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François-Léon Benouville

(1821-1859, Paris)

View of the Quadrangle of the Maronite Monastery in Rome. Pen-and-ink drawing over chalk, grey wash. 28.5 x 41 cm. Inscribed “Couvent des Maronites. Rom Juin 1851” in the artist’s own hand.

The history painter, François-Léon Benouville, was the younger brother of the landscape painter, Jean Achille Benouville. He studied under François-Édouard Picot at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where he made his debut at the Salon in 1838. François-Léon emulated his brother in winning the prestigious Prix de Rome in 1845. The works he produced in Rome focus on subjects from antiquity and early Christendom and are treated in a cool, classical formal idiom reminiscent of Ingres.

The present drawing shows the quadrangle of the Maronite monastery on the Collio Oppio not far from the Colosseum. The outstanding features of the picture are its clarity and the purism of the linework, which reveal the hand of an experienced draughtsman. The confidently handled, airy washes give the study an intensely atmospheric density. The artist has used deft and expert strokes to depict the vine tendrils beneath the upper margin which serve as a repoussoir and enhance the spatial effect. The viewer observes the peaceful seclusion of the intimate quadrangle as if looking through a window. The deliberate use of the white paper tone creates a beguiling, flickering chiaroscuro which brilliantly captures the clear light of a summer day in Rome. With the artist’s studio stamp (Lugt 228 b); from the collection of J. Q. van Regteren Altena (Lugt 4617).

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