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  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Description

    View of the Colosseum with a figure seated on the left; view of overgrown ruins with a reclining male figure at the lower left. 1747 Black and white chalk on blue paper

  • Producer name

  • School/style

  • Date

    • 1747
  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 285 millimetres
    • Width: 470 millimetres
  • Inscriptions

      • Inscription Content

        Signed and dated: "MA Challe/ 1747"
  • Curator's comments

    Challe was at the French Academy in Rome from 1742-1749 and while there he had made a number of drawings of the Colosseum. These include examples in the National Gallery of Art, Washington (1999.19.1; M. Morgan Grasselli, in, Washington, NGA, 'Renaissance to Revolution, French Drawings from the National Gallery of Art, 1500-1800', 2009, fig.1, p.142); a more polished version of the NGA sheet is in the Musée Magnin, Dijon (1938 DF 139; J. Vilain, 'Nantes, Musée Dobrée. Dessins de l'époque néo-classique', "Revue du Louvre", 1979, p.465, fig.2); the Musée Thomas-Dobrée, Nantes (978-8-1; Vilain 1979, p.23, fig.3); the Rijksprentenkabinet, Amsterdam (see R.J.A te Rijdt, in exhib. cat., Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum and Paris, Institut Néerlandais, 'De Watteau à Ingres: dessins français du XVIIIe siècle du Rijksmuseum Amsterdam', 2003, no.46); the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, (J. Bean, '15th-18th century French drawings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art', New York, 1986, no. 53); and in a private collection (R.P. Wunder, 'Charles Michel-Ange Challe: a study of his life and work', "Apollo", 87, 1968, p.23, fig.3).

    Lit.: P. Stein, in exhib. cat., New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and London, BM, 'French Drawings from Clouet to Seurat', 2005, no. 53

    After initially pursuing training as an architect, Challe spent time in the studios of François Lemoyne and François Boucher. He won the Prix de Rome on his second attempt in 1741 and was sent to Rome as a `pensionnaire` of the king. Finding favour with Jean-François de Troy, the Director of the Académie de France, Challe was able to extend his period of study from 1742 to 1749. However, back in Paris, his ambitions as a history painter ultimately fell victim to the consistently negative critical reception of his paintings at the biennial Salons, especially at the hands of Diderot, who became increasingly virulent in his comments. Challe's work was better received at court, and following his appointment in 1764 as `Dessinateur de la chambre et du cabinet du roi`, he was kept busy with designing settings and decorations for funerals and festivals in a style influenced by Piranesi.

    Diderot made an exception to his general disdain, singling out for praise one facet of Challe's production: '[T]his man Challe has brought back from Italy in his portfolio several hundred views drawn from nature in which there is grandeur and truth. Monsieur Challe, continue to give us your views, but don't paint anymore.'(n.1) Diderot's estimation of Challe's Roman views as numbering in the hundreds is borne out by the catalogue of the artist's estate sale, which lists over a hundred drawings of the Colosseum alone - as loose sheets, in portfolios and framed under glass.(n.2)

    Although it fell outside their official duties, drawing landscapes became very popular among French students in Rome in the 1740s, inspired in part by the proximity of Piranesi (1720-78), whose studio was just across the Corso from the Palazzo Mancini. Many adopted the technique of black and white chalk on blue or buff paper and worked in a fairly large format, applying the chalk in bold, but soft hatching, with strong contrasts of light and dark - a style that no doubt also owed a debt to Boucher's Roman landscapes of a decade earlier. Certain sites appear in the work of many `pensionnaires`, suggesting joint sketching expeditions. Particularly close to Challe's are the landscape drawings of Joseph-Marie Vien, who was in Italy from 1744 to 1750, and Louis-Gabriel Blanchet, in Rome from 1727. From the dates on some of Challe's sheets, he appears to have made most of his landscape drawings during his last years in Rome, from 1746 to 1749.

    The Colosseum, the principal amphitheatre of the Roman Empire, inaugurated by Titus in AD 80, presented a multitude of views, with its curved walls and crumbling archways, and was among the most frequently depicted features of ancient Rome drawn by Challe and his contemporaries, including examples in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam,(n.3) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.(n.4) Challe's composition, with its gentle sweeping curves and overhanging vegetation, presents this monumental antique ruin within the picturesque idiom of the Rococo. The intermingled black and white chalk promotes pictorial effect over architectural precision, and the reclining figure in antique dress at lower left suggests a mood of reverie.

    Text by P. Stein, 2005 as cited above.

    1 Quoted in English translation in R. P. Wunder, 'Charles Michel-Ange Challe: A Study of his Life and Work', in Apollo, LXXXVII (January 1968), p.26, and in French ('[c]e Challe a rapporté d'Italie dans son porte-feuille quelques centaines de vues dessinées d'après nature où il y a de la grandeur et de la vérité. Monsieur Challe, continuez à nous donner des vues mais ne peignez plus ...') in, Villa Medici, Rome, `Piranèse et les français, 1740-1790`, 1976, p.72, under no.20 (entry by J.-F. Méjanès).
    2 Sale, Paris, 9 March 1778 and following days (Lugt 2800).
    3 Amsterdam and Paris, 2003, op.cit., pp.144-7, no.46.
    4 Bean, 1986, op.cit., pp.56-7, no.53.


  • Bibliography

    • Stein 2005 53 bibliographic details
  • Location

    Not on display (French Roy XVIIIc)

  • Exhibition history

    2001 May-Sep BM, P&D, 'Paper Assets' (no cat.)
    2005/6 Nov-Jan, New York, Met Mus of Art, Clouet to Seurat/BM
    2006 June-Oct, BM, Clouet to Seurat/BM

  • Subjects

  • Associated places

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Acquisition notes

    This item has an uncertain or incomplete provenance for the years 1933-45. The British Museum welcomes information and assistance in the investigation and clarification of the provenance of all works during that era.

  • Department

    Prints & Drawings

  • Registration number


View of the Colosseum with a figure seated on the left; view of overgrown ruins with a reclining male figure at the lower left. 1747 Black and white chalk on blue paper


View of the Colosseum with a figure seated on the left; view of overgrown ruins with a reclining male figure at the lower left. 1747 Black and white chalk on blue paper

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