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Jean-Jacques François Lebarbier the Elder

(1738 Rouen – 1826 Paris)

View of an Ancient Ruin with Mourners at a Tomb. Pen and black ink and watercolour. 45 x 35 cm. Signed: “Lebarbier del a rome”.

Lebarbier, a painter, draughtsman and art theoretician, studied under Jean Baptiste Marie Pierre at the Académie Royale in Paris. He subsequently undertook the obligatory sojourn in Rome and travelled to Switzerland, where he struck up a friendship with Salomon Gessner. He was accepted (agrée) by the academy in 1780 and made a full member in 1785. Lebarbier was known principally as a history painter and drawer of illustration designs. He worked in a refined and restrained classical formal idiom characteristic of the era of Louis XV.

The present atmospheric veduta, which arose during the artist’s stay in Rome, is executed in a subtle, very evocative style. The viewer gazes through a high archway into the interior of a ruined, ivy-covered ancient tomb. Growing inside the remains are cypress trees, which ever since antiquity have been a sym­bol of death and mourning. Gathered around a sarcophagus in the centre of the picture are soldiers dressed in classical attire whose poses also express suffering and contemplation. The careful colouring in delicate shades of brown, grey and green heighten the emotional atmosphere of the scene without appear­ing in any way overstated. The whole is steeped in a mild, elegiac mood.

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