In 1813 Picot was awarded the Prix de Rome for history painting, but like many of his contemporaries who worked in this genre, he was inclined to quit the confines of his studio to sketch in oil out of doors. Villa Ludovisi and its gardens—overgrown during Picot’s time in Rome—are now long gone. But the Porta Pinciana, the Aurelian walls, and the Borghese gardens beyond remain more or less as they appear in this scintillating sketch. It was painted a short walk from the French Academy’s headquarters, the Villa Medici.
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 Hills 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.
A paper backing formerly adhered to the back of the canvas (photo in Department of European Paintings files) was inscribed: No 10. / Picot Vue de la porte de Belisaire, prise de la villa Medici. The reference to the Gate of Belisarius attests to the endurance of this popular but erroneous name for the Porta Pinciana until well into the nineteenth century.
[Asher Ethan Miller 2013]
sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, June 25, 1986, no. 161, as "Paysage, vu de la ville Médicis," to Mackinnon; [James Mackinnon, London, 1986–89; sold in August 1989 to Whitney]; Wheelock Whitney III, New York (from 1989)
Washington. National Gallery of Art. "In the Light of Italy: Corot and Early Open-air Painting," May 26–September 2, 1996, no. 53 (as "View from the Villa Medici").
Brooklyn Museum. "In the Light of Italy: Corot and Early Open-air Painting," October 11, 1996–January 12, 1997, no. 53.
Saint Louis Art Museum. "In the Light of Italy: Corot and Early Open-air Painting," February 21–May 18, 1997, no. 53.
Shizuoka Prefectural Museum of Art. "The Romantic Prospect: Plein Air Painters, 1780–1850," June 22–August 15, 2004, no. 25 (as "View of the Gate of Belisarius, seen from the Villa Medici").
Sydney. Art Gallery of New South Wales. "Plein-air Painting in Europe, 1780–1850," September 4–October 31, 2004, no. 25.
Melbourne. National Gallery of Victoria. "Plein-air Painting in Europe, 1780–1850," November 19, 2004–January 16, 2005, no. 25.
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. 39).
Jeremy Strick inIn the Light of Italy: Corot and Early Open-air Painting. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Art. Washington, 1996, p. 168, no. 53, ill. (color), dates it 1812–15.
Charlotte Gere inPlein-Air Painting in Europe, 1780–1850. Exh. cat., Shizuoka Prefectural Museum of Art. Shizuoka, 2004, p. 69, no. 25, ill. (color), dates it about 1812/15; identifies the view as looking east, over a section of the Aurelian Wall and toward the Sabine Hills; states that Picot must have been within the grounds of the Villa Medici, at the rear of the building.
Jérôme Binda inLandscape Painting in France and Italy 1780–1860. Exh. cat., Salander-O'Reilly Galleries. New York, 2006, pp. 40–41, under no. 15, mentions it in the context of another oil sketch by Picot, "View of the Waterfalls at Tivoli," and dates it about 1812–15.
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, 47, fig. 39 (color).