Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Wandering Minstrels

Hubert Robert (French, Paris 1733–1808 Paris)
Oil on canvas
68 3/4 x 48 1/4 in. (174.6 x 122.6 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 524
Robert first went to Rome in 1754, eventually spending eleven years in Italy and befriending Fragonard, who influenced his free and lively style of painting and drawing. In this panel from the Bagatelle series, Robert adapted the architecture of the Campidoglio in Rome for the palace at the right. The fountain with the obelisk may have been based on one formerly in the gardens of the château. Most of the work on the series was done between 1777 and 1779.

In 1777, Charles Philippe, comte d’Artois (1757–1836), the youngest brother of Louis XVI who became Charles X of France, made a wager with Marie Antoinette. He bet that he could cause to be built a small château, or folie, to be called Bagatelle, while the court was absent from Versailles at Fontainebleau. His architect, François Joseph Belanger (1744–1818), reportedly brought eight hundred workers to the task. The comte d’Artois was the eventual winner, as the new Bagatelle was completed as required, between September 21 and November 26, 1777. Robert was commissioned to decorate the bathing room and Antoine Callet (1741–1823) was assigned the boudoir, on the opposite side. While Callet’s paintings have disappeared, Robert’s were given to The Met by financier J. Pierpont Morgan.

Robert’s paintings were apparently conceived as three pairs of varying widths. Of the six, Wandering Minstrels was exhibited at the Salon of 1779, while The Swing is signed, and The Mouth of a Cave is signed by the artist and dated 1784. Each of the three belongs to a different pair, and though the arrangement cannot be determined with certainty, it seems likely that the narrowest were on the fireplace wall while the widest flanked the window on the garden. In 1784, Robert was employed to repaint (refaire) the two canvases on the fireplace wall that had been damaged by dampness. It is possible but not certain that The Fountain, which is poorly preserved, was "redone" at the time, while The Mouth of a Cave, which is in good state, was supplied as a replacement, as Joseph Baillio suggested.

The pictures remained at Bagatelle until 1808, when they were sold at auction. It is unlikely that, as has been alleged, they belonged to the empress Josephine: there is no record of them at Malmaison and in any event she died in 1814. In 1911, it was announced that they had been rediscovered by the then curator of the Bois de Boulogne. For some time previously, they had been in the collection of the comtes de Flaux.

It is universally believed, in spite of a slight discrepancy in height, that Wandering Minstrels was lent by the comte d’Artois to the 1779 Salon as Une Partie de la Cour du Capitole, ornée de Musiciens ambulans près d’une Fontaine. The title serves to remind the viewer that Robert’s building more or less replicates the corner of the Palazzo Nuovo on the Campidoglio, which had been built in accordance with designs of Michelangelo and is here shown (inaccurately) in a state of mild decay. The waterworks comprise an Egyptian obelisk on a pedestal supporting four nymphs with two urns each, resting in their turn on a base from which lion masks emit four further streams of water into a low pool. The fountain replaces a statue of Marcus Aurelius, while instead of a view of the city of Rome in the background, there is a bucolic landscape reminiscent of Tivoli. Drawings for some of the itinerant musicians and compositional studies differing in various architectural and landscape details survive.

[Katharine Baetjer 2011]
Charles Philippe, comte d'Artois, château de Bagatelle, near Paris (until 1789); at Bagatelle (abandoned and then nationalized and sold, 1789–96); Lieuthraud, or Leuthraud, called marquis de Beauregard, Bagatelle (1796–97); André Lhéritier and the Société des entrepreneurs de fêtes (1797–1806); at Bagatelle (purchased by Napoleon's Administration des Domaines, 1806); sale, Hôtel de Bullion, Paris, Clisorius and Masson jeune, April 4ff., 1808, no. 151, as "Six Tableaux sous ce numéro; ils représentent des monuments d'Italie et amusements champêtres. Ils ont étés peints pour le ci-devant comte d'Artois, à Bagatelle. Toile."; the lot was in two parts, the first went for Fr 381, the second for Fr 240, both to Brunot; ?[Jacques Nicolas Brunot, from 1808]; Pierre Justin Armand Verdier, comte de Flaux, château de Flaux, near Uzès (until d. 1883); Édouard Henri Roger Verdier, comte de Flaux, château de Flaux (1883–d. 1898); Clémence Pascal Verdier, comtesse douairière de Flaux, château de Flaux (1898–d. 1908; estate under arbitration, 1908–10); Eliane Berger, Roger de Flaux's daughter (1910–11; offered for sale to MMA and J. Pierpont Morgan through Maurice de Verneuil); J. Pierpont Morgan, New York (1911–d. 1913; his estate, 1913–17; on loan to MMA from May 1912)
Paris. Salon. 1779, no. 90 (as "Une partie de la Cour du Capitole, ornée de Musiciens ambulans près d'une Fontaine," lent by Mgr. le Comte d'Artois).

Paris. Thos. Agnew & Sons. "Hubert Robert (1733–1808)," March 12–30, 1912, one of nos. 1–8 (as "Panneaux Décoratifs pour un salon, provenant de la collection de Madame de Flaux," lent by J. Pierpont Morgan).

M. [Luc-Vincent] Thiéry. Guide des amateurs et des étrangers voyageurs à Paris. Paris, 1787, vol. 1, pp. 28–29, describes the château de Bagatelle, stating that the bathing room, to the left of the "grand sallon," was ornamented with mirrors and with six charming pictures by Robert, while the boudoir, opposite, was decorated with mirrors and six pictures by Callet.

Friedrich Gilly. Description de Bagatelle. 1797 [published by Edgar Wedepohl in L'Oeil, no. 126, 1965, p. 22], mentions the Robert paintings in the "petit cabinet" to the left.

Annonces, affiches et avis divers 93 (April 2, 1808), p. 1478 [see Ref. Baillio 1995], preview the sale of "six tableaux de place, peints par Hubert Robert représentant des Monuments d'Italie".

C. Gabillot. Hubert Robert et son temps. Paris, 1895, pp. 123, 276.

Charles Yriarte. "Mémoires de Bagatelle, I." La revue de Paris 4 (July–August 1903), pp. 21, 33, states that Robert was paid 500 livres for each; mentions that by 1784 the pictures, suffering from dampness, were restored by the artist for 500 livres; notes that they appear in the year V [1796–97] inventory, described as damaged by humidity.

Henri-Gaston Duchesne. Le château de Bagatelle (1715–1908). Paris, 1909, pp. 142, 155, 160, cites a document of May 18, 1784, in which the paintings to the right and left of the fireplace are mentioned as requiring restoration; notes that the six damaged paintings were in situ when Bagatelle was leased to entrepreneurs in the year V [1796–97].

[Jean Claude Nicolas Forestier]. Bagatelle et ses jardins. Paris, 1910, pp. 34–35.

"Nouvelles." Chronique des arts et de la curiosité, supplément à la Gazette des beaux-arts no. 31 (October 7, 1911), p. 242, announces the rediscovery of the six panels by M. Forestier, conservator of the Bois de Boulogne; notes that paintings are signed and dated 1777 and 1784; states that they were brought to Malmaison and later given by Empress Josephine to her physician, who left them to his family.

D. F[riedley]. "Decorative Panels by Hubert Robert." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 7 (July 1912), pp. 130–31, announces J. Pierpont Morgan's loan.

J[ean]. C[laude]. N[icolas]. Forestier Librairie agricole de la maison rustique. Bagatelle et ses jardins. Paris, [1922–23?], pp. 43–44.

P[reston]. R[emington]. "Six Paintings by Hubert Robert." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 19 (January 1924), pp. 9–10, dates them 1777.

Jean Stern. A l'ombre de Sophie Arnould: Francois-Joseph Belanger. Paris, 1930, vol. 1, p. 70.

Georges Pascal. Histoire du château de Bagatelle. Paris, 1938, p. 34, notes that copies have replaced the Robert originals.

Louis Hautecœur. Histoire de l'architecture classique en France. Vol. 4, Seconde moitié du XVIIIe siècle: Le style Louis XVI, 1750–1792. Paris, 1952, p. 493.

Robert Joffet. Bagatelle: Histoire et guide. Paris, 1954, pp. 16, 27–28.

Charles Sterling. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of French Paintings. Vol. 1, XV–XVIII Centuries. Cambridge, Mass., 1955, pp. 163–66, ill., accepts the tradition that the paintings were at Malmaison; comments that the architecture is taken from the Campidoglio, and that the fountain may have been inspired by one at Bagatelle; notes similar motifs in a painting in the Louvre, a watercolor formerly in the collection of George Blumenthal (now National Gallery of Art, Washington), and in a drawing at the Museum of Valence.

Ferdinand Boyer. "Jean-Joseph de Laborde protecteur de F.-X. Fabre et sa collection confisquée en 1794." Bulletin de la Société de l'Histoire de l'Art Français, année 1954, (1955), p. 221 n. 1.

Barbara Scott. "Bagatelle: Folie of the comte d'Artois." Apollo (June 1972), pp. 481, 485 n. 8.

Colin Eisler. Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. Vol. 4, European Schools Excluding Italian. London, 1977, p. 340.

Béatrice de Andia et al. De Bagatelle à Monceau, 1778-1978: Les folies au XVIIIe siècle à Paris. Exh. cat., Musée Carnavalet. Paris, 1978–79, p. 16, accepts the tradition that the six paintings were once at the Malmaison.

Victor Carlson. Hubert Robert Drawings and Watercolors. Exh. cat.Washington, 1978, p. 136.

Gérard Hubert. Letter to Dean Walker. April 28, 1980, says there is no trace of the six panels having ever been in Josephine's collection; identifies her physician as Horeau; concludes that if the paintings belonged to her they were in her possession for only a short time.

Jean de Cayeux. Les Hubert Robert de la Collection Veyrenc au Musée de Valence. Exh. cat.Valence, 1985, p. 292, fig. 105.

Jean de Cayeux. "Jeux d'eau pour une salle de bains." L'Objet d'art 8 (June 1988), pp. 64–65, 68, ill. (color), suggests that this painting and "The Bathing Pool" were installed at Bagatelle shortly before or shortly after the 1779 Salon, and that the narrower panels were not completed until 1784.

Annie Jacques and Jean-Pierre Mouilleseaux in La Folie d'Artois. Exh. cat., château de Bagatelle, Paris. n.p., [1988], pp. 42–43, fig. 23 (color).

Jean de Cayeux with the collaboration of Catherine Boulot. Hubert Robert. Paris, 1989, p. 120.

Paul Bernard Wilson. "Profiles in Royalty: Hubert Robert's 'The Mouth of a Cave' and a Concealed Iconography of Louis XVI." Album Amicorum Kenneth C. Lindsay: Essays on Art and Literature. Ed. Susan Alyson Stein and George D. McKee. Binghamton, 1990, pp. 183–84.

Joseph Baillio. "Hubert Robert's Decorations for the Château de Bagatelle." Metropolitan Museum Journal 27 (1992), pp. 149, 156–57, 160–62, 164, 171–73, 176–78, 181 n. 20, p. 182 nn. 51, 53–54, figs. 8, 11 (overall and detail), with the exception of "The Mouth of a Cave," dates the series 1777–79; identifies the building as the Palazzo dei conservatori or the Capitolino, and the statue at the right as one from the Baths of Caracalla which in Robert's time was in the Palazzo Farnese; observes that Robert may have worked out the composition in "The Courtyard of an Italian Palazzo" (fig. 10, present location unknown), and that the flute players were borrowed from studies (fig. 12, also present location unknown) which he dates about 1760–65.

Joseph Baillio. "Addendum to 'Hubert Robert's Decorations for the Château de Bagatelle'." Metropolitan Museum Journal 30 (1995), p. 103, notes that these paintings and Callet's were sold in Paris on April 4, 1808, to Brunot.

Paula Rea Radisich. Hubert Robert: Painted Spaces of the Enlightenment. Cambridge, 1998, pp. 12–13, 78–96, 110–11, 118–19, 171–72 nn. 25, 29, p. 173 n. 35, p. 174 n. 42, p. 176 n. 56, fig. 44.

Jean Strouse. Morgan: American Financier. New York, 1999, p. 559, briefly mentions our Bagatelle paintings (17.190.25–30).

Katie Scott. "Book Reviews. Hubert Robert: Painted Spaces of the Enlightenment." Burlington Magazine 141 (November 1999), p. 690.

Jean Strouse. "J. Pierpont Morgan, Financier and Collector." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 57 (Winter 2000), p. 27.

Sarah Catala in Hubert Robert, 1733–1808: Un peintre visionnaire. Ed. Guillaume Faroult and Catherine Voiriot. Exh. cat., Musée du Louvre. Paris, 2016, p. 158, under no. 19.

Catherine Voiriot in Hubert Robert, 1733–1808: Un peintre visionnaire. Ed. Guillaume Faroult and Catherine Voiriot. Exh. cat., Musée du Louvre. Paris, 2016, p. 461, fig. 153 (color).

Related Objects

The Dance

Artist: Hubert Robert (French, Paris 1733–1808 Paris) Medium: Oil on canvas Accession: 17.190.28 On view in:Gallery 524

The Swing

Artist: Hubert Robert (French, Paris 1733–1808 Paris) Medium: Oil on canvas Accession: 17.190.27 On view in:Gallery 524

The Bathing Pool

Artist: Hubert Robert (French, Paris 1733–1808 Paris) Medium: Oil on canvas Accession: 17.190.29 On view in:Gallery 524

The Mouth of a Cave

Artist: Hubert Robert (French, Paris 1733–1808 Paris) Date: 1784 Medium: Oil on canvas Accession: 17.190.25 On view in:Gallery 524

The Fountain

Artist: Hubert Robert (French, Paris 1733–1808 Paris) Medium: Oil on canvas Accession: 17.190.26 On view in:Gallery 524