Capriccio view of the antic Rome
Abraham-Louis-Rodolphe Ducros (1748-1810)

Capriccio view of the antic Rome, Ca. 1785.

Watercolour on paper laid down on canvas., H. 0.692 m; W. 1.025 m

Inscription on the back: London, à Monsieur Fischer à Windsor / Le Forum Romanum Composé / avec les principaux monuments / de Rome.

Provenance: Private collection, Italy.

Late 18th and early 19th century artists and collectors regarded Louis Ducros as one of the leading figures in landscape painting in the medium of watercolour. His work was intended to appeal to the taste of collectors who had visited Rome and Naples on the Grand Tour. They were to furnish their houses with topographical renderings of the famous Grand Toursights.

Ducros spent his formative years in Geneva and travelled to Rome in 1778. He was to complete a series of landscapes and views of ancient monuments while travelling in the employ of a Dutchman in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. The sketches he made provided him with an artistic vocabulary and a range of motifs that later proved invaluable. On his return to Rome he concentrated on picturesque views designed to interest foreign visitors. He published the large-format work Vues de Rome et ses Environs together with the printmaker Giovanni Volpato in 1780. The series was a runaway success.

In 1784 he embarked on the large-scale watercolours which are now seen as his finest artistic achievement, no doubt encouraged by the success of his Roman prints and by the examples set by Jakob Philipp Hackert, John ‘Warwick’ Smith, Carlo Labruzzi and John Robert Cozens. He was one of the first artists to take the medium of watercolour further than tradition dictated. His drawings were heightened with body colour and touches of varnish to achieve greater effect. The dimensions demanded the use of a number of sheets which he joined together and pasted on to the canvas. The works were framed and glazed for sale. His watercolours were intended to be hung for decorative effect rather than assigned to collectors’ cabinets or portfolios.

Ducros’s work was widely admired by early 19th-century collectors and connoisseurs – particularly in England and Russia – and his name frequently appeared in the press. His clients included Catherine the Great, Grand Duke Paul, Sir Richard Colt Hoare of Stourhead, Sir John Acton and King Gustaf III of Sweden. In London his works sold for extraordinarily high prices: at the sale of the Cawdor Collection in June 1800 they made four times the price Lord Cawdor had paid for them on his Grand Tour fifteen years earlier.

This watercolour shows an imaginary view of the Roman forum, on which Ducros added monuments existing in various places of Rome; as a kind of summary of the Ancient Rome. Ducros presents the very recognizable site of the Roman forum, taken from the hill of the Capitol. In the center we recognize the basilica of Maxence and Constantin, a building in three arcs. In front of the basilica is represented the Curie, a small brick-built monument where the Roman Senate met. We recognize in its left the temple of Antonin and Faustine and in the foreground, on the right, the columns of the temple of Saturn. In the background, Ducros brought together the major monuments of the Ancient Rome: the Coliseum, the Pantheon and the Trajan column with the golden statue of the emperor Trajan, replaced since 1587 by a bronze statue of holy Pierre.

We are grateful to Mrs Annie Gilet for her help in cataloguing this work.