Exhibitions/ Art Object

Interior Passage in the Colosseum

François Diday (Swiss, Geneva 1802–1877 Geneva)
Oil on paper, laid down on canvas
11 5/8 x 14 1/2 in. (29.3 x 36.9 cm)
Credit Line:
The Whitney Collection, Promised Gift of Wheelock Whitney III, and Purchase, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles S. McVeigh, by exchange, 2003
Accession Number:
Not on view
Diday focused his attention on transitions of light and shadow in this arched passage, which was depicted by a number of artists in the early nineteenth century. The painter is said to have exhibited many studies executed in Italy following his sojourn of 1824–25. The present example may have been included in an exhibition held at Galerie Lebrun, Paris, in 1826, the year after it was painted.
François Diday is considered the father of Swiss landscape painting, although his reputation was eclipsed in his own lifetime by his pupil Alexandre Calame. From March 1824 until spring 1825, Diday traveled in Italy, where he made numerous oil studies, of which this is a rare surviving example. Although he suffered financially in the short-term when a mishap caused a shipment of these works bound for sale in Geneva to fail to leave Rome, his retention of them served him well during the remainder of the decade, when he is said to have exhibited many "études peintes d’après nature" depicting Italian subjects.

A painting that fits the description of the present work (which bears a label affixed to its strainer that is inscribed "Couloir intérieur du Colisée / à Rome") was reportedly included, uncatalogued, in one of a pair of influential 1826 exhibitions held at Galerie Lebrun, Paris, both entitled "Ouvrages de peinture exposés au profit des Grecs" (see Schreiber-Favre 1942). Organized to benefit the cause of Greek independence, they had the effect of recasting the legacy of Jacques Louis David in the light of the burgeoning Romantic movement. Each featured major paintings by David’s pupil Antoine Jean Gros. Diday was a former pupil of Gros, and it can be assumed that his participation in the exhibition owes something to this relationship. The first exhibition (May 17–July 3, 1826) included 198 numbered exhibits and the second (July 16–November 19, 1826) included 173. This suggests a possible clue to the significance of the number 208 inscribed on the strainer of this painting (the back of the canvas is similarly numbered 2), which may have been added to one or the other exhibition after the respective catalogues were printed.

Much of this sketch appears to have been painted on location in the Colosseum, but the artist probably added finishing touches after that visit, including not only his signature and the date but also the lantern and the rope from which it hangs, as well as, along the left wall, the debris at the top of the steps and the detailed treatment of the second opening.

[Asher Ethan Miller 2013]
Inscription: Signed and dated (lower left): F. Diday 1825. Rome
the artist, Geneva (1825–d. 1877; his estate, 1877–79; estate sale, held in the artist’s former atelier, 4 rue Adhémar Fabri, Geneva, June 4, 1879, no. 41, as “Couloir intérieur du Colisée à Rome”; [Jacques Fischer-Chantal Kiener, Paris, until 1982; sold on April 18 to Whitney]; Wheelock Whitney III, New York (from 1982)
Paris. Galerie Lebrun. "Ouvrages de peinture exposés au profit des Grecs [first exhibition]," May 17–July 3, 1826, not in catalogue (possibly this work) [not mentioned in any of three known editions of exhibition catalogue; see Schreiber-Favre 1942].

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. 49).

A[lfred]. Schreiber-Favre. François Diday, 1802–1877, fondateur de l’école suisse de paysage; contribution à l’histoire de l’art du XIXme siècle. Geneva, 1942, pp. 22, 87, no. 41, states that an "étude peinte d'après nature" described as "Souterrain du Colisée" was exhibited at the "exposition en faveur des Grecs" in May 1826; reprints the catalogue of the artist's estate sale.

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. 41, 45, fig. 49 (color).

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