Lowell Libson & Jonny Yarker Ltd

  • Oil and pencil on paper
  • 8 ⅞ × 15 ⅛ inches · 226 × 385 mm
  • Signed with initials and inscribed 'TJ / without the Porta Pia Roma', verso
    Painted June 1778


  • Elizabeth Dale (1781-1806), daughter of the artist;
  • Captain John Dale, husband of the above, by inheritance;
  • and by descent to;
  • Mrs Elphinstone Farrier, 42 Pont Street, London SW1; 
  • Farrier sale, Christie's, 2 July 1954, The Property of a Lady whose husband was a descendant of Thomas Jones, a pupil of Richard Wilson, R.A., probably lot 215 (6 gns. to Colnaghi);
  • Colnaghi's, London;
  • Sir Francis Watson, KCVO (1907-1992), acquired by 1958;
  • and by descent to 2014;
  • Christie’s, London, 9 July 2014, lot 206;
  • Private collection, UK, acquired from the above, to 2018


  • Norwich, Castle Museum, Eighteenth Century Italy and the Grand Tour, May – July 1958, no. 34;
  • Rome, Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Il Settecento a Roma, Rome, March – May 1959, no. 310;
  • London, Marble Hill House, Thomas Jones (1742 – 1803), 1970 (travelling to Cardiff, National Museum of Wales), no. 39 (lent by F J. B. Watson).

This plein air oil sketch was made by Thomas Jones in Italy in 1778. Rapidly executed in oil on primed paper, showing a non-descript view on the outskirts of Rome, this landscape is one of the most powerful studies made by Jones during his Grand Tour. 

It was precisely the anonymity of the scene, an area of scrub and the rooflines of suburban villas in the Campagna, rather than one of the monuments of classical Rome, that makes this view so compelling. Jones’s concentrated, atmospheric oil studies such as this, have long been recognised as transformative in the evolution of European plein air landscape painting.

In the autumn of 1770 Thomas Jones recorded in his Memoirs a trip to Gadbridge, Buckinghamshire, the home of his cousin Rice James: ‘made a number of Sketches from the little picturesque Bits round about, as far as St Alban’s, and painted in Oil some Studies of Trees &c after nature.’[1] This is the most substantive reference in Jones’s own writing to his technique of producing studies from nature on primed paper small enough to fit into the lid of a painting-box. This innovative technique became an important feature of his Continental work. Indeed, whilst in Italy, Jones met a number of French, German and Scandinavian artists who were beginning to make use of the on-the-spot oil study, including Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes. Peter Galassi has noted that it was Jones and Valenciennes in their shared interest in painting outdoors which: ‘mark[ed] the beginning of a continuous tradition, the importance of which continued throughout the nineteenth century.’[2] Jones’s studies, in particular his unusual views of Neapolitan rooftops, display a sensibility and immediacy which make them stand out. As Anna Ottani Cavina pointed out in the recent exhibition in the Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Paris: ‘C’est l’Angleterre qui expérimente la première la réactivité de ces peintres face au paysage italien, de Francis Towne à Thomas Jones et John Robert Cozens jamais aussi audacieux et inventifs qu’en présence de lieux quelconques, découverts au hazard de leurs voyages.’[3]

This oil was evidently painted out of doors in the Summer of 1778: pin holes are visible in the top corners, suggesting it was attached to the lid of Jones’s paint box or portable easel. The sheet is signed and inscribed on the verso ‘without the Porta Pia Roma' which gives us a rough location of the view. In the meticulously written (and re-written) journal Jones kept of his time in Italy, he left a vivid account of what took him outside the Porta Pia:

‘During the last as well as the present and succeeding Months, I made many very agreeable excursions to a Villa near S’o Agnese without the Porta Pia – This Villa was situated upon a gentle Ascent which commanded a view of the City of Rome on One hand, and the Campagna with the Appenine Mountains on the Other’[4]

Several other oil sketches by Jones survive made on these excursions, including two depicting a cavern, one of which is inscribed: ‘A cavern near Sant’ Agnese without the Porta Pia’ and now in the National Museums & Galleries of Wales. Jones continued in his Memoir giving an account of the villa he frequented:

‘It belonged to Sig’re Martinelli, a Roman, of good family, but rather reduced in Circumstances – He had originally a large extent of Vineyards about it, but had been obliged to dispose of the greater part to Barazzi the banker who had built himself a handsome Country House in the Neighbourhood – With this Sig’re Martinelli, little Couzins the Landscape Painter lodged in Rome and as he was not well in health, when the Weather was favourable, resided at this Villa for the benefit purpose – Here I made some studies in Oil of the surrounding Scenery and was accommodated with a nice Poney whenever I pleased to take an airing with little Cousins and his JackAss.’[5]

The villa and its surrounding vineyard were located along the Via Nomentana, the Consular road which ran north east out of Porta Pia, near the basilica of Sant’Agnese fuori le mura. Using Jones’s description we can work out the precise location. Francesco Barazzi was a significant financier who acted as banker to many significant Grand Tourists, including artists. A plan of his property was made at his death and corresponds to a plot of land delineated in the most detailed early map of the area Giovanni Francesco Falzacappa’s Carta topografica del suburbano di Roma which was published in 1830. The plan shows the villa complex was situated to the south east of Sant’Agnese, on an area of elevated land, the ‘gentle Ascent’ mentioned by Jones. It is clear from Falzacappa that even by 1830 few buildings had been constructed to obstruct a view both of Rome itself and across the campagna to the Castelli Romani in the east. Nothing of Vigna Martinelli survives today, the villa itself was located roughly on the site of the circonvallazione, or Roman ring-road, in the modern area of Pietralata.

Jones mentions John Robert Cozens was staying at the villa, to Cozens we can add the names of John ‘Warwick’ Smith and Francis Towne, both of whom produced drawings at Vigna Martinelli.[6] In the present oil sketch, Jones seems not to show the villa itself, but a view looking due West from the villa towards the via Nomentana. Jones has included a sketched profile of the villa’s garden gate, but other than a solitary Cyprus tree and the backs of a number of other houses, the view is anonymous. This was the approach which characterises Jones’s most famous oil sketches, the depictions of the tops of buildings seen from the window of his lodgings in Naples. Jones has instead focused on the effects of sunset on the landscape, as such, this plein air study prefigures a generation of European Romantic landscape painters.


  1. ed. P. Oppé, ‘Memoirs of Thomas Jones, Penkerrig, Radnorshire, 1803’, The Walpole Society, vol.32, 1946-8, p.22.
  2. P. Galassi, Corot in Italy: Open-Air Painting and the Classical Landscape Tradition, New Haven and London, 1991, p.18.
  3. Ed. A. Ottani Cavina, Paysages d’Italie; Les peintres du plein air (1780-1830), Paris, 2001, p.xxvi. 
  4. Ed. Paul Oppé, 'Memoirs of Thomas Jones', The Walpole Society, vol. XXXII, 1946-48, p. 73.
  5. Ed. Paul Oppé, 'Memoirs of Thomas Jones', The Walpole Society, vol. XXXII, 1946-48, p. 73. 
  6. For the John ‘Warwick’ Smith see Anne Lyles and Robin Hamlyn, British Watercolours form the Oppé Collection, Exh. cat., London (Tate Gallery), 1997, cat. no. 51, p.138; the Towne is in the collection of the British Museum (Museum Number: Nn, 02, 10).