Jean-Baptiste dit Auguste Clésinger (Besançon 1814 - 1883 Paris)

View of the Roman Campagna

Oil on wood panel
7 ½ × 18 ½ inches (19.1 × 47 cm)
Signed J. Clésinger lower left

As a young man, Clésinger studied with his father, a sculptor, before going to Rome, where he worked in the atelier of the great Danish sculptor Bertel Thorwaldson (1770 – 1844), also a sculptor, as well as the architect Salvi.  Upon his return to France, Clésinger settled in his home town of Besançon and eventually made his way north to Paris.  Auguste was a dashingly handsome man and had the kind of reputation that such men often have.  He was arrogant, aggressively independent and highly ambitious vis à vis the critical acclaim of his artistic career.  Ever the social climber, in 1847 Clésinger married the daughter of Georges Sand – Gabrielle Dudevant – but by 1852, the couple were divorced.

Auguste gained renown in the Salon of 1847 with his sculpture Woman Bitten by a Snake – a rather erotic composition that created quite a buzz.  He continued producing sculpture on his own, until the change in government, which occurred in 1848, with the election of Louis Napoleon Bonaparte as president of the Second Empire.  This also marked a change in Clésinger’s political ties.  He became an impassioned republican, thus he began to receive official State commissions.  Clésinger, however, was not receiving the recognition that he felt was his due and worse, his work was ridiculed by various colleagues – in particular by Augustin Préault (1809 – 1879).  Thus, Clésinger left France and returned to Rome, where he remained until 1864. Throughout his Italian sojourn, Clésinger continued to produce sculptures, shipping them back to France to be exhibited in the official Salons.  He also painted a series of sensitive landscape oil sketches of the Roman campagna and environs, of which our oil sketch is one.  Upon his return to France, Clésinger was named an officier of the Legion of Honor.

Our oil sketch, painted directly onto a wooden panel, is an example of a type of painting that has been called plein air painting.  Rather than producing sketches that are taken back to the studio in order to be worked up into large, formal paintings, in plein air painting, the artist works out of doors, painting what he sees directly, on the spot.  Our sketch depicts the Roman campagna at sunset.  The colors of the landscape are muting, as the clouds form horizontal bands of pink, yellow, turquoise and peach.  A reflection of these multi-colored bands is echoed in the water in the foreground of the painting.  This sensitive observation towards the end of the day in the countryside serves as an example of Clésinger’s multi-faceted talent.