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David Roberts, R.A. (Stockbirdge, near Edinburgh 1796-1864 London)

Ruins of Paestum

David Roberts, R.A. (Stockbirdge, near Edinburgh 1796-1864 London)
Ruins of Paestum
signed and dated 'David Roberts R.A. 1855' (lower left)
oil on canvas
20 x 50 3/8 in. (50.8 x 127.8 cm.)
Painted for Richard Newsham of Preston 'as agreed upon for £157.10. & Rec'd the Same', 1855.
with Agnew's, London, 1862.
J. Hargreaves, 1862.
with Agnew's, London, 1862.
with Hayward & Leggatt, London, 1862-3.
with Agnew's, London, 1863.
with Smith, 1863-66.
with Agnew's, London, July 1866, and sold for £472.10 to
W. J. Holdsworth, 1866-74.
with Agnew's, London, 1874-5.
N. Eckersley, 1875, until at least 1887.
R.H. Kinnear; Christie's, London, 26 February 1898, lot 81 (unsold at 60 gns).
R.H. Kinnear; Christie's, London, 25 Febraury 1899, lot 149 (48 gns to the following).
Sir James Kitson, 1st Baron Airedale (1835-1911), politician.
with Spink, London.
Anonymous sale; Christie's, London, 28 January 1972, lot 150.
with Frank T. Sabin, from whom acquired by the uncle of the present owner.
David Roberts, Record Book, no. 176, as Ruins of Paestum.
'The Pictures of Richard Newsham Esq. of Preston', Art Journal, 1858, p. 323.
J. Ballantine, The Life of David Roberts, R.A., Edinburgh, 1866, p. 184, no. 197, with Record Book thumbnail illustrated.
H. Guiterman & B. Llewellyn, David Roberts, London, 1986, p. 122.
Manchester, Royal Jubilee Exhibition, 1887, no. 758, as Paestum, lent by N. Eckersley.
London, The Barbican Art Gallery, David Roberts, 1986-87, no. 184.
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Lot Essay

Poseidonia, 'the city of Neptune', was founded by the Greeks in the 6th Century B.C.; its name Latinised to Paestum in the 4th Century B.C. It was destroyed by the Saracens in the 1st Century A.D. and its overgrown ruins only rediscovered in the 18th Century. This painting centres on the 5th Century B.C. Temple of Neptune (or Poseidon), one of the best preserved Greek temples in Europe, and to the right of it the Basilica, or Temple of Hera, dating from the 6th Century. The view is taken from the southwest looking towards the northeast, with the Appenine mountains in the distance. David Roberts visited Paestum in Feburary 1854 when he was staying in Naples during his second visit to Italy, which focused mainly on Rome. He had visited Italy in 1851, when he had travelled to Venice via Switzerland and back through Vienna. In 1853 Roberts had travelled through France to Genoa, Pisa and Florence, spending the winter of 1853 in Rome. He returned to England in March 1854 and set about painting compositions based on his Italian sketches, the most important of which was a large view of Rome exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1855 (National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh).

'The scenery around here surpasses all painting or yet description,' Roberts wrote to his son-in-law, Henry Bicknell, in February 1854. 'The Temples at Paestum I found so superior to what I expected & so unlike all the drawings one has seen...that I strongly suspect the truth of those who have hitherto treated these magnificent ruins ever having seen them!!! One Temple alone is worth the journey from England being about the dimensions of the Parthenon...[and] equally Grand & simple in the beauty & harmony of its parts...composed of the precious travertine of the country instead of marble...Standing as it does in a Vast plain, desolate, in the centre of that which was once a great & populous City: it is more impressive a hundred times than if it stood in the Centre of Athens,' Roberts wrote, adding that 'had the Sea God chosen his own Site, his selection could not have surpassed that of Paestum, with the blue Mediterranean stretched out before it & a range of Mountains encircling it like a diadem & mountains such as only those of the Apennines are worthy.'

Roberts made a number of drawings on the spot, two of which are known, dated 25 February 1854 (Private Collection and Shrewsbury School). In addition to the current work, he painted a pair to it the same year, showing the temples viewed from the northeast (untraced). It was sold by Roberts to 'Wynn Williams of Bedford Place' for 'One Hundred & Fifty Guineas'. Also in 1855 Roberts painted a third Paestum view, showing the façade of the Temple of Neptune. This Roberts sold to 'Mr Llewellyn of Bristol' for £200 and it is now in the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin.

Richard Newsham, who commissioned the current picture, was the son of a banker and cotton manufacturer, who was a partner in Horrocks, Miller & Company. Newsham senior left his son an estate of £50,000 in 1843, which enabled the younger Newsham to retire from the law and take up art collecting and philanthropy. He acquired work by living artists, either bought through dealers - in particular Agnew's - or commissioned direct. Newsham stopped buying art in 1865, when his walls were full, but prior to that sold or exchanged works to acquire new ones, in common with many collectors. The works he bequeathed to the Corporation of Preston in 1883 form the core of the Harris Museum and Art Gallery's collection.

We are grateful to Krystyna Matyjaszkiewicz for her help in preparing this catalogue entry.

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