This ravishing little sketch served as the modello for a large decorative canvas formerly in the Eugene Kraemer collection, Paris (sold, Paris, 29 April 1913, lot 52; present location unknown). The Kraemer painting (illustrated in J. Baillio, op. cit., p. 160, fig. 9), like the present lot, features musicians, revelers and picnickers who watch a band of woman dancing on a summer afternoon on a terrace outside an enormous Roman villa, traditionally identified as the Villa Medici, seat of the French Academy as of 1801.
Joseph Baillio has proposed a date for the Kraemer canvas of circa 1765-70, but suggested that the present sketch was probably made while Robert was resident in Rome - that is, before his return to Paris in the summer of 1765. The sketch was executed rapidly but with exquisite control; the paint is fatty and thickly applied, and the composition eschews architectural authenticity in favor of picturesque effects and pictorial verve. With its play of brilliant light over the garden's luxurious vegetation and the dense, arching trees of variously colored foliage silhouetted against a great expanse of sky, the sketch can be compared to Garden of an Italian Villa (National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa), a larger, more finished garden scene that is signed by Robert and dated 1764 (see the exhibition catalogue Art in Rome in the Eighteenth Century, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2000, pp. 434-5, no. 282).
The rustic palace in the present work has been identified as the Villa Medici, and with its large, arching entrance and double staircase, it does resemble the eastern façade of the famous Renaissance villa. Furthermore, Robert often depicted the building in sketchbooks, drawings and paintings (see the drawing in the Prat collection in P. Rosenberg, Masterful Studies: Three Centuries of French Drawings from the Prat Collection, 1990, no. 50), and he was rarely concerned with slavishly reproducing its precise appearance. Nevertheless, there are numerous, quite significant differences between the actual façade of the Villa Medici (which has a series of freestanding columns along its façade, for example) and the building Robert fashions (with its engaged pilasters); therefore, it is perhaps more accurate to say that that villa provided broad inspiration for Robert's interpretation. However, a rapid and lively sketchbook drawing in pen and wash known as Les Chanteurs ambulants is in the Musée du Louvre, Paris (Inv. RF. 30616) and depicts the building exactly as it appears in the present painting (see J. de Cayeux, Les Hubert Robert de la Collection Veyrenc au Musée de Valence, 1985, under no. 82, p. 292, fig. 107).
The present lot will be included in the catalogue raisonne of oil paintings by Hubert Robert being prepared by Guy Wildenstein, Joseph Baillio and the Wildenstein Institute. Our thanks to Joseph Baillio for his assistance in preparing this entry.