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Hubert Robert

French, 1733 - 1808

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Richard Rand, “Hubert Robert,” NGA Online Editions, (accessed May 27, 2024).

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Born in Paris in 1733, Hubert Robert was a landscape draftsman and painter whose early training was sponsored by members of the Choiseul family, the employers of his parents who were retainers in their household. In 1754 he traveled to Rome in the entourage of France’s new ambassador to the papal court, Étienne François, comte de Stainville, the future duc de Choiseul (1719–1785), a political ally of the marquise de Pompadour (1721–1764). As a special favor, he resided at the Académie de France, where he studied with the school’s master of perspective, the vedutista Giovanni Paolo Panini (Roman, 1691 - 1765) and sought the advice of the printmaker and draftsman Giovanni Battista Piranesi (Venetian, 1720 - 1778). From them he learned to experiment with the complexities of ancient Roman and modern Italian architecture, and in response to their work he learned to arbitrarily combine and contextualize ruins, transposing them into compositions that he filled with erudite references to the distant past and animated with picturesque staffage. He was befriended by his compatriot Jean Honoré Fragonard (French, 1732 - 1806), with whom he drew and painted landscapes in and around Rome. Robert remained in Italy for a decade, returning to Paris in 1765. He would ultimately draw much of his imagery from the studies he made during his Italian sojourn. He was almost immediately admitted to full membership in the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture.

Topography per se and the direct observation of nature held little interest for Robert; he specialized in capricci, idealized landscape and architectural fantasies. An artist of amazing versatility and technical virtuosity, he painted subject matter ranging from the frivolous to the sublime. He could paint on virtually any scale, from colossal decorations to pictures the size of large miniatures. He developed a rapid alla prima technique in which detail was sacrificed for an overall effect. During the final decades of the ancien régime, the indefatigable Robert was widely recognized not only as one of France’s preeminent landscape and view painters but also as an accomplished and highly resourceful garden designer. His clientele included royalty, the aristocracy, and the wealthiest segments of the middle class, as well as foreign dignitaries. Imprisoned during the French Revolution, he survived the Reign of Terror.

Under the Directoire, Hubert Robert was reinstated in his official position as a curator of the Louvre, serving first as a member of the Conservatoire and, until late 1802, as part of the governing council of the Musée Central des Arts. He helped organize temporary exhibitions in the museum before its official opening in 1801. The artist’s energy never lagged. He exhibited regularly at the Salon until 1798. Hubert Robert died in his studio at Auteuil of an attack of apoplexy on April 15, 1808, at the age of seventy-five. An exhaustive catalogue of his paintings, drawings, and prints would have to account for several thousand works.


This text was previously published in Philip Conisbee et al., French Paintings of the Fifteenth through the Eighteenth Century, The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue (Washington, DC, 2009), 403.

Joseph Baillio

January 1, 2009

Artist Bibliography

Le Carpentier, Charles. Notice sur Hubert Robert, peintre, lue à la Société d’ émulation, dans la séance du 1er mai 1808. Rouen, 1808.
Gabillot, Claude. Hubert Robert et son temps. Paris, 1895.
Nolhac, Pierre de. Hubert Robert (1733–1808). Paris, 1910.
Burda, Hubert. Die Ruine in den Bildern Hubert Roberts. Munich, 1967.
Carlson, Victor. Hubert Robert: Drawings & Watercolors. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1978.
Cayeux, Jean de. Hubert Robert et les jardins. Paris, 1987.
Cayeux, Jean de, with Catherine Boulot. Hubert Robert. Paris, 1989.
Herzog, Günther. Hubert Robert und das Bild im Garten. Worms, 1989.
Boulot, Catherine, Jean-Pierre Cuzin, and Pierre Rosenberg. J.H. Fragonard e H. Robert a Roma. Exh. cat. Académie de France, Villa Medici, Rome, 1990.
Baillio, Joseph. “Hubert Robert’s Decorations for the Château de Bagatelle.” Journal of the Metropolitan Museum of Art 27 (1992): 149–182.
Baillio, Joseph. “Addendum to ‘Hubert Robert’s Decorations for the Château de Bagatelle.’” Journal of the Metropolitan Museum of Art 30 (1995): 103.
Saint Girons, Baldine, Lioubov Savinskaïa, et al. Hubert Robert (1733–1808) et Saint Pétersbourg: les commandes de la famille impériale et des princes russes entre 1773 et 1802. Exh. cat. Musée de Valence, Valence, 1999.
Baillio, Joseph. “A Hermit in a Garden” by Hubert Robert (1733–1808): A New Acquisition for The Speed Art Museum. Louisville, 2001.
Conisbee, Philip, et al. French Paintings of the Fifteenth through the Eighteenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 2009: 403.

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