MATHIEU IGNACE VAN BRÉE (1773-1839)
THE ARCH OF JANUS & TOWER OF THE BASILICA DI SAN GIORGIO IN VELABRO, ROME
Bears artist's studio stamp l.l. (L.1881)
Titled in French u.l.
19 x 25 cm
With Dr Martin Moeller, Hamburg;
From whom acquired by Heidi Horten (1941-2022);
By whose estate sold in 2023
Mattheus Ignatius van Bree, who went by the French spelling of his name professionally, was born in Antwerp and studied first at the local art academy in the city from the young age of 10. In his early adulthood, van Bree was appointed an assistant-professor at the Academy, and was given his own studio in 1794. Several years later, in 1797, he left for Paris, where he studied with the history painter François-André Vincent. He entered a submission to the Salon in that year and won the second prize in the Prix de Rome with his painting The Death of Cato in Utica.
Van Bree returned to Antwerp in 1804 to take up a professorship at the Academy, which had just been reopened, having been shuttered by the French invaders. At the end of the French army’s occupation in 1813, he was a key member of the commission responsible for recovering the numerous works confiscated by the French, including many works by Rubens. He travelled to Italy in 1821, visiting Florence and Rome with his former pupil, Ferdinand de Braekeleer the Elder. In the former, he spent hours drawing copies of the portraits by Da Vinci and Raphael in the Uffizi galleries, and published much of what he had learnt from this process in his Leçons de dessin, published in the same year. The present work dates from this visit to Rome, and is typical of the early 19th century academic tradition of sketching in-situ around the sites and monuments of the ancient city.
In 1827, van Bree was invited back to Antwerp to become director of the Academy; though he was retained his membership of several other academies, including those in Amsterdam, Rome, Munich and even New York. He was a much-loved teacher of several important artists from the following generation, and was largely responsible for creating a strong tradition of history painting among the academicians of Antwerp.