- Museum number
View of the Grand Harbour, Valetta, Malta
Pen and black ink, watercolour
- Production date
- 1780 (circa)
Height: 208 millimetres
Width: 342 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- Desprez won the prix de Rome in 1776 and while a student in Rome he was hired to provide drawings for the Abbé de Saint-Non's 'Voyage pittoresque ou Description des royaumes de Naples et de Sicile' published in Paris between 1781 and 1786. In April 1778 Desprez and his fellow artist Claude-Louis Châtalet, along with the writer Dominique Vivant Denon, set off for southern Italy which included a stay in Malta from 6 to the 17th of September. Desprez's preliminary drawing for this finished drawing made for the engraver is in the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Stockholm, see R. Michel, in exhib. cat., Paris, Louvre, 'La chimère de Monsieur Desprez', 1994, no.283a.
Lit.: A.E. Popham, 'Catalogue of Drawings in the Collection formed by Sir Thomas Phillipps, Bart., F.R.S., now in the possession of his Grandson, T. Fitzroy Phillipps Fenwick of Thirlestaine House, Cheltenham', London, 1935, p. 220, no. 1, pl. XCV; N.G.Wollin, ' Desprez en Italie: dessins topographiques et d'architecture, décors de théatre et compositions romantiques, exécutés 1777-1784', Malmö, 1935, p.95; P. Lamers, 'Il viaggio nel Sud dell'Abbé de Saint-Non: il "voyage pittoresque à Naples et en Sicile"; la genesi, i disegni preparatori, le incisioni', Naples, 1995, p.50, no.31; P. Stein, in exhib. cat., New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and London, BM, 'French Drawings from Clouet to Seurat', 2005, no.62 (with further literature).
A quirky and talented artist, Desprez was first trained as an architect at Jacques-François Blondel's school in Paris. He eventually switched to the Académie Royale and went on to win the Prix de Rome in 1776. While a student in Italy, he was hired to join the Abbé de Saint-Non's team to provide drawings for the Voyage pittoresque, ou description ...de Naples et de Sidle, published in Paris between 1781 and 1786 (see no.56). He ultimately produced 135 finished drawings for the project; along with Claude-Louis Châtelet (1749/50-95), he was among the most prolific contributors. Without forsaking architectural accuracy, Desprez's scenes were dramatically composed and lit and were often enlivened with colourful street scenes or festivities rendered in a delicate ink line and watercolour washes.
In April 1778 Desprez and Châtelet set off for Naples, Sicily and Malta in the company of Baron Dominique Vivant Denon (1747-1826), who would provide the text for Saint-Non's book. After nine months of making careful ink line drawings, Desprez returned to Rome where he would use these models to produce finished drawings for the engravers. From 6 to 17 September the group sojourned in Malta, a sovereign archipelago under the control of the Knights of Malta, a religious and military order of the Roman Catholic church.(n.1) Four views engraved after Desprez of the capital city Valetta and its harbours appear in the Voyage pittoresque.(n.2) The city is located on the promontory of Sceberras, dividing the bay into two harbours. The BM sheet represents the Grand Harbour, to the south-east of the city, and two other scenes depict Marsamxett Harbour to the north.(n.3) Renowned for its fortifications, hospitals and Baroque palaces, Valetta rises steeply from the quay in Desprez's drawing, a dense jumble of imposing structures, fortified walls, steeples and domes. Unlike the mostly empty expanse of water in the preparatory study (Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Stockholm),(n.4) the bay in the finished watercolour bustles with activity. A great variety of vessels, many with elaborate masts and rigging, balance the composition by adding mass and interest to the left side of the sheet. Washes of blue and grey create the effect of a brilliant sunlit day.
Text by P. Stein, 2005 as cited above.
1 A detailed chronology of Desprez's life and travels assembled by B. Chenique can be found in `La chimère de Monsieur Désirez`, op.cit., 1994, pp.207-34.
2 Lamers, op.cit., 1995, pp.278-81, nos 282-5.
3 Ibid, pp.278-81, nos 282 and 284.
4 Ibid., pp.279-80, no.283a.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1984, BM, Master Drawings & Watercolours, no. 129
1992 June-Oct, Stockholm, Nationalmuseum, Jean Louis Desprez, no.31
2005/6 Nov-Jan, New York, Met Mus of Art, Clouet to Seurat/BM, no. 62
2006 June-Oct, BM, Clouet to Seurat/BM, no. 62
- Associated titles
Associated Title: Voyage pittoresque ou description des royaumes de Naples et de Sicile
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number