William Pars

Rome: The Forum


William Pars 1742–1782
Watercolour, ink and graphite on paper
Frame: 636 × 807 × 42 mm
support: 402 × 588 mm
Presented by Mrs Marion Adams in memory of her husband Canon J.H. Adams 1986

Display caption

William Pars travelled to Italy in 1775 on a studentship given to him by the Society of Dilettanti, a dining club which sponsored and promoted the study of classical art and the creation of new works in the classical style. Pars spent much of his time in Rome, alongside other prominent British landscape painters including Francis Towne, John ‘Warwick’ Smith, and Thomas Jones, to whom he presented this watercolour of the Roman Forum. Pars remained in Italy until his death in 1782, when, despite being ‘a robust, hearty fellow’, he contracted ‘dropsy of the breast’, apparently caused by standing in water while sketching.

Gallery label, April 2007

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Catalogue entry

T04852 Rome: The Forum c.1775

Pencil and watercolour with pen on laid paper 402 × 588 (15 11/16 × 23 1/8)
Inscribed in the drawing, in pencil, ‘S. Lorenzo in Miranda de Speciale’, ‘Tempio della Pace’, ‘Tempio di Giove Tonante’, ‘Sa. Francesca Romana’, ‘Colosseo’, ‘Sa. Maria Liberatrice’, ‘Tempio di Antonio e Faustina’ and in ink ‘Vasca antica di granito’
Presented by Mrs Marion Adams in memory of her husband Canon J.H.A. Adams 1986
Prov: Probably acquired from the artist by Thomas Jones; thence to Capt. John Dale and by descent to J.H.A. Adams
Exh: Travels in Italy 1776–1783, Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, Oct.–Dec. 1988 (45)
Lit: Attilio Brilli, Il viaggio in Italia, 1987, pp.264–5, repr.

Several versions of this subject are known; one is in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, another in the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester and a third in the collection of the Bedford Estates at Woburn. A fourth was with the Fine Art Society in 1977. All rely directly on this drawing, differing from it only in the formation of the clouds and in the addition of small-scale figures. The Fitzwilliam version also has modified details at the extreme right, allowing the Arch of Titus to be glimpsed. The arch is not visible in the Tate drawing, which shows instead the church of S. Maria Liberatrice (demolished in 1902) closing the composition at the right. However, the Tate drawing seems to be the only one of the group to have been made on the spot. The spontaneous pencilwork, the fresh and only partial washes of colour, and the annotations of the names of the principal buildings in the view all suggest that Pars was drawing in front of the motif, making a note with the intention of producing worked-up watercolours for sale to patrons on the basis of the information it provided. Drawings of this type are rare in Pars's output, and the sheet is valuable as illustrating his methods of work. T04853 below probably served a similar function.

There is no evidence as to the exact date of the sheet, which might have been drawn at any time during Pars's stay in Rome. He had arrived in 1775, sent there from London on a bursary by the Society of Dilettanti, and remained until his death in 1782. It seems likely that he would have made it an early aim to provide himself with drawings of the most famous sites of the city for use in making finished views, and since the Forum is perhaps the most obvious and popular of such subjects, it is reasonable to infer that he drew it soon after his arrival. The annotations lend support to an early dating, since they suggest unfamiliarity with the place. The earliest dated Roman subjects are from 1776, but these are finished works, and none of them is a view of the Forum. The Woburn drawing, titled by Pars on its original mount ‘Campo Vaccino’, is signed with Pars's monogram and dated 1778.

Many of his surviving Roman views seem to have been drawn in company with other English watercolourists, notably Thomas Jones (1742–1803), John ‘Warwick’ Smith (1749–1831) and Francis Towne (1739/40–1816). Towne, a Devon artist, used Pars's London address in Percy Street in 1775, just before Pars's departure for Italy, but did not himself travel to Rome until 1780, leaving the city again in 1781. In that year he dated a watercolour of the Forum from a viewpoint just to the left of Pars's (British Museum 1972 U.650), and there is a closely comparable view by ‘Warwick’ Smith which may have been executed during an expedition with Towne (British Museum 1936–7–4–19). Both works, despite the slightly different subject, are very similar to Pars's, whose own drawing may possibly have been done at the same time. The fact that Jones apparently acquired both this and T04853 from Pars may suggest that some such circumstance was involved, and that they had for him the function of souvenirs of their friendship. Nothing is known of the distribution of Pars's effects after his death in Rome in 1782, and it may be that Jones took these sheets as mementoes of his friend at that time.

Despite the evident immediacy of the drawing, Pars seems to have allowed himself some licence in assembling the elements of the view, which was apparently taken looking east from a point near the south-east corner of the Basilica Julia and close to the foot of Mount Palatine. The three Corinthian columns with entablature in the right foreground designated by Pars as ruins of the Temple of Jupiter Tonans are part of what is now known as the Temple of Castor and Pollux. The large building in the centre distance behind the ‘Temple of Peace’ (now known as the Temple of Romulus) is the Basilica of Maxentius. The tiered building glimpsed beyond the campanile of S. Maria Nova (or S. Francesca Romana) is the Colosseum.

Published in:
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996

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