Denis arrived in Rome in 1786 under the sponsorship of the painter and art dealer, Jean-Baptiste Le Brun, and would remain in Italy for the rest of his life. The artist is known to have visited Tivoli in 1789 and 1793. His earlier trip is described by the celebrated French artist, Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, who was escorted by Denis and François Ménageot, director of the French Academy in Rome: “M. Ménageot then accompanied me to Tivoli with my daughter, and Denis, the painter — it was a charming party. We first visited the Cascades, which enchanted me so much the gentlemen could hardly induce me to leave."1
This dramatic view of the waterfall at Tivoli was almost certainly taken from the viewpoint of the Ponte San Rocco, looking across the torrent towards Tivoli in the distance. Though the focal point of the composition is the beauty and power of the surging water, Denis has enlivened the scene with various figures: a group of tourists on a rock below, a fisherman hauling his net at right, and an artist, his easel set up on a rock in the left foreground, in the act of sketching the falls.
A small oil on paper by Denis, in The Gere Collection (currently on long term loan to the National Gallery, London), depicts a very similar view from almost the same vantage point, and another related oil on paper, signed and inscribed, depicts a detail of the waterfall.2
1. Souvenirs of Madame Vigée Le Brun, M. F. Tyler, ed., New York 1879, p. 136.
2. The Gere Collection painting: oil on paper laid down on linen, 38.6 by 25.8 cm.; the second painting: oil on paper, 32.2 by 40.8 cm., sold, Paris, Christie’s, 17 March 2005, lot 405.