Signed and dated C L Clerisseau/ 1788
Gouache, black wash border
362 x 430 mm. (14 x 16 7/8 in.) oval
These four gouaches, all in an exceptionally good condition, and all on their original 18th Century supports, are all signed and dated by the famous French 18th Century artist Charles-Louis Clrisseau. These drawings have remained in the Greswolde family collection since the late 18th Century, and have only recently come on the market, from a direct descendant. It is most probable that these drawings were bought by Henry Greswolde Lewis (1754-1829), a wealthy widower and important patron of John Constable and Sir John Soane. Both worked at the family seat, Malvern Hall. The house was begun around 1690 by Humphrey Greswolde. Henry Greswolde Lewis commissioned Sir John Soane to remodel the house in 1780s1. Constable painted the house on numerous occasions, as well as portraits of his patron and family2.
Clrisseau was pupil of Boffrand at the Acadmie Royale dArchitecture in Paris. In 1746 he won a gold medal, which gave him three years of study at the Acadmie de France in Rome. However he did not leave for Rome till 1749, and may have spent the intervening years at J.F. Blondels Ecole des Arts, where the neo-classical style was developing. Once in Rome Clrisseau was exposed to the neo-classical style completely, at the time led by Piranesi and Panini. Clrisseau spent 19 years in Italy. There he executed drawings for English milordi, and established a very successful
market. He returned to France in 1767, in order to undertake archaeological research into the Roman remains of Southern France. In 1773 he prepared designs for Catherine the Great for a Roman palace inspired by Tivoli. She acquired over 1,000 of his drawings. Some of these were included in a recent exhibition at the Louvre3.
Clrisseaus influence and contacts were extensive, especially amongst the English aristocracy, who he met in Italy and were his clients. He influenced William Chambers and knew Robert Adam, who said after meeting Clrisseau in Rome in 1755 a most valuable and ingenious creature called Clrisseau who draws ruins in Architecture to perfection he
draws in architecture delightfully in the free manner I wanted I wishd above all things to learn his manner, to have him with me at Rome, to study close with him and to purchase of his works.4At the request of the Adam brothers
Clrisseau worked in England from 1771-5, exhibiting gouaches at The Royal Academy. Horace Walpole annotated in his catalogue of the Academys 1772 exhibition: a Frenchman lately arrived, famous for the beauty and neatness of his drawings from the Antique.
The ruin was the obsession of the Neo-classical approach to the antique, and according to David Watkin: Ancient ruins stimulated the imagination of artists and architects so that some of the most interesting drawings by Clrisseau are not those which simply depict existing monuments but those which create a new synthesis out of imaginary, or sometimes semi-imaginary buildings.5 Indeed it seems that these drawings by Clrisseau do not replicate any known views or drawings, as was sometimes the case with this artist. These drawings were executed whilst Clrisseau was in France, and shortly after he worked for Thomas Jefferson. According to John Harris: from the 1750s only six firmly dated drawings survive6. There are many comparable views to these drawings, though it is worth mentioning a few, Architectural Ruins, of 1771 in the Soane Museum, Architectural Fantasy, 1784 in the Hermitage7. There are large holdings of his drawings in The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge and the Sir John Soane Museum, London.
It is interesting to note that Henry Greswolde Lewis met Sir John Soane whilst on the Grand Tour in Rome and Sicily, in 1779, and they traveled together for a while8. It is very likely that as a result of this meeting Greswolde commissioned Soane on his return to England the work on Malvern Hall. Soane was almost certainly familiar with Clrisseaus work, since in 1771 Clrisseau came to England and started exhibiting at the Royal Academy, where Soane was a student from 1771. Indeed Pierre de la Ruffinire du Prey has commented: Soane seemed to be aware of Clrisseaus work at Shelburne House, which he carried out for the Earl of Shelburne9. Indeed by 1800 Soane was purchasing gouaches by Clrisseau at auction and from private collectors10, and indeed was selling some on to collectors. It is possible that Soane suggested to Greswolde that he purchase works by Clrisseau, though this relationship requires further research.
1.N. Pevsner and A. Wedgwood, The Buildings of England, Warwickshire, 1966, London, p.402.
2.L. Parris, I. Fleming-Williams, C. Shields, Constable, Paintings, Watercolours & Drawings, The Tate Gallery, 1976, p.70-2,p.80-1, ill.88-9, 108.
3. Charles-Louis Clrisseau (1721-1820): Dessins du muse de lErmitage, Saint-Ptersbourg, 21 September-18 December 1995, Musse du Louvre.
4.D. Watkin, Triumph of the Classical. An exhibition in the Graham Robertson Room, 27 September-20 November 1977, p1.
5.D. Watkin, op.cit, pp.1-3.
6.John Harris, Charles-Louis Clrisseau and the Genesis of Neo-Classicism, Apollo, 1992.
7.Thomas J. McCormick, Charles-Louis Clrisseau and the Genesis of Neo-Classicism, Cambridge, Mass., 1990, p. 143, p.189.
8.J. Ingamells, A Dictionary of British and Irish Travellers in Italy, 1701-1800, compiled from the Brinsley Ford archive, New Haven and London, 1997, p.599.
9.Pierre de la Ruffinire du Prey, John Soanes Architectural Education, 1753-80, 1977, New York & London, p.73.
10.H. Dorey, Clrisseau Provenances, unpublished research, mss notes from the Sir John Soane museum, 1996.