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DAVID ROBERTS, R.A. (1796-1864)
  • DAVID ROBERTS, R.A. (1796-1864)


    Inscribed in pencil l.r. Foro Romana, Rome / Nov. 

    Bears date l.r. 1858

    Watercolour with bodycolour, chalks & pencil on paper

    16 x 25 cm



    Private Collection, Ireland



    Roberts’ diary for October 1853 records that, on the 25th, he spent “All day at the forum; made five sketches for picture" [1]. This sketch, which bears the date 1858 (possibly in another hand) may correspond to the 1859 painting titled Remains of the Roman Forum (Guildhall Art Gallery, London), the 1859 Ruins of the Roman Forum (Wolverhampton Art Gallery), or the 1860 painting Approach to the Forum (Private Collection). 


    Italy was late on the list of countries which David Roberts visited, with the artist only travelling there in 1851, after extensive tours through France, Flanders, Spain, Germany and the Levant. On his first trip to the country, Roberts only visited the North; but, in September 1853, he joined the brothers Charles & Louis Haghe (fellow artists) on their trip to Rome. After arriving in Genoa having come through France, they sailed to Livorno (then called Leghorn) and then took a train to Pisa, visiting Florence after this. Having seen the sights of Tuscany, they returned to Livorno to board a ship to Civita Vecchia, the ancient port that served Rome. 


    Roberts' main aim was to paint an interior of St Peter's and he had not intended to stay long in Rome. However, the Papal permission to work in the basilica was so restrictive that it took the artist significantly longer than he had anticipated. When not able to paint in St Peter's he made sketches around the city, including the present work (the date is in another hand and is likely apocryphal).


    Our sheet is typical of Roberts' on-the-spot studies, many of which have changed colour and tone similarly (with age), attaining a deep reddish-brown hue. Architectural elements are drawn carefully in perspective, with highlights picked out in white and vivid bodycolour, and areas of sky and cloud roughed in and highlighted with a bright blue to strengthen the composition.


    • Notes

      [1] James Ballantine, The life of David Roberts, R.A. : compiled from his journals and other sources, Edinburgh (1866), p.177

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