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Watercolour over etched outlines

23.4 x 33 cm




Pius VI was one of several Popes over the centuries to attempt to drain the Pontine Marshes, an area of swampland to the southeast of Rome along the Lazio coastline. The fetid marshes spread disease and were an eyesore for the local government, as well as being an obvious site for potential agricultural industry; however, attempts to drain and till the area came to naught on numerous occasions until the 19th century.




Abraham-Louis-Rodolphe was the son of a drawing master at Yverdon College. He was born in Moudon and came to Geneva in 1769, to study under Nicolas-Henri-Joseph de Fassin. He subsequently left for Italy, establishing himself in Rome at the end of 1776: it was a difficult time for a young vedutisto to make his way, as the field was largely dominated by the Hackert brothers (Johann Philip & Johann Gottlieb) and was on the precipice of an influx of innovative, gifted British artists like Towne, Pars and Jones. Fortunately for Ducros, in 1778 he was employed by two Dutch noblemen to accompany them on a four-month voyage to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and Malta where he created close to three hundred watercolours (held currently by the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam). This trip ‘put him on the map’ as it were for likeminded clients and his artistic peers.


Ducros remained in Rome from 1777 to 1793, working as a landscape painter, largely in watercolours (his oils are, comparatively, very rare). It was his business partnership with the Italian engraver Giovanni Volpato that secured his legacy however. Volpato, already renowned for his engravings of the Papal loggia frescos and decorations, would provide Ducros with the etched outlines of scenes which Ducros particularly liked and had sketched or painted previously (as in the case of the present work); Ducros could then concentrate on colouring these with watercolour, without having to work up the outlines afresh each time. This also meant that the pair could effectively produce the most popular Grand Tourist views with a swift turnaround for clients, and with a consistency of quality that some artists would struggle with. Furthermore, the canny Tourist could purchase such works for less than the more costly oils or gouaches of Hackert et al, and could rest assured that only the cognoscenti could spot the difference in quality between the etched works and an original watercolour by Ducros (and even then only on close inspection usually). In collaboration with the Volpato, Ducros published twenty-four engravings depicting views of Rome and its surroundings.


In 1782, he received a commission from Paul Alexandrovitch of Russia for two paintings and, in 1782, a commission from Pope Pius VI. In 1784, Gustav III of Sweden was his largest purchaser. But his primary commissioners were still English noblemen on the Grand Tour of Europe, for example Sir Richard Colt Hoare, Milford Hervey, and Lord Breadalbane. Some of Ducros’ finest works are now at Stourhead in the Hoare family collection (overseen by the National Trust). 



The unrest arising from the French Revolution led to the expulsion of many French from the Papal States. Ducros, considered a Jacobin, was expelled in 1793; he subsequently settled in Abruzzo, then in Naples until 1799, where he created numerous works depicting Campania and Mount Etna. He sold some of his works to William Hamilton, the influential British Ambassador who married the young Emma Hamilton, and some seascapes to Lord Acton. Ducros came again to Malta in 1800, and here painted views of Valletta for the General Thomas Graham, who had recently taken the island from the French.


Ducros returned to Switzerland in the summer of 1807, first of all to Nyon, then to Lausanne. In Geneva he was named an honorary member of the Society of Arts in 1807. In Bern, he was named professor of painting at the Academy in 1809, but died, in Lausanne, before being able to assume the post, on 18 February 1810. His landscapes are, for the most part, kept in the Cantonal Museum of Fine Arts in Lausanne, as well as in collections across Britain (notably Kenwood, Stourhead and Bramham Hall) and Europe. 


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