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François-Edouard Bertin
(1797–1871, Paris)

Rocky Landscape near Olevano. Pencil drawing. 25.9 x 37 cm. Inscribed in pen and brown ink in the artist’s own hand: “Olevano”.

This focused drawing shows a characteristic landscape motif from the immediate surroundings of the little town of Olevano, the silhouette of which can be seen on the horizon in the far distance. This is the so-called Serpentara, a picturesque natural setting with southern vegetation growing out of rough, barren rocks. From the late 18th century it was a popular motif among the artists living in Rome. Joseph Anton Koch was one of the first to work from nature here. Bertin’s interpretation is original in every respect. The artist has chosen a relatively low vantage point, which gives the viewer the impression of being enclosed by the rampant vegetation and the steep, jagged rocks as if in a ravine. Bertin was primarily interested in the picturesque rock formations, which he has rendered with graphical finesse, and the linear tree trunks with their airy foliage. The little town of Olevano, which can be seen in the distance through an ima­ginary window, serves merely as the genius loci, as a symbol of the yearning for Italy shared by the countless foreign artists who roamed the Campagna to study nature. The brisk, accurately drawn pencil lines of different thickness and the delicately stumped shaded areas produce a great sense of immediacy and closeness to nature. Bertin has taken as his theme the contrast between raw, unspoilt nature and the distant civilised world.

The painter, François-Edouard Bertin, began his studies at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1815. Initially a pupil of Anne Louis Girodet-Trioson, he soon gave up historical painting to concentrate on classical landscapes. He subsequently studied under Jean-Joseph-Xavier Bidauld and Louis Étienne Watelet. Around 1821 Bertin went on his first study trip to Rome. After returning to Paris in 1823, he made friends with his fellow students, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot and Caruelle d’Aligny. He was to meet both artists again in Rome in 1825. During this second sojourn in the city the artists worked together from nature, their mutual inspiration enabling them to arrive at a new, unpretentious interpretation of nature. In 1834 Bertin was made an Inspector of the Beaux-Arts. He subsequently travelled extensively, including to Italy, Spain, Greece, Turkey, Egypt and Lebanon. In the course of his journeys he produced a sub­stantial corpus of high-quality drawings, indicating that his painting activities increasingly receded into the background.