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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, Gallery 218


Painting and Sculpture of Europe


Hubert Robert


The Fountains


France (Artist's nationality:)

Date  Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.



Oil on canvas


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

Credit Line

Gift of William G. Hibbard

Reference Number


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