Antoine Claude PONTHUS-CINIER
(Lyon, 1812 – Lyon, 1885)
The Villa d’Este in Tivoli
Oil on canvas mounted on canvas
Stamp lower left
31 x 22 cm
Provenance: number 39 of the catalog of the sale after death of the artist, Lyon, room N ° 2 of the auction house, 23/28 March 1885
Ponthus-Cinier belongs to what could be defined as the third (and so to speak) generation of neo-classical or historical landscape, born in the 1810s / 1820s, such as Félix Lanoue, Achilles Benouville, Paul Flandrin, Eugène Ferdinand Buttura or Alfred de Curzon. More particularly, he is considered as the principal and the most popular representative of the landscapers of the Lyons school around the mid-nineteenth century.
With a generous, honest personality and pleasant company, Ponthus-Cinier came from a family of merchants on his mother’s side and magistrates on his father’s side; intended for trade by his parents, he preferred the artistic way, and after an enrollment at the School of Fine Arts in Lyon in 1829, and a Parisian training with Paul Delaroche, he exhibited his first works at the Salon de Lyon in 1839 , before participating in that of Paris in 1841.
That same year, he received the second prize of Rome of the historical landscape (won by Buttura in 1837, and Benouville in 1845), beaten by the Versaillais Félix-Hippolyte Lanoue. To improve himself, Ponthus-Cinier decided to go to Italy, alone and at his own expense, for a single stay between 1842 and 1844; he discovered the Ligurian coast, Tuscany, Naples, of course Rome and its surroundings, and executed a considerable amount of studies (painted sketches or pen sketches) which served to compose views of Italy throughout his life. career.
The main qualities of Ponthus-Cinier probably lie in “the art of lighting a canvas” as A. Jouve wrote in the nineteenth century, and in its sense of perspective, sometimes really extraordinary; on the other hand, it seems, for the most part, a little less brilliant in figures and in the transcription of details. As for the style of his drawings in brown wash, raised in white, but in rather dark tones, he is recognizable among all.
Tivoli, located about thirty kilometers from Rome, is home to the Villa d’Este, a jewel of Italian architecture that was built by Ligorio at the end of the 16th century for Cardinal Hippolyte II d’Este (from the Borgia family ); the buildings, but especially the gardens, offering a multitude of fountains, basins, caves, terraces, are mythical.
In the first half of the 19th century, the site was very degraded, consequence of its progressive abandonment since the middle of the XVIIIth century; it was not until 1851, under the impetus of Gustave de Hohenlohe, that the villa was restored and acquired a status of cultural high place, with for example frequent stays of Franz Liszt. The place became after the 1st World War property of the Italian state, which took charge of the continuation of the rehabilitation.
The point of view adopted by Ponthus-Cinier is that of the visitor who had just entered the gardens of the villa by a door overlooking the road to Rome, a few tens of meters before the gateway into the city of Tivoli. The alley framed by monumental cypresses, with a long perspective on a north / south axis, leads to the palace located high up; from above, you can see the Fountain of Dragons above the steps, the shell of the Bicchierone fountain, and the large loggia built on two levels.
The view, one of the most iconic for the representation of the site, but here more “open” because slightly shifted to the right, allows to place the cypresses in the center of the composition and visualize the arc located at the end of the terrace Vialone. It is, in particular, very close to an oil on panel (41 x 30 cm) of William Collins (1788-1847) executed around 1837 and kept at the Victoria & Albert Museum, an oil (46 x 32 cm) from 1841 Edward Lear (1812-1888), a watercolor by Achille Benouville (1815-1891) dated 1861 and an oil (40 x 32 cm) of the same Benouville dated 1868.
We also know watercolors of this view by Robert-Henry Cheney (1801-1866), Thomas Cromek (1809-1873) and Charles Vacher (1818-1883), made in a vein less neoclassical; a little later, the Italian Ettore Roesler Franz (1845-1907) will produce a number of representations of the villa d’Este.
It is difficult to date with certainty our painting, as Ponthus-Cinier produced “Italian” subjects until his death and where stylistically the work can correspond as well to the 1840s and 1860s (see Benouville); however, the small format and the incredible rendering of the Italian light may suggest a painted study done in-situ, and therefore during the Italian stay of 1842-1844.
Three works composed the number 39 of the sale of the collection of Ponthus-Cinier, all of the same size, and bearing the following titles, as vague as the others, according to a frequent habit in the catalogs of sale: Temple in Tivoli , Landscape, Trees and temple. Our table would be rather the first or the third batch.