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The Fountains

Large painting of ancient arch ruins, statues, humans are small in comparison
CC0 Public Domain Designation

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  • Large painting of ancient arch ruins, statues, humans are small in comparison




Hubert Robert
French, 1733-1808

About this artwork

The painting of Classical ruins had reached the zenith of its popularity when Hubert Robert, the leading French practitioner of this specialty, was commissioned in 1787 to paint a suite of four canvases for a wealthy financier’s château at Méréville, near Paris. The Fountains and its companion pieces were set into the paneled walls of a salon in the château, creating an alternate space that played off of the elegant, Neoclassical decor of the room. Robert has studied in Rome from 1754 to 1765 and there had gleaned his artistic vocabulary. Like the other three large paintings from the group painted for Méréville, all in the Art Institute, The Fountains exploits Robert’s typical vocabulary of fictive niches, arches, coffered vaults, colonnades, majestic stairwells, and Roman statuary to create a fantasy of expansive space. The four paintings are inhabited by tiny figures in the foreground; these serve only to set the scale and animate the scene, for the ruins themselves are the true subject of the pictures. In his use of ruins, Robert embodied the notion of the relationship of mankind and the built environment to nature that was expressed by the French philosopher and encyclopedist Denis Diderot: “Everything vanishes, everything dies, only time endures.”

On View

Painting and Sculpture of Europe, Gallery 218


Hubert Robert


The Fountains






Oil on canvas


255.3 × 221.2 cm (100 1/2 × 88 1/8 in.)

Credit Line

Gift of William G. Hibbard

Reference Number


Extended information about this artwork

Object information is a work in progress and may be updated as new research findings emerge. To help improve this record, please email . Information about image downloads and licensing is available here.


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