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Architectural Capriccio. Pen and black ink over a preliminary drawing in graphite, watercolour and gouache. 23.2 x 32.5 cm. Signed: “Ts de Thomon / à Rome 1785”, verso also signed: “Ts. de Thomon / à Rome”.
Thomas de Thomon, an architect and draughtsman, was taught by Ledoux in Paris and went to study in Rome in 1785/86. From 1798 he was active in Russia, where he was appointed court architect to Emperor Alexander I, in which capacity he exercised considerable influence on the development of Russian architecture. Numerous representative buildings in St. Petersburg, executed in a rigorous Neo-classical style, have influenced the aesthetic appearance of the city on the River Neva and testify to the architect’s creative capacity and artistic prestige. One of his most famous buildings is the Old Stock Exchange on the spit of Vasilyevsky Island, which was begun by Quarenghi and completed by Thomon between 1805 and 1816. The two Rostral Columns on either side of the monumental, strictly Doric temple, which were designed by Thomon, are one of St. Petersburg’s architectural landmarks.
Thomon was also a talented draughtsman and watercolourist, as is evidenced by the present work he produced when still in Rome. The pronounced scenographic character of the composition suggests that it was probably a stage design. In the foreground the artist has evocatively emplaced a rock cave and the remains of an ancient temple. On a narrow strip of land an old man is bent over the lifeless body of a young woman who has presumably drowned; a number of people clad in ancient dress and gesturing in despair rush to the scene. Thomon’s iconography cannot be unequivocally deciphered. This may have been a stage design for one of the countless opera libretti by Pietro Metastasio, which were enormously popular in the 18th century. The rocks and architectural fragments frame a breathtakingly vast, imaginary landscape, which is conveyed with fastidious precision and a feeling for atmospheric effects. The geometrical austerity of the carefully drawn temple buildings is reminiscent of the revolutionary architecture designed by Thomon’s teacher, Ledoux.