Giroux, recipient of the Prix de Rome for historical landscape painting in 1825, positioned himself with his back to the Colosseum to paint this section of the first-century Claudian Aqueduct, which once conveyed water to the Palatine Hill. With its intense focus on symmetry, design, and proportion, this sketch gives no hint of the immensity of the ruin it depicts. The viscous materiality of the paint, brushed freely yet assuredly, appears as fresh today as it did when this work was executed.
Preceded by Achille-Etna Michallon in 1817 and Charles Rémond in 1821, André Giroux was the laureate in 1825 of the third Prix de Rome in the category of historical landscape (paysage historique). He was a prolific plein-air painter. His first teacher was his father, Alphonse Giroux, a former pupil of Jacques Louis David who by 1799 had turned to commerce, both as a picture dealer and as a merchant of artists’ supplies; the younger Giroux subsequently trained in the atelier of the talented landscape painter Jean-Thomas Thibault.
The fragment of Roman engineering depicted in this sketch is the section of the Claudian Aqueduct, now much restored, that stands along Via di San Gregorio near its terminus at the Forum. It once conveyed water to the Palatine Hill, the site often referred to as the Palace of the Caesars, of which one nineteenth-century visitor wrote, "one hardly knows whether to call the scene a landscape or a ruin. It is a labyrinth of vaults, arches, broken walls, and fragments of columns: a mighty maze of desolation without a plan" (George Hillard, Six Months in Italy, , 3rd ed., Boston, 1854, vol. 1, p. 300). Most artists who depicted the ruin seen in this sketch gave some sense of its imposing size by incorporating it into views that include some combination of ruins on the Palatine, familiar monuments nearby, and human staffage [see Notes]. Giroux himself painted such a view (oil on paper, 6 5/8 x 14 in. [16.7 x 35.1 cm], private collection, Paris, photo on deposit in the Département des Peintures, Documentation, Musée du Louvre, Paris).
With its miniature dimensions, the present work, by contrast, exudes a pronounced sense of symmetry, design, and proportion. The focus is simultaneously on the architecture rising from the verdure in the middleground and the sky seen through and immediately surrounding it, resulting in a composition that is in equal parts sought and found. One of the attractions of the sketch is the way the eye is drawn to the viscous materiality of the paint and the rapidity of its application, that is, to the moment of its execution.
[Asher Ethan Miller 2013]
the artist, Paris (until d. 1879); Giroux family, Paris, by descent (1879–1970; André Giroux sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, April 27, 1970, probably no. 65, as "Ruines de Rome"); [Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox, London, 1970; sold to Gere]; John Gere, London (1970–78; to Hazlitt); [Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox, London, 1978–79; sold to Goelet]; John Goelet (1979–83; sold to Hazlitt); [Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox, London, 1983–92; sold to Whitney]; Wheelock Whitney III, New York (from 1992)
London. Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox. "The Lure of Rome," October 31–November 27, 1979, no. 57 (as "Study of Ruins").
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. 48).
The Lure of Rome. Exh. cat., Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox. London, 1979, p. 29, no. 57, fig. 26, identifies the subject as the remains of an aqueduct, presumably in the Roman Campagna, painted during the artist's stay in Italy in the late 1820s.
John House. "Impressionism and the Open-Air Oil Sketch." Studying Nature: Oil Sketches from the Thaw Collection. Ed. Jennifer Tonkovich. New York, 2011, p. 98 n. 3.
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. 39–40, 46, fig. 48 (color).
In addition to relatively recent labels and inscriptions found on the back of the painting, the center stretcher member inscribed (brown ink): Rome 114. Inscriptions such as this one, including both a location and number, are found on the backs of numerous oil studies dispersed in the 1970 sale of Giroux's atelier and may have been recorded by the artist himself.
Views of the same section of the Claudian Aqueduct may be seen in works by Giovanni Paolo Panini (1691–1765; see MMA 52.63.1); Thomas Jones (drawing in a private collection; see Ann Sumner and Greg Smith, eds., Thomas Jones [1742–1803], An Artist Rediscovered, exh. cat., New Haven, 2003, p. 196, no. 89); Francis Towne (1740–1816; Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, inv. B1978.43.70; see Duncan Bull et al., Classic Ground: British Artists and the Landscape of Italy, 1740–1830, exh. cat., New Haven, 1981, pp. 50–51, no. 67, pl. 5); Josefus Augustus Knip (two drawings, both formerly in the collection of J. Q. van Regteren Altena, Amsterdam; see Ellinoor Bergvelt and Margriet van Boven, J. A, Knip 1777–1847, exh. cat., ‘s-Gravenhage, 1977, p. 89, no. 33, and p. 92, no. 36); and Gabriel Prieur (1806–1879; oil study in a private collection, New York; see French Drawings 1600–1900, exh. cat., W. M. Brady & Co., New York, 2004, fig. 22, under no. 25).