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David Roberts (Scottish, 1796-1864)
David Roberts (Scottish, 1796-1864)

The Ruins of the Smaller Temple at Baalbec

Details
David Roberts (Scottish, 1796-1864)
The Ruins of the Smaller Temple at Baalbec
oil on canvas
24 x 48 in. (61 x 121.9 cm.)
Provenance
Sold to Sigismund Rucker, 1851 for £157.10s (no. 161).
Edward Bowles Fripp, Clifton.
His sale; Christie's, London, 20 April 1855, lot 2, as: 'The Temple of the Sun'.
Bought at the above sale by Lloyd for 235 gns (£246.15).
A. Ross, London.
His sale; Christie's, 23 March 1901, lot 81, as: ‘Temple of the Sun’.
Acquired at the above sale by Sir J. McKay for 63 gns.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby’s, Belgravia, 20 November 1973, lot 115, as: 'A View of the Diana Temple at Efesos'.
Anonymous sale; Christie's, London, 24 June 1988, lot 70.
with Mathaf Gallery, London (inv. no. R103).
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Literature
D. Roberts, MS Record Books, v.1 f.134r and 136r, the former with date, 1850, the latter with a small pen and ink sketch of the painting numbered 144 and annotated: 'The Ruins of The Smaller Temple of Baalbec/painted for Sigismund Rucker Recd fro the same/Frame included one Hundred & Fifty Guineas.' (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven).
The Athenaeum, 1850, p. 533.
The Art Journal, 1850, p. 170.
Illustrated London News, 1850, p. 398.
J. Ballantine, The Life of David Roberts, R.A.: Compiled from His Journals and Other Sources, Edinburgh, 1866, pp. 169-170 and 251, no. 161, as: 'Remains of the Eastern Portico of the Temple of the Sun at Baalbec, Mount Lebanon in the distance'.
Exhibited
London, Royal Academy of Art, 1850. no. 277, as: 'Remains of the Eastern Portico of the Temple of the Sun in Baalbec, Mount Lebanon in the distance'.
London, Barbican Art Gallery, David Roberts, 6 November 1986-4 January 1987, no. 179.

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Lot Essay

When Roberts’s Baalbec was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1850, the Athenaeum critic reviewed it favourably. It was ‘one more of those presentments of the ruined edifice in which Mr. Roberts stands unrivalled…. The light and shade and colour are full of truth; and the distant mountains are expressed with that sense of aerial perspective which conveys the impression of great space as well as of purity of atmosphere.’ (1850, p. 533).

The imposing 2nd century C.E. Roman temples – built in a familiar classical style but situated in a distant land - had caught the imagination of the West ever since their ‘rediscovery’ by Robert Wood and James Dawkins almost exactly a century before. Roberts painted more than a dozen oils with Baalbek as their subject, over a period of 21 years between 1840 and 1861, several of which commanded prices above the average for his work. Seven of his watercolour views were published in his ambitious series of lithographs, The Holy Land, one being placed as the frontispiece to volume II of the bound publication. The lithograph closest to the composition of the present oil was also in volume II (1843, [plate 83]), entitled Ruins of the Eastern Portico of the Temple of Baalbec. A slightly smaller undated and unsigned oil of this same view is in a private collection.

Roberts’s images of Baalbek showed many different aspects of the site: distant views of the remaining six columns and architrave of the Temple of Jupiter, some full of activity with caravans of men and camels, some emptier and more elegiac, as well as a close-up view of the great doorway of the Temple of Bacchus, with its dramatic fallen keystone, and several of the outside of this temple with its standing and broken columns and scattered debris of fallen stones. In the example here, the monumentality of the Temple of Bacchus is paramount: centrally placed within the composition and seen against a calm, blue sky, with a few figures placed to lead the eye towards the temple and emphasise its grand scale, it has endured the vicissitudes of centuries.

Such compositions reflect the deep impression that Baalbek had made on Roberts when he visited in May 1839 toward the end of his remarkable journey through Egypt, and then Sinai, Palestine, Syria and Lebanon. His memories of the ruins remained strong to the end of his life, even though he had spent only a few days sketching them, and was worn out after his long and arduous journey. He had withstood dangerous and difficult terrain, extremes of weather, hostile tribesmen and the threat of plague, and, at the end of it all, had succumbed to a bout of fever. Even then he was as awe-struck and as enthusiastic as ever:
'All I can say of the magnificent remains of Baalbec is that they are matchless - little, little indeed has been hitherto known of this glorious temple - the noblest specimen of this most noble people and the mightiest Dynasty that ever held sway in this Globe. Long may it yet be spared to stand thru' wondering succeeding ages' (Roberts’s MS Eastern Journal, National Library of Scotland (Acc.7723/2)).

Sigismund Rucker (1809/10-1876), for whom Roberts painted this work, was an East and West India broker, with premises in the City of London. He cultivated valuable orchids at his residence in West Hill, Wandsworth, and supplied Charles Darwin with several rare species.
The painting’s second owner, Edward Bowles Fripp, collected British paintings and was the proprietor of a long-established family soap and candle business in Bristol.

We are grateful to Briony Llewellyn for her help in providing this catalogue entry.

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