At an unknown date late in his career, Simon Denis grouped his oil studies by theme, such as water, flora, rocks and caves, and panoramas. He then numbered them sequentially, to at least 160 (see Lacambre 2011). The present work is one of at least thirty-seven studies, numbered 38 through 74, whose primary feature is the sky. Denis’s approach to the limitless variety of atmospheric conditions also entailed close attention to the formal role of the terrain: on at least one occasion, he painted a clear sky while devoting considerable attention to topography (MMA 2003.42.20; Lacambre 2011, no. 66), but on another he painted a sunset that includes no ground at all (sale, Christie’s, Paris, March 17, 2005, no. 425, ill.; Lacambre 2011, no. 53). Denis here employed a minimal strip of ground in order to emphasize the awesome height and scope of the cloud formation. While higher and more distant portions of these clouds are depicted in full sunlight, breaks within them are edged in pink, a sign of early evening. To record these fleeting effects, Denis painted quickly and without the benefit of a preliminary drawing.
The verso of the sheet on which this study is painted is inscribed "a Rome" but it is just as likely to have been painted in the Campagna, the largely featureless area surrounding the city—where Denis lived from about 1786 until 1806. It is comparable in technique and scale and thus in date to Cloud Study (Distant Storm) (MMA 2003.42.19; Lacambre 2011, no. 49). Other sky studies by Denis in the Museum’s collection are Landscape near Rome during a Storm (2009.400.41; Lacambre 2011, no. 43) and Sunset, Rome (2009.400.43; Lacambre, no. 54).
[2013; adapted from Miller 2013]