Adrian Stokes

Piazza Sant’Eustachio, Rome


Not on display

Adrian Stokes 1902–1972
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 546 × 457 mm
Purchased 1958

Display caption

This piazza lies between the Pantheon and the church of S.Ivo, with that of S.Eustachio flanking its northern side. Like the human body, architecture had a special importance for Stokes, in the interplay it presented between part and whole. He delighted, too, in its articulation of exterior and interior space and in its orderly contrasts of texture. In 1965 he stated that ever since his first visit to Italy in 1922 it had seemed to him 'that behind all the masterpieces there lay a simple progression, the progression for instance that I then observed from a cobbled street to the smooth flanks of a building.'

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry


Oil on canvas over panel, 547 x 458 mm (21 9/16 x 18 in)
Label on back typed ‘A Street in Rome | A. Stokes’

Purchased from the artist (Knapping Fund) 1958

Tate Gallery Report 1958-9, London 1959, pp.25-6
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, Tate Gallery: The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, II, London 1965, p.696

Piazza Sant’Eustachio is in central Rome, lying between the Pantheon and the church of S. Ivo, close to Piazza Navona. It is flanked on the northern side by the Romanesque church of Sant’Eustachio and on the others by the Palazzi Giustiniani, Lante and Maccarini and the Universita della Sapienza. Adrian Stokes told the Tate Gallery that he painted this view of the square in April 1955.[1] He seems to have been on an extended trip to Italy, as he had been in Ischia in February and it would appear from his correspondence that he stayed in Rome for some time. The composition would suggest Piazza Sant’Eustachio was painted from an elevated position, probably at a first floor window. The artist’s widow recalled that he always stayed in a hotel close to the church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva.[2] As this is very close to Piazza Sant’Eustachio, it is possible that the painting depicts the view from his bedroom window.

Though it was Stokes’s usual practice to paint in front of his subject, a preparatory drawing for this work in one of his notebooks might suggest that this painting was finished elsewhere.[3] However, the pencil drawing only delineates the main forms of the buildings and so appears to have served to establish the painting’s basic composition. Its lack of detail would have made it less than adequate as a study from which to work. That the work is carefully composed is demonstrated by the division of the painting in half by one of the dominant horizontals in the left hand building, which almost continues across the picture. Though Stokes was not a strong draftsman and he seems to have used a minimum of drawing in most of his paintings, pencil underdrawing, apparently ruled, is evident in this work. Over an off-white oil ground, the drawing was followed by scumbled oil paint; the ground is visible in some areas. In places, especially on the building on the extreme right, the paint has been scratched with a point in order to lessen its intensity. This is one of a number of strategies employed to flatten the picture space, including the use of opposing brush strokes in the two buildings on the left to emphasise their status as abutting planes of colour rather than structures divided in space. The resultant spatial ambiguity may explain the disjunction of scale between the buildings and the disproportionately small figure towards the left hand side.

Though Piazza Sant’Eustachio, Rome was acquired only three years after its execution, in 1977 Tate Gallery conservators found it to be in a poor condition. Tack holes in the canvas surplus indicate that it was originally on a stretcher, but at some point it has been marouflaged to counter its deterioration. The canvas was attached to a single 3mm thick three-ply panel, its face-grain vertical to the image, with animal size. The corners of the canvas were cut out as part of this process. In addition to subsequent abrasions to the paint, the panel has warped concave to the painting’s face and across the grain (it arcs to a depth of 7 mm when unframed). Occasional cracks in the paint relate to damage prior to the marouflage. There are also many areas where the ground has cleaved away from the canvas. There are extensive paint losses around the edges and in the areas of cleavage; overpainting by the artist indicates that at least some of these occurred soon after completion of the work.[4]

Chris Stephens
July 1998

[1] Adrian Stokes, letter to Tate, 30 December 1958, Tate catalogue files.
[2] Ann Stokes Angus, interview with the author, 19 June 1997.

[3] Notebook 12, Adrian Stokes papers, Tate Archive TGA 8816.12.

[4] Tate conservation files.

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