We are grateful to Mme Sarah Catala for confirming the authenticity of this work after first-hand inspection and for writing this catalogue entry.
The association of the name of Hubert Robert with that of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) for this painting might be surprising if one forgets that the former had designed the tomb of the latter in 1778, before recording it on the eve of his re-interment in the Panthéon in 1794. However, it was in the context of collaborations on several garden embellishment projects, initiated around 1777, notably at Ermenonville, that Robert painted the 'gentle melancholy' of this promenade here.
In the solitude and almost bewitching calm that rule the woods, a young woman seems to give way to reverie as she moves closer to a tomb. Robert composed his view from nature, as he had done for the Italian monuments, by creating a threshold marked by two trees, acting as repoussoirs, stretching toward the sky. The usual elements of Robert's painting are present: the jagged forms of trunks and branches inspired by the landscapes of Salvator Rosa (1615-1673), the light coming from an opening in the 'gallery' of branches and the ruin of an imagined antique sculpture based on the tombs he studied in Rome. Robert's sketchy manner is easily recognisable, with its long brushstrokes delineating the ground and the impasto used to render the foliage, to say nothing of the rapid line of the forms of the bas-reliefs and the woman's drapery. Her contemplative expression appears in a counterproof in Besançon , but her profile, her heavy drapery and her hair arranged with ribbons all recall the matron in the Shepherds of Arcadia
by Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665) which Robert greatly admired . On the other hand, the palette of our canvas is distinctive, but it can be compared with the shades of blue and green which characterise the Bath
, one of the six large panels painted for the bathroom of the Folie de la Bagatelle in 1777 and now belonging to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Meditation before a sarcophagus is a recurring theme in Robert's oeuvre; we find it as well in sketches in his albums  and in his project drawings for the tomb of the La Rochefoucald and Chabot families at La Roche-Guyon in 1777 . That year, Robert exhibited at the Salon La Brasserie d'Ermenonville
, at the same moment that Rousseau was writing his Reveries of the solitary walker
on the estate of the marquis de Girardin. It may have been at Girardin's request that Robert painted our canvas, which appears to embody the philosopher's ideas, associated with the innovations of English painting, notably that of Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788), where the landscape in portraits is perceived as a state of the soul. In any case, the relations between Girardin and Robert are not in doubt, any more than their philosophical discussions since Robert painted the Temple of Philosophy
, which the marquis had had constructed in his garden. Like our canvas, it bears neither signature nor date, nor do we know its background history, in spite of a remarkable facture that matches the richness of its subject.
 Lavandières près d'une fontaine, dans un jardin, Besançon, Bibliothèque municipale, inv. vol. 453, n° 62 ; reprod. dans S. Catala, Les Hubert Robert de Besançon, 2013, n° 99.
 G. Faroult dans cat. exp. Hubert Robert (1733-1808) Un peintre visionnaire, Paris, musée du Louvre, 2016, n° 62.
 A. May, cat. exp. Un album de croquis d'Hubert Robert, Genève, Galerie Cailleux, 1979, n° 66.
 S. Catala and G. Wick, Hubert Robert et la fabrique des jardins, La Roche-Guyon, 2017.
 Lisbonne, musée Calouste Gulbenkian, inv. 440.
 Vente New York, Sotheby's, 31 janvier 2013, lot 89 : reprod. dans cat. exp. Paris, 2016, fig. 34, p.84.