Hubert Robert (Paris 1733 - 1808), View of Antiquities under an Arch. photo Sotheby's
inscribed on a label on the reverse: Robert Hubert/1789/Donné par l'auteur à Mr Dumont François/Son ami, oil on canvas, 14 5/8 by 17 7/8 in.; 37 by 45.5 cm. - Estimate 100,000—150,000 USD. Lot Sold 104,500 USD
PROVENANCE: François Dumont collection;
Antoine-Bias Dumont, second son of the above, until 1878;
Doctor Henri Gillet, until 1907;
Anonymous sale, Monaco, Sotheby's, 15 June 1990, lot 291;
There purchased by the present collector.
NOTE: This charming painting perfectly illustrates Robert's fascination with classical antiquity. Educated in the Jesuit tradition at the prestigious Collège de Navarre, Hubert Robert was an able Latinist whose knowledge of history and literature can often be detected in his art. The archaeological elements and ancient inscriptions evident in many of his paintings reveal the close attention Robert paid to even the smallest details; and yet, this accuracy is subordinated to the overall appearance and harmony of his compositions. In 1754, Robert traveled to Italy in the entourage of the Comte de Stainville, who later became the Duc de Choiseul, the newly appointed French ambassador to Rome. Robert spent eleven years in Rome, where he studied at the French Academy and met many other prominent artists, including Gian Paolo Panini (1691-1765) and Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806). The older Panini was an instructor of perspective at the Academy, and he had a great influence on Robert's early artistic development.
In the present painting, two scholarly figures move amongst the tumbled remains of a Roman temple contemplating an ancient sarcophagus. The pyramid in the background may have been inspired by the Roman tomb of Caius Cestius. The pyramid is also a more general indication of the "Egyptomania" that had taken hold in Europe during the second half of the 18th century. Indeed, many of Robert's images from the late 1750s are enlivened by Egyptian motifs such as pyramids, sphinxes and obelisks. The ruins for Robert were meditative, almost spiritual locations, where one could commune with the greatness of the past.
The label on the reverse (see fig. 1) indicates that the painting was given by Robert to his close friend the painter François Dumont who was also in Rome in the 1780s. François Dumont (1751–1831) was one of the most important painters of portrait minatures of his time. In 1784 he journeyed to Rome where he met Robert, returning after four years careful study, and in 1788 was accepted as an Academician and granted an apartment in the Louvre. He married the daughter of Antoine Vestier, the miniature painter, and had two sons, Aristide and Bias, both of whom became painters. The picture was left to his son Bias after his death.
This work is to be included in the catalogue raisonné of the oil paintings of Hubert Robert being prepared by The Wildenstein Institute.
Sotheby's. Important Old Master and 19th Century Paintings from the Collection of Jacob Elie Safra, 26 Jan 11, New York www.sothebys.com