Through the special intercession of the comte de Choiseul, Hubert Robert gained admission to the Académie de France in Rome in 1754, and he resided in the Eternal City until he returned to Paris in 1765; however, Rome would remain at the center of Robert's artistic vision for the rest of his life. Robert was a student of the great vedute painter Giovanni Paolo Panini (1691-1765), and the Italian master's creative reconstructions and fantastical combinations of Roman monuments inspired Robert's innumerable architectural capricci.
In the vivid and colorful Roman capriccio with washerwomen by the Statue of Marcus Aurelius, Robert envisions the classical ruins of an exedra that extends, at different levels, behind a free variation of the Arch of Constantine; he closes the far left of his composition with a temple displaying in a niche the Mattei Ceres (3rd century B.C.), the famous antique statue that, for most of Robert's years in Rome, was exhibited in the Museo Pio-Clemintino. (It was carried off to Paris by Napoleon's invading army in 1797, only returning to Rome in 1816, after the emperor's fall from power). On the far right, the artist recreates one of the most celebrated antiquities of modern Rome: the equestrian monument to Marcus Aurelius (161-80 A.D.) that had been installed in the Campidoglio since circa 1561, and was a favorite tourist site. (It appears often in Robert's works; for example, see two other capricci with the statue that appeared at Sotheby's London, 9 July 1998, lot 79, and Christie's New York, 2 November 2000, lot 259.) Placing a group of languorous, contemporary washerwomen at the base of the monument, Robert has whimsically redesigned Rome's city plan, relocating many of its most recognizable attractions into a fantastic Imperial Forum of his own creation.
Although it is not dated, the present lot appears on stylistic grounds to date from circa 1780-1785.
To be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the oil paintings of Hubert Robert being prepared at The Wildenstein Institute, Paris.