Property from the Collection of J.E. Safra
London 1740 - 1813
Rome, a view of Saint Peter's Basilica
oil on canvas
90.5 x 126.4 cm.; 35⅝ x 49¾ in.
The canvas is lined, the paint surface is slightly dirty and the varnish is slightly discoloured. The network of craquelure has become slightly more visible in the sky, and some retouching to disguise its appearance is visible to the naked eye particularly along the horizon line, in the upper right corner, and in the foliage and trunks of the trees on the right, and around the dome upper left. Inspection under ultraviolet light confirms the retouching in the network of craquelure throughout the sky, as well as fine lines along a slight stretcher mark along the upper margin and vertically through the centre of the canvas. There are also small dashes of retouching notably in the upper right corner, where there is a more concentrated area in the upper half of the right margin. Further lines of retouching to the craquelure are found in the dome of St. Peter's, in the brick wall on the left and centre, and in the foreground lower right. Other small dashes are found in the top of the mountains just right of centre, in the lower right corner and scattered along the lower margin, as well as in the centre of the smaller dome and to two small areas in the distant buildings below the mountains. In overall good condition.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.
NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF BUSINESS PRINTED IN THE SALE CATALOGUE."
Probably sold (where consigned by the artist), London, Christie's, 13 March 1784, lot 94, for £19–9s. to Price;
The Rev. Brendan Blundell;
By whom sold, London, Sotheby's, 20 March 1974, lot 14, for £18,000;
With P. & D. Colnaghi, London and New York;
With Herner Wengraf Gallery, London, 1975;
Anonymous sale ('The Property of a Private Collector'), New York, Christie's, 12 January 1996, lot 13, where acquired.
Art at Auction. The Year at Sotheby Parke Bernet 1973–74, London 1974, p. 60;
L. Salerno, I Pittori di Vedute in Italia (1580–1830), Rome 1991, pp. 179 and 181, reproduced fig. 51.6;
M. Liversidge, '... A Few Foreign Graces and Airs ..., William Marlow's Grand Tour Landscapes', in The Impact of Italy: The Grand Tour and Beyond, London 2000, pp. 92–93, reproduced (as dated to 1783).
London, Society of Artists, 1783, no. 155;
London, P. & D. Colnaghi, Pictures from the Grand Tour, 14 November – 16 December, 1978, no. 45;
Munich, Haus der Kunst, Zwei Jahrhundert Englische Malerei, Britische Kunst und Europa 1680 bis 1880, 21 November 1979 – 27 January 1980, no. 101;
Stockholm, Nationalmuseum, Pa Klassik Mark (Malare in Rom pa 1780-talet), 1982, no. 193;
London, P. & D. Colnaghi, Views from the Grand Tour, 25 May – 30 June 1983, no. 24.
This unusual view of St. Peter's Basilica, Rome, seen from behind rather than the more standard frontal view, was painted by Marlow in 1783, long after he had returned to England from his travels in Italy. A watercolour by the artist of the same view, now in the British Museum, London, probably served as the basis for this oil painting (fig. 1). The viewpoint is taken from the Via Aurelia Antica looking towards the Vatican Walls and the great dome of the Basilica and, in the distance, the dome of San Carlo al Corso.
When Marlow left London for the Continent in 1765 he was already an accomplished view painter, having been apprenticed to Samuel Scott for five years (1754–59) and staying on two additional years as his assistant. However, by the middle of the 1760s, it had become essential for a landscape or view painter working in England who wished to attract new and discriminating patrons to expand beyond scenes of the English countryside and views of country houses. The demand for foreign views had continued to grow since earlier in the century with the rise of the Grand Tour to Italy, which became obligatory for any well-educated English gentleman.
Though documentation is scarce, we know that Marlow travelled in France and Italy for about a year, from the summer of 1765 to the autumn of 1766. From that one trip he seems to have gathered enough material to draw on continuously for the rest of his career. Upon his return to England, he worked up a series of outline pen and ink drawings based on his sketches, which he kept in an album from which clients could order a version in oil or watercolour. He often worked without a specific commission, selling his pictures through public exhibitions and even through auction salerooms. Such appears to be the case with the present painting: in March of 1784 (see Provenance), a painting titled A back view of St. Peter's at Rome was consigned for sale by Marlow himself to an auction at Christie's. Marlow's choice to paint St. Peter's from such a singular aspect was perhaps a way of standing out in what had become a very crowded and competitive market.