This study was painted at Frascati, thirteen miles from Rome. The villa it depicts was owned by the Torlonia, a rich banking family. Its real subject, however, is the deep yet fleeting tones of a sunset’s afterglow. The rendering of color with such minimal light (at the precise moment of moonrise) is exceptional, even for an artist who typically achieved a high degree of refined austerity in his paintings.
In 1829 Paul Flandrin and his elder brother Hippolyte entered the atelier of Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres and soon earned the master’s affection and respect. In 1832 Hippolyte became Ingres’s first pupil to win the Grand Prix de Rome for history painting, but when Paul failed to secure the prize the following year he joined his brother in Italy anyway, reaching him in early 1834. Ingres himself assumed the directorship of the French Academy in Rome in 1835, thus extending an artistic franchise whose familial overtones would only deepen over time.
Once in Rome, where he remained until 1839, Paul’s talents as a landscape painter began to flourish. This study was painted at Frascati, thirteen miles from the city. The villa it depicts was owned by the Torlonia family, bankers who grew rich during the Napoleonic era and whose name would have been well-known to every Frenchman residing in Rome during the early nineteenth century. But its real subject is the deep yet fleeting tones of a sunset’s afterglow. The focus on the rendering of color with a minimum of light—at the precise moment of moonrise—is exceptional even for an artist who typically relied on contre-jour to achieve a curiously refined austerity in his paintings.
According to the inscription on a label affixed to an early backing ("Villa à Frascati / Offert par P Flandrin à Oudiné"), the artist gave the painting to Eugène-André Oudiné (1810–1887), who had won the Prix de Rome for medal engraving in 1831. The close friendship the gift commemorates was cemented by country outings, perhaps including the one that yielded this study; in June and July 1835 the artists undertook an excursion to Tuscany together with Hippolyte. After returning to Paris they joined with other former Academy pensioners of the era to form the Société du Disque, gathering monthly until 1881 (see Auguste Flandrin, Notice sur Eugène-André Oudiné, sculpteur et graveur en médailles, Paris, 1888, pp. 5, 14–15).
[Asher Ethan Miller 2013]
Eugène André Oudiné, Paris (d. 1889; gift of the artist); [Neal Fiertag, until 1995; sold on September 8 to Whitney]; Wheelock Whitney III, New York (from 1995)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Path of Nature: French Paintings from the Wheelock Whitney Collection, 1785–1850," January 22–April 21, 2013, unnumbered cat. (fig. 42).
Cyrille Sciama. "Paul Flandrin ou Alexandre Desgoffe? Le 'carnet de Pornic'." Revue des musées de France: Revue du Louvre 58 (February 2008), pp. 95, 100 nn. 12–13, calls it "Vue de Frescati," dates it about 1838, and compares it to "La Villa Madame à Rome" by the same artist (Musée Ingres, Montauban, inv. M.I. 86785), as well as "Vue prise de la villa Aldobrandini" (Musée Ingres, inv. M.I. 867.84) by Desgoffe.
Stéphane Paccoud inUn siècle de paysages: Les choix d'un amateur. Ed. Stéphane Paccoud. Exh. cat., Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyons. Paris, 2010, p. 89, fig. 39 (color), compares the simplification of forms to that in the artist's "Environs de Volterra" (1835; private collection).
Asher Ethan Miller. "The Path of Nature: French Paintings from the Wheelock Whitney Collection, 1785–1850." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 70 (Winter 2013), pp. 35, 46, fig. 42 (color).