ROBERT, Hubert
(b. 1733, Paris, d. 1808, Paris)

Avenue in a Park

Oil on canvas, 59 x 39 cm
Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels

This small, finely executed painting is a good example of Hubert Robert's refined art. Robert, a French painter of the second half of the 18th century, is known mainly for his landscapes decorated with imaginary architecture and little figures, in which happiness, reality and fiction, archaeological taste and sense of decoration are all mingled. Avenue in a Park is a late work in the painter's career, testifying to the permanence of his style and to his taste for a nature that has been disciplined and made decorative by man.

The subject matter still reflects the "douceur de vivre" so dear to the 18th century. An avenue lined with trees with their tops intertwined leads the spectator towards the bottom of the garden. In the centre, a young girl is playing on a swing, activated by two companions. A group of people to the right are looking on. The whole painting bathes in a soft harmony of browns, greys and greens against a bluish sky background. The red coat of the man leaning against the pedestal catches the viewer's eye. The antique statues - reposing satyr and faun playing a flute - flanking the tree-lined opening in the foreground had been earlier captured by Robert in a red chalk drawing of various Graeco-Roman sculptures conserved in the Capitol (Valence, Musée des Beaux Arts). The artist has repeated them here the other way round. The young musician in turn had appeared in several of Robert's paintings.

Arriving in Rome in 1754, Robert stayed there for over 10 years. It is there that he met the Abbé de Saint-Non, Giovanni Battista Piranesi and in particular Gian Paolo Panini, who was to have a lasting influence on him. He also became friends with Fragonard. The little painting in Brussels confirms the close links between the art of "Robert of the Ruins" and Fragonard's poetic universe. The avenue of trees also refers to the many parks and gardens in Italy and the Ile-de-France which were to nourish his imagination throughout his long and successful career. Robert exhibited at every salon from 1767 to 1798, becoming "designer of the King's gardens" in 1777 and much later, after the revolutionary tumult, producing plans for converting the Grande Galerie of the Louvre into a museum.

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