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Abraham-Louis Rodolphe Ducros

(1748 Moudon – 1810 Lausanne)

View of the Poseidon Temple in Paestum with Staffage Figures. Watercolour over pen and black ink. 35 x 50.2 cm. A contemporary inscription in pen and brown ink on the reverse: “Dessin Original de Ducros”, and an inventory number: “B. No 279. a.“. Watermark: Strasbourg Lily.

Ducros has rendered the famous Doric temple from a low view point and from a rather abbreviated angle, thus creating a striking effect of depth. In the right foreground a little tree, undergrowth and the remains of ancient walls serve as a repoussoir. The artist has cleverly incorporated individual staffage figures and animals in the landscape. The scene is bathed in a mild, autumnal light. The afternoon sun sheds a warm glow on the weathered stone of the temple, while the remains of the adjacent Temple of Hera are depicted in a cool blue. An elegiac mood prevails and the image is a poetic expression of the 18th century nostalgia for Italy. The ruins of the ancient city of Poseidonia were only rediscovered about 1745 and soon became a favoured destination for foreigners doing the Grand Tour. From 1750 onwards many artists – including Hubert Robert, Antonio Joli, Jakob Philipp Hackert, Giovanni Battista Piranesi and Ducros – tried their hand at portraying the picturesque temples in order to meet the rising demand of an educated public. Ducros was certainly one of the most industrious and adept of these. He had been active in Rome since 1777, where he had joined forces with the Bassano-born reproductive engraver Giovanni Volpato. Their collective project, a set of twenty-four sheets entitled Vues de Rome et de ses environs, which was published in 1780, paid off handsomely. Volpato’s large-format outline etchings, skillfully coloured by Ducros, had an extremely suggestive effect and enjoyed great popularity as a competitive alternative to painted vedute. Ducros soon made a name for himself as an independent watercolour painter as well, specializing in rendering the principal sights of Rome, for which he received numerous commissions, mainly from English aristocrats. His successful career came to an abrupt end in 1793, when Ducros – like many practitioners of his craft – was banned from the Papal State because of his republican sympathies. He settled in Naples, where he was to live and work until 1799, serving a cultivated circle of connoisseurs and art lovers, including Sir William Hamilton, the Scottish diplomat, antiquarian and archaeologist, and Sir John Acton, Prime Minister of Naples under Ferdinand IV. The present watercolour was probably executed between 1785 and 1790. Several views of Paestum’s ancient temple structures from this period have been preserved (see J. Zutter, Abraham-Louis-Rodolphe Ducros. Un peintre suisse en Italie, Lausanne 1998, pp. 102–103, plates 54–55).

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