Hubert Robert has come down in history as a painter of ruins and landscapes, but he was above all one of the 18th century’s greatest creators of poetic images.
“The Old Temple”, 1788 by Hubert Robert
Hubert Robert was born in Paris in 1733. His father, Nicolas Robert, was in the service of François-Joseph de Choiseul, marquis de Stainville a leading diplomat from Lorraine. Young Robert finished his studies with the Jesuits at the Collège de Navarre in 1751 and entered the atelier of the sculptor Michel-Ange Slodtz who taught him design and perspective but encouraged him to turn to painting. In 1754 he left for Rome in the train of Étienne-François de Choiseul, son of his father’s employer, who had been named French ambassador and would become a Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to Louis XV in 1758.
Design for the Grande Galerie in the Louvre
The quantity of his work is immense, comprising perhaps one thousand paintings and ten thousand drawings. The Louvre alone contains nine paintings by his hand and specimens are frequently to be met with in provincial museums and private collections. Robert’s work has more or less of that scenic character which justified his selection by Voltaire to paint the decorations of his theatre at Ferney.
His work was much engraved by the abbé de Saint-Non, with whom he had visited Naples in the company of Fragonard during his early days; in Italy his work has also been frequently reproduced by Chatelain, Linard, Le Veau, and others.
He is noted for the liveliness and point with which he treated the subjects he painted. Equally at ease painting small easel pictures or huge decorations, he worked quickly using an alla prima technique.Along with this incessant activity as an artist, his daring character and many adventures attracted general admiration and sympathy. In the fourth canto of his L’Imagination Jacques Delille celebrated Robert’s miraculous escape when lost in the catacombs.