Pencil, watercolour and bodycolour heightened with white.
Image size: 9 1/2 x 13 1/4 inches (24 x 34 cm)
Hand made gilt frame
The Fine Art Society 1981 (Label Verso)
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Roberts had travelled extensively on sketching tours through France, Flanders, Spain, Germany and the Holy Land before visiting Italy in 1851. He confined himself to Northern Italy on that occasion but in September 1853 set out to join his friends Charles and Louis Haghe on a trip to Rome. They met in Paris and travelled through France, then by diligence along the coast road to Genoa, by sea to Leghorn [Livorno] and train to Pisa then Florence, before returning to Leghorn for sea passage to Civita Vecchia and coach to Rome, arriving in late October. Roberts’ main aim was to paint an interior of St Peter’s and he had not intended to stay long in Rome. But permission to work in the basilica was so restrictive that it took him much longer than he had planned. When not able to paint in St Peter’s he made sketches around the city.
The present watercolour is typical of Roberts’ on-the-spot studies. Architecture is drawn carefully in perspective, with highlights picked out in white and areas of sky and cloud roughed in to strengthen the composition.
We are grateful to Krystyna Matyjaszkiewicz who wrote this information.
‘I cannot attempt to give any general description of Rome, but the objects of interest far exceed my expectations. The vast remains of theatres, baths and temples are magnificent, while the delicious climate, and the picturesque costumes of the people, render the place very attractive … The city, with St. Peter’s, the Vatican, and the castle of St. Angelo, seemed bathed in floods of living fire.’ (Roberts’ letter to his daughter Christine, quoted in J. Ballantine, The Life of David Roberts R.A., Edinburgh, 1866, p.179)
Scottish painter. The son of a shoemaker, he was apprenticed to a house-painter. From 1816 until 1830 he was employed in the theatre to design and paint stage scenery, first in Edinburgh and Glasgow and after 1822 in London. While in Scotland he met and worked with Clarkson Stanfield and later collaborated with him in London on dioramas and panoramas. Roberts exhibited his first easel painting in London in 1824 and at the Royal Academy in 1826 (View of Rouen Cathedral, no. 221; untraced).
In common with other contemporary painters of picturesque topography and architecture, such as Stanfield, J. D. Harding and James Holland, Roberts undertook journeys abroad in search of exotic or impressive subjects. He made his first visit to Spain in 1832-3, one of the first British artists to travel there. From Spain, Roberts briefly visited Morocco; later he made watercolours from sketches by other artists for engraving in T. H. Horne’s Landscape Illustrations of the Bible (1836). These encounters with the oriental world, in the context of contemporary interest in exotic places, especially the lands of the Bible, encouraged him to undertake a tour of the Near East in 1838. He was one of the first independent and professional British artists to experience the Orient at first hand.
Roberts arrived in Jerusalem at Easter 1839, having travelled from Egypt via Sinai and Petra; later he continued north to Lebanon and departed from Beirut in May. His drawings show his ability to create visually effective compositions from a variety of subjects.
Roberts’s eastern compositions reached a wide audience through 247 lithographs made by Louis Haghe. Originally published in parts, these were later bound into six volumes as The Holy Land, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt and Nubia (1842-9). He was elected ARA in 1838 and RA in 1841.