Roman Ruins with Figures
Charles-Louis Clérisseau (1721-1820)

Roman Ruins with Figures, Ca. 1780-1790.

Gouache on paper, H. 0.37 m; W. 0.26 m

Provenance: Private collection, France.

Charles-Louis Clérisseau, an architect, archaeologist, and painter of ruins, occupies a unique position in the genesis and wide-ranging adoption of neoclassical architecture during the second half of the eighteenth century. More than his relatively few realized works (e.g. the Palais du Gouverneur, Metz, France, 1776-1789), his many drawings of Antique decorative schemes and details, real and imaginary ruins, and designs for buildings in the Ancient style helped to form the language of Neo-Classicism.

He trained in Paris under Jacques-François Blondel. In 1749 he went to Italy after winning the Grand Prix for architecture. There he moved in the Roman circles of Panini and Piranesi, becoming successively drawing tutor to William Chambers and Robert Adam, the two most successful architects in later 18th-century England. Clérisseau spent the years 1771-1775 working in England for the Adam brothers. He subsequently entered the service of Catherine the Great of Russia.

Clérisseau specialized in dramatic views of ancient ruins. It was during his stay in Italy with Adam that he made many of the unusually beautiful and sensitive drawings of antique forms that are among the more than 100 now in the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg. These drawings, much admired in England, were capricci of Italian sites, often highly finished in gouache. The present work is very close to a series of gouaches by Clérisseau dated by 1781 and kept in the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg (see exh. cat. Charles-Louis Clérisseau (1721-1820). Dessins du musée de l’Ermitage, Saint-Pétersbourg, Paris, 1995, p. 138, no. 52-54).