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William Marlow (London 1740 – 1813), View of Saint Peter’s, Rome. Estimate $300,000-500,000. Photo: Sotheby’s.

oil on canvas, 35 5/8  by 49 3/4  in.; 90.5 by 126.4 cm.

PROVENANCE: Probably sold (where consigned by the artist), London, Christie’s, 13 March 1784, lot 94, for £19.19 to Price;
The Rev. Brendan Blundell;
By whom sold, London, Sotheby’s, 20 March 1974, lot 14, for £18,000;
With P. & D. Colnaghi, London and New York;
With Herner Wengraf Gallery, London, 1975;
Anonymous sale (« The Property of a Private Collector »), New York, Christie’s, 12 January 1996, lot 13;
There purchased by the present collector.

EXHIBITED: London, Society of Artists, 1783, no. 155;
London, P.& D. Colnaghi, Pictures from the Grand Tour, 14 November – 16 December, 1978, no. 45;
Munich, Haus der Kunst, Zwei Jahrhundert Englische Malerei, Britische Kunst und Europa 1680 bis 1880, 21 November 1979 – 27 January 1980, no. 101;
Stockholm, Nationalmuseum, Pa Klassik Mark (Malare in Rom pa 1780-talet), 1982, no. 193;
London, P.& D. Colnaghi, Views from the Grand Tour, 25 May – 30 June 30, 1983, no. 24.

LITERATUREArt at Auction, The Year at Sotheby Parke-Bernet 1973-74, London 1974, p. 60;
L. Salerno, I Pittori di Vedute in Italia (1580-1830), Rome 1991, p. 179 and 181, reproduced fig. 51.6;
M. Liversidge, « …A Few Foreign Graces and Airs…, William Marlow’s Grand Tour Landscapes, » in The Impact of Italy: The Grand Tour and Beyond, London 2000, pp. 92-93, reproduced (as dated to 1783).

NOTE: This unusual view of St. Peters’s, Rome, seen from behind rather than the more standard frontal view, was painted by Marlow in 1783, long after he had returned to England from his travels in Italy.  A watercolor by the artist of the same view, now in the British Museum (fig. 1) probably served as his basis for the oil painting.  The viewpoint is taken from the Via Aurelia Antica looking towards the Vatican Walls and the great dome of the Basilica and, in the distance, the dome of San Carlo al Corso.


William Marlow, The Dome of St Peter’s © The Trustees of the British Museum.

When Marlow left London for the Continent in 1765 he was already an accomplished view painter, having apprenticed to Samuel Scott for five years (1754-59) and staying on two additional years as his assistant.  However, by the middle of the 1760s, it had become essential for a landscape or view painter working in England, who wished to attract new and discriminating patrons, to expand beyond scenes of the English countryside and views of country houses.1  The demand for foreign views had continued to grow since earlier in the century with the rise of the Grand Tour to Italy, which became obligatory for any well-educated English gentleman.  Though documentation is scarce, we know that Marlow traveled in France and Italy for about a year, from the summer of 1765 to the autumn of 1766.  From that one trip he seems to have gathered enough material to draw on continuously for the rest of his career.  Upon his return to England, he worked up a series of outline pen and ink drawings based on his sketches, which he kept in an album from which clients could order a version in oil or watercolor.2  He often worked without a specific commission, selling his pictures through public exhibitions and even through auction salesrooms.3  Such appears to be the case with the present painting; in March of 1784 (see Provenance), a painting titled “A back view of St. Peter’s at Rome,” was consigned for sale by Marlow himself to an auction at Christie’s.4  Marlow’s choice to paint St. Peter’s from such a singular aspect was perhaps a way of standing out in what had become a very crowded and competitive market.

A similar viewpoint, though from closer in to the wall, was used by Claude Lorrain in a drawing dated to circa 1630-35, now in the Teyler  Museum, Haarlem.5

1  See M. Liversedge, op.cit., p. 85.
2.  Ibid., p. 89
3.  Ibid., p. 88.
4. According to records of the Getty Provenance Index.
5. See M. Roethlisberger, Claude Lorrain, the Drawings, Berkeley and Los Angeles 1968, Catalogue vol. pp. 88-9, cat. no. 42, reproduced Plates vol., no. 42

Sotheby’s. Master Paintings: Part I. New York | 29 janv. 2015, 10:00 AM