The Waterfall
Hubert Robert (1733-1808)

The waterfall, Ca. 1775.

Oil on panel., H. 0.21 m; W. 0.24 m

Two handwritten labels on the back: Exposition / « Three French Reigns » / Londres 1933, n°16 ; Exposition Hubert Robert / Orangerie 1933-34 / n°30.

Provenance: Private collection, France.

This view of a high, breathtaking waterfall is a characteristic example of the idyllic and pastoral vision of Hubert Robert. The painting also provides a perfect illustration of the source of inspiration that Tivoli – a site situated about 30 kilometers from Rome – constituted for the artist. The many rustic waterfalls we find in his body of works are all based on studies and souvenirs of this site. During the summer of 1760, Hubert Robert resided with the abbot of Saint-Non and Jean-Honoré Fragonard at the Villa d’Este in Tivoli, where the artists worked on plein air studies.

In our painting, a Medieval-inspired castle perched on the left peak replaces the round colonnade of Tivoli’s Temple of the Sibyl. A wooden bridge provides access to the castle from the opposite bank, and the figures moving across it help accentuate the impressive grandeur of the site. At the bottom of the waterfall there are several figures, including two young men who have set up to draw on-site; no doubt a memory of the summer days spent with his friend Fragonard in Italy, drawing outside in nature. The young painters were encouraged by Natoire, then Director of the Académie de France in Rome, to do plein air landscape studies.

In his works, Hubert Robert combines views of landscapes, cities or isolated monuments, ruins both real and imaginary – studies inspired by nature and whimsical landscapes. His paintings, even those with a well-defined subject, always maintain an air of poetic fantasy and have a certain hazy quality. His free and fluid touch, and the rich, thick brushstrokes allow us to date the piece to around 1775.