Hubert Robert received a classical education from the Jesuits at the prestigious College de Navarre (1745-1751), the most important college after the Sorbonne. That he became an able Latinist and knowledgeable about history and literature is reflected in the attention that he paid to ancient inscriptions and archeological details in his painting. His training with the sculptor Michel-Ange Slotz introduced a life-long interest in sculpture that occupied a prominent place in his painted compositions. In 1754, he went to Italy in the entourage of his father's employer, the Comte de Stainville (later Duc de Choiseul), newly appointed French ambassador to Rome. During his eleven years in Rome, where he studied side-by-side with the pensionnaires at the French Academy, Robert met important collectors and artists, including Piranesi and Gian Paolo Panini, the Academy's teacher of perspective, who would prove the greatest influence on Robert's early style. Robert specialized in architectural fantasies painted with loose brushstrokes and a rich impasto; small genre scenes such as the present sketch are far more unusual within his oeuvre.
The present painting most likely dates to Robert's Italian period, circa 1762-3. It will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the paintings of Hubert Robert being prepared by The Wildenstein Institute.