VICTOR-JEAN NICOLLE (1754-1826)
AN INTERIOR VIEW OF THE PISCINA MIRABILIS (NAPLES)
Pen & ink with wash
28 x 19.5 cm
It has been suggested that the subject of the present view is most likely the Piscina Mirabilis ('Wondrous Pool') in the Gulf of Naples, a cistern built during the reign of the Emperor Augustus. Please see the final image for the exact spot thought to be depicted.
The intense, zig-zag pen lines throughout this work, the diminutive figures, and the combination of black and sepia inks with wash, are all typical of Nicolle's smaller-scale views from Rome, often drawn in-situ to be worked up in wash and watercolours later in his studio. Nicolle's architectural shorthand and deft use of blank paper to create dramatic contrasts in light are displayed particularly effective in this dimly lit interior.
In particular, our work can be compared to Monks in the courtyard garden of a monastery, sold at Christie's, South Kensington, 08.12.2011, Lot 270; Figures by a staircase leading to an arcade, sold at Bonham's, London, 07.07.2020, Lot 205; and Villa by the sea, sold at Beaussant-Lefèvre, Paris, 11.02.2022, Lot 362.
Victor-Jean Nicolle trained in Paris at the École Royale Gratuite de Dessin, the free drawing school founded in in Paris by Jean-Jacques Bachelier (1724-1806). Nicolle won the Grand Prix de Perspective in 1771, and after graduating he entered the architectural studio of Louis François Petit-Radel (1739-1806), who under the First Empire became inspector general of civil buildings and built the Roule slaughterhouse, among other accomplishments.
Nicolle’s architectural specialism and training was put to great use during his lengthy sojourns in Rome, which appear to have been between 1787-1798 and 1806-1811. Often filled with anecdotal detail, Nicolle’s drawings from his Italian period are almost all rigorously accurate in their topography. They are, as such, important documentary evidence of the appearance of the Eternal City in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Like many artists in Rome before him, Nicolle was inspired by Hubert Robert’s capricci, and drew a number of his own. Nicolle would generally make drawings 'sur le motif' in pen and ink, which he would then finish with wash and watercolour in his studio. Although best known for his Roman views, he also produced drawings of other cities in Italy, including Bologna, Venice, Verona, Naples and Florence, while in France he made numerous studies of Paris and its environs.
Although he never exhibited at the Salons, his reputation as a topographical artist was such that in 1810 he received a commission from Napoleon for fifty watercolour views of the principal monuments of Paris, intended as a wedding present for the Empress Marie-Louise and now at Malmaison. Other significant groups of drawings by Nicolle are today in the Louvre, the Musée Carnavalet and the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, as well as the museums of Rouen and Lille.