This scintillating sketch depicts the Porta Pinciana, or Pincian Gate, in Rome, as seen from the former gardens of the Villa Ludovisi, site of present-day Via di Porta Pinciana, near the head of Via Veneto. Past the Aurelian Wall are the gardens of the Villa Borghese. The Sabine Mountains rise beyond. The location is a short walk from the Villa Medici—headquarters of the Académie de France à Rome—and the city’s artists’ quarter and was a popular spot for sketching.
Picot, a pupil of François André Vincent, was awarded the Prix de Rome for history painting in 1813. He and his fellow pensionnaires at the Villa Medici were enthusiastic plein-air sketchers in the period leading up to the establishment of a Prix de Rome for landscape painting in 1816. (The first laureate in the category of paysage historique, in 1817, was Achille-Etna Michallon.) In a portrait of Picot in his studio at the Villa Medici painted by Jean Alaux in 1817 (private collection), a number of landscape sketches can be seen on the artist’s walls, including one bearing the distinctive features of the Cascate delle Marmore, north of Rome near Terni (see Sabine Rewald, Rooms with a View: The Open Window in the 19th Century, exh. cat., Metropolitan Museum, New York, 2011, pp. 92–93, no. 32, ill.). On July 1, 1817, Charles Thévenin, director of the Académie de France at the time, noted his charges’ extracurricular activities in this vein in an official report to the administration in Paris, noting that Picot and his compatriot Jean-Baptiste Thomas "took advantage of the spring to make landscape studies." (Thévenin, letter to Joseph-Henri-Joachim Lainé, Archives, Académie de France à Rome, box 23, fol. 72.) Other contemporaries, including Léon Pallière (see 2003.42.44), also joined sketching excursions to nearby sites.
[2013; adapted from Miller 2013]