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Landscape Capriccio with a Waterfall. Black chalk. 50 x 24 cm.
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Hubert Robert originally trained as a clergyman but, having opted for an artistic career, was taught in Paris by the sculptor and architect, Michelange Slodtz. Instead of undergoing the usual programme of academic training in his native city, Robert went to Rome in 1753 as a protegé of the Comte de Stainville. He remained there until 1765 living as a pensionnaire at the Académie de France and taking lessons. During that time the artist was greatly inspired by Giovanni Paolo Pannini, a painter of ruins and architecture, and by his encounter with Giovanni Battista Piranesi. No less significant was the company he kept with his fellow Frenchmen, Jean-Honoré Fragonard and the Abbé de Saint-Non, whom Robert accompanied on a journey to Naples in 1760.
The artist left a very extensive corpus of drawings. While in Rome he made numerous studies drawn from nature as well as carefully composed capriccios combining ancient and genre-like motifs. The subjects he collected in his sketchbooks were later realised in Paris in quite different variations as commissioned works.
The present landscape capriccio is distinguished by the precise and consummate manner of its execution and its sophisticated composition. The artist has deliberately chosen an upright format, which accentuates the picturesque rock formations with the foaming waterfall and creates an intriguing three-dimensional effect. The drawing may have served as a preliminary study for decorative wainscoting. Robert has skilfully sketched a charming group of women in the right foreground; to their left a man is sat on a gnarled, broken-off branch bathing his feet in the chilly waters. The terrace at the top left and the picturesque tower are motifs that were undoubtedly inspired by Tivoli. The whole scene is imbued with light and air, and Robert achieves the perfect evocation of an Italian landscape with a great economy of means. From the collection of Henri Baron de Triqueti (1804–1874, Paris, Lugt 1304).