and even Egypt.
Ziem was a sensitive, passionate, and sentimental man. Appreciated for his cheerfulness, he also turned out to be subject to crises of despair. In the summer of 1846, struck by the deep pain of his beloved wife’s death, he left for Italy for the second time, in the company of the Austrian painter Arminius Mayer and his three daughters. He stayed there until 1848. His annotated travel albums conserved in the Graphic Arts Department in the Louvre Museum make it possible to retrace precisely his long route which took the artists to Lake Como, Florence, Bologna, Venice, Naples, and Rome. The drawings from this period express new freedom. The architect’s sure hand remains, void of all dryness and imbued with vitality. He alternates spontaneously executed sketches with more finished tightly drawn folios in the same notebook.
Our drawing is dated April 2nd, 1848. In the spring of that year, the artist stayed in Rome a long time. He set his easel in the countryside north of the Eternal City, along the right bank of the Tiber. Ziem knew how to combine different scales skillfully and blend closer planes by playing with perspective. On the horizon, St. Peter’s dome, the Castel Saint Angelo and the small wall which links them situate the scene. In the foreground, the subject is two-fold: a villa, whose name is noted on the bottom of the page, is juxtaposed to a grove of trees depicted with pictorial effects which are precursors to his subsequent work in Fontainebleau forest. Upon returning to France, he lived in a covered wagon before acquiring a house in Barbizon in 1866. The light black pencil line places the architecture and is more structured in the foliage heightened by a contrasting brown wash, while white gouache yields touches of light.
Ziem kept most of the drawings he executed during this particularly productive trip for the rest of his life. As precious material, they also are evidence of the already mature talent of this painter of modest origins who was trained outside of the Fine Arts system. As soon as he returned to Paris in 1848, Ziem got to know the Paris art dealers who were selling works by the Barbizon painters and who accompanied his prolific flourishing career. Goupil and Boussod, Durand-Ruel, Georges Petit – who inaugurated his gallery with an exhibition devoted to the artist, as well as Bernheim starting in the 1890s, - were the pillars of his success. In 1849, he exhibited many views of Italy in the Salon for the first time. After having executed close to 10,000 drawings and 6,000 paintings in more than seventy years, Ziem made an important donation to the Petit Palais in 1905, and then received the honor of having his works enter the Louvre during his lifetime through the Chauchard bequest in 1910.