Ettore Roesler Franz, painter and watercolorist, son of Luigi and Teresa Biondi, was born in Rome on May 11, 1845 and here died on March 26, 1907.
Founder and President of the Society of Watercolor Artists in Rome, he is among the Italian painters of the nineteenth century who most exposed and have established himselves in Italy and abroad. He can be considered as one of the most valuable examples of the late nineteenth century of Realism genre and among the best Italian watercolourists ever.
Master of the watercolor technique (paper, brushes, colors and its collector, which he personally selected with meticulous care, came all from England) because it was considered the best way to reproduce the countryside scenes and especially the transparency of the heavens and water, he was a cosmopolitan artist with European mentality. He saw far and wanted to give a proof of his time, exploring the cities that disappeared or were reborn. In that sense, he can be considered as a forerunner of modern environmentalists as well.
Its Roman family of German origin had founded the famous Hotel d’Allemagne close to the Spanish Steps, which hosted personalities like Goethe, Stendhal, Wagner, Luciano Bonaparte, de Lesseps, Thackeray and Winckelmann, and was mentioned in a sonnet by Giuseppe Gioachino Belli.
Ettore Roesler Franz, polyglot (he spoke fluently French, English and German), Knight of the Crown of Italy and commander, in his life has got the Honorary Citizenship of Tivoli. But only recently he has been called “the painter of landscape and memory”, being the artist who most contributed to the image of Rome and Lazio in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.
After his studies at the Christian Schools of Trinità dei Monti, Ettore attended the Academy of St. Luke in Rome with his close friend Ettore Ferrari (1845-1929) who dedicated to him a pastel portrait when Ettore was 18 years old. Ferrari is known for the monument to Giordano Bruno in Campo de’ Fiori in Rome and later to be became deputy in the Italian Parliament and Grand Master of the Grand Orient of Italy.
Another good friendship was with Giacomo Balla (1871-1958) who marked his international debut right with an oil portrait of Ettore in Villa d’Este (Tivoli) in 1902, with which he was admitted at the Venice Biennale in 1903.
Since the youthness Ettore had a good connection with the Anglo-Saxon environments. In fact, he began his activity working at the British Consulate, where he met the consul Joseph Severn (1793-1879), who was a good watercolorist and a close friend of John Keats. When Severn died, Ettore and his brother Alessandro, at that time consul of England in Rome, contributed – along with other English intellectuals – to the erection of his funerary plate in the Non-Catholic Cemetery at the Pyramid, in Rome. His brother Alessandro, after marrying the English lady Julia Teiser went live in London, helping Ettore to get in into the Commonwealth market.
Among his greatest admirers, Ettore Roesler Franz also had Ferdinand Gregorovius (1821-1891), great German historian and honorary citizen of Rome.
Ettore Roesler Franz was also the first painter to reproduce the Roman Ghetto and, in all the current publications of the Jewish community of Rome, his watercolors are reproduced as a testimony of its links with it.
The work that brought fame to him worldwide is undoubtedly the “Vanished Rome“, or rather, quoting his own words, “Rome picturesque / Memories of an era that goes”. They are 120 watercolors (each of them measuring around 53 × 75 cm., horizontal or vertical), divided into three series of 40 each. Thanks to this idea it was possible to have an unprecedented historical record of urban and suburban views that were disappearing, to be handed down to posterity.
The artist travelled around all Europe, as evidenced by the 23 exhibitions abroad (Paris, London, St. Petersburg, Berlin, Dresden, Stuttgart, Munich, Wien, Belgium and the Netherlands) and the 46 in Italy (Rome, Turin, Milan, Florence, Trieste and Venice). Works by Ettore Roesler Franz ended up both in museums and royal collections and even in Alaska, Argentina and Australia.
Nineteen works have been purchased by excellent customers: Her Majesty the Empress Dagmar of Denmark, widow of Tsar Alexander III of Russia, his son Grand Duke George Alexandrovich, three kings of Italy (Victor Emmanuel II, Umberto I and Victor Emmanuel III of Italy), Queen Margherita of Savoy, the Grand Duke Louis of Hesse and the famous statesman Quintino Sella.
“Sincerity makes the artist great ” was the inscription which appeared at the entrance of his studio. Another motto was found on the back of one of his paintings, in French: “To succeed in life we must learn to be patient, take the hassles, undo and redo, restart and continue, avoiding that the motion of anger or the imagination impetus would be able to arrest or divert the daily effort”.
The Artist, therefore, has been a forerunner of modern environmentalists. He was a cosmopolitan and European-minded artist, who wanted to give proof of his time, realizing that the cities he was portraying were disappearing or regenerating.
Regarding his Roman activity, paintings of Ettore Roesler Franz are the only evidence of that historical change , allowing us today to easily imagine how Rome was before the disembowelments. The affected areas were several, beginning with the demolition of all the houses on the left bank of the Tiber, and on the right bank in Trastevere area, continuing with Villa Ludovisi, considered the most beautiful garden of Europe, and< the destruction of the Roman Ghetto, to end up with the great losses of Porto di Ripetta and Ripa Grande. The subsequent disembowelments of the city during Fascist period then led to further destruction of other parts of Rome as the “Spina of Borgo” in front of St. Peter’s Basilica and the whole area between piazza Venezia and T heatre of Marcellus, on one side, and via Alessandrina with the demolition of the house of Giulio Romano, on the other side.
In an essay in English (a sort of “spiritual will”) of 1894, Ettore Roesler Franz hoped that, in the future, his collection Vanished Rome “should be placed in a special room with a large topographical map of Rome where I would give indications of where the pictures were taken, and this would facilitate the scholars of next generations to understand how Rome was before these changes”. Here you can find the original.
How was big the love of the artist for watercolors is also proved by this letter, sent by Ettore Roesler Franz to Luigi Bellinzoni and published in the spring of 1880 on “Il Popolo Romano”, magazine in which Bellinzoni was art critic. We can read: “my dear Bellinzoni, I read with pleasure in your art Journal this morning the right comments for little or no consideration which holds the watercolor in the piazza del Popolo exhibition. It is truly regrettable that, after the development which this branch of painting took in Rome, you should still treat it as a trinket of art and give to it the last seat in all the exhibits. As to the one of piazza del Popolo is then doubly painful that to meet the thoughtfulness of the worthy President we induce to send their work to see them then exposed in a light that is not light and in an environment where the best thing I could do is to flee away for not taking a rheumatism or other illness and lack of those enticements you already mention that resolve then also in sacrifices more for the exponents which are seen sales likely vanished. In your magazine you found very little appreciable among the watercolors. Your task was difficult! As if those jobs rather than attacked were exposed, who knows that you’d find others worthy of your observations? You know how I did and do take a considerable place among us for the watercolor, as it has already elsewhere. I shall therefore increasingly grateful whenever you will employ to remove certain prejudices, which alas still dominate the field. You shake hands your friend Ettore Roesler Franz. “
Among the buyers of the artist’s works during his life we have well-known personalities of the House of Savoy: King Victor Emmanuel II (1820-1878), Queen Margherita (1851-1926), her husband King Umberto I (1844-1900), their son King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy (1869-1947) and the Grand Duke Louis of Hesse, in fact, acquired five watercolors and six pastels. Six other watercolors were purchased by the italian Minister of Finance and statesman Quintino Sella (1827-1884). Among his “excellent” clients “excellent”, finally, there are Her Majesty the Empress Maria Feodorovna of Denmark (1847-1928), widow of Tsar Alexander III of Russia (1845-1894), and his son Grand Duke George Alexandrovich of Russia (1871-1899) who purchased two watercolors.
On February 6th, 1903, the painter received the honorary citizenship of Tivoli. By clicking on the picture you can see the enlargement of the beautiful illuminated parchment by Giuseppe Cellini (12/9/1855-4/29/1940).
To counter the City Council of Tivoli after having received this honorary citizenship unanimously, Ettore Roesler Franz donated to the Municipality of Tivoli a watercolor depicting “Ponte Lupo-Poli” (66 x 102 cm, 1898), today located in the Mayor’s Office.
Ettore Roesler Franz rests in the Chapel of his family at the Verano Monumental Cemetery in Rome (under Rupe Caracciolo, arc n.21) and is listed among the 21 famous people resting in the structure
By clicking here you can see the full list (n.18, Ama Roma website).
Despite his young age of death, also the cousin of Ettore, Giuseppe Roesler Franz (son of Pietro, brother of Luigi, father of Ettore), has been a talented watercolorist. Born in Rome on 20 July 1838, Joseph Roesler Franz died at the age of 13 years in Frascati on 24 September 1851. The monument dedicated to his memory is on the access door of the sacristy of the basilica of San Lorenzo in Lucina in Rome, and it is sculpted a brush on it, , because of his job. To his memory, his uncle Michele Melga in 1854 dedicated a little volume of 20 pages “Obituary of Giuseppe Roesler Franz”, keeped in the Biblioteca della Società Napoletana di Storia Patria di Napoli. On the date of his death, Ettore was only 6 years old. It cannot therefore be excluded that this event may have contributed on its future choice to become himself a watercolorist to follow in his unfortunate cousin’s footsteps.
These 3 watercolors are made by Giuseppe Roesler Franz and were so defined and catalogued by the Museo di Roma in Palazzo Braschi:
1-2) “Torre delle Milizie e Palazzo Rospigliosi”, 1885-1899, (38×26,7 cm), inv. GS 1740 e “Torre delle Milizie e Palazzo Rospigliosi”, 1860, (38×27 cm), inv. GS 990. The pictures come from the collection of Anna Laetitia Pecci Blunt and were mistakenly attributed to Ettore Roesler Franz from the Museo di Roma in palazzo Braschi, while they are certainly 2 works of Giuseppe Roesler Franz.
That results from the catalogue of the exhibition “Roma sparita” (donated by Anna Laetitia Pecci Blunt), published by Amici dei Musei di Roma, Rome – Palazzo Braschi – march/april 1976 pag. 34 n. 154 table XXXIX. “Watercolour attributed to Giuseppe Roesler Franz”, (cm. 27 x 38).
Furthermore the subject depicted in the paintings is recovered from the palazzetto Chigi, then Roesler Franz, at Quattro Fontane. This confirms that the work catalogued the Museum of Rome # GS1740 is by Giuseppe Roesler Franz. Therefore the dating of the paintings (in the period 1860–1899) is incorrect, since Joseph died in 1851.
3) Roesler Franz Giuseppe, “Caracalla“, 1850 (41×29) – The black and white image is available. It is not specified where the collection comes from.
4) Roesler Franz Giuseppe, “Unknown construction time of Sixtus V alle Quattro Fontane“ 1850, painted, (47×33,8 cm) – The black and white image is available. It is not specified where the collection comes from. The picture has this caption: “The painting probably (it’s a slip of the tongue to correct, editor’s note) plays a semicircular building time of Sixtus V (as indicated by an inscription) which was located near the garden Chigi (later Franz) at Quattro Fontane,and that can be found in the map of the Aquifer (Pietrangeli 1971, p. 157).“ It should be correct then the caption of the picture including the reference to thearticle “About the Garden Chigi at Quattro Fontane“ of Giovanni Incisa della Rocchetta, published together with the reproduction of the watercolour at p.208–211 of the Strenna dei Romanisti of Christmas of Rome MMDCCVIII – April 21, 1955 – where it is reported that the watercolor was carried out in 1850 by the 12-year-old Joseph Roesler Franz, “from a window of the Palace Chigi, then belonged to his family (the garden was granted in emphyteusis to Pietro Roesler Franz). But “who will never know tell us (the author wondered) what the circular building, which is also noticeable in large plant by G.B. Faldaof 1676 and in watercolor, flaunts, clearly visible the inscription: “Sixti V Pont. Max Auspiciis?” was?“. The attribution of this watercolor by Giuseppe RoeslerFranz does however attribute automatically to him even the aforementioned watercolor because the scene was taken from the Palace Chigi, then RoeslerFranz, at Quattro Fontane.
Here are the pictures of these 3 watercolors and of the monument dedicated to his memory is on the access door of the sacristy of the basilica of San Lorenzo in Lucina in Rome. A monument in which you can see the monument head-on is taken by Bilbiotheca Hertziana website at this link.
The only pupil of Ettore Roesler Franz was Adolfo Scalpelli (Tivoli, 28 June 1888 – Altopiano della Bainsizza, 23 August 1917).
Biography of Adolfo Scalpelli
His parents desired he will become a good artisan and he was interested to the figurative arts. Hence, it was enrolled to the technical schools, that he frequented with good results. In 1902, Ettore Roesler Franz, that had established to Tivoli his second residence buying the house of Onorato Carlandi, knew him at Villa of Este (you can see a picture above). In a shor time, Ettore acknowledged the good abilities of the young and recommended to the family of Adolfo to let him become his pupil. So, Scalpelli, taking advantage of the lessons of Ettore, started to learn with great humility and constancy the first notions of the painting, “stealing” little by little the secrets of the work of the great watercolorist. Ettore was prodigal of suggestions and recommendations also in the abundant corrispondance between them.
A tenacious training, careful to the teachings of his teacher and to the suggestions of the nature, gave to the young painter, in a few years, enviable help and safety. Scalpelli learned patiently the rudiments of the work and copied for a long time the models that the teacher submitted him, with pencil, pen, charcoal and crayon, contemporarily venturing himself with subjects studied in the reality. The most recurrent themes in the watercolors of the student and his teacher are landscapes representing views in Rome (the ruins on the Appian Way, the aqueduct Claudio, the Chair of the Devil, Acqua Traversa, the Tevere at the doors of the Capital, the Roman countryside and the swamps in Maccarese and Villa d’Este in Tivoli.
As professor Renato Mammucari remembers, already in 1906, when he was eighteen years old, he opened the study in Via di Porta Pinciana 30, and began to expose with the Society of the Amateurs and Students both in Rome and in Turin. In 1907, the year when Ettore died, he was admitted in the Acquarellistis actually exposing uninterruptedly in the shows of the Association.
Adolfo Scalpelli inherited for will from his teacher “all the utensils for the painting both found in my study to Rome or found in my apartment in Tivoli; all of my books that have connection to the art and the artists, all the sketches, photos etc. (I excluded complete watercolors or pictures) of my hand ore other artists’ hand not having any commercial value; I desire that they will give to him, if he desires to hold them as profits for his/her study.” It gave besides him piano “Yot Schreck and C.” which was in Tivoli and “clock with gold pencil that usual son to bring”, as well as the sum of 3.000 liras “to face his difficult career”. Besides that, Ettore Roesler Franz imposed to his relatives to purchase from Adolfo Scalpelli “one or more works for the sum of 1.500 liras for four consecutive years, starting from the first anniversary from the death”. And he specified that the jobs so purchased had to be ownership of the Roesler Franz family, because “these purchases must be made in order to encourage, therefore in the choice of the works you must considered the reason of my legacy”. Finally, he underlined that “if, at the time of my death, my student was not established in a personal office yet, I beg my Heir to assist him in the best way to this purpose. I desire that all of this that I have given to my student will freely be given to him and without tax of whatever sort”.
In 1910, the King of Italy Victor Emmanuel III purchased one landscape of him. Scalpelli, then, move in 1913 to Paris, where he frequented the Academie Carrée di Rue du Départ, absorbing the lesson of the Impressionists, without “betraying” the teachings of Roesler Franz, from which however, as justly Charles Bernoni annotates, already for his nature he was detached for the densest colors.
Left for the First World War, Scalpelli fought to the front as sottotenente of the 248° Regiment Infantry of the Brigade Girgenti and it was conferred him the Cross of St. George (imperial Russian decoration equivalent to our silver medal to the military valor). He died at 29 years on the plateau of the Bainsizza.
In 1918, one year after his death, the king and the queen, inaugurating in 1918 the exposure of the Amateurs and Students, purchased 3 of his last jobs.
Just for his premature disappearance their works are rather rare. The last exhibition of his pictures together with those of his teacher – about forty of works – was held in the Gallery of art of the Roman antiquary Alessio Ponti from November 18 to December 23 rd 2004, allowing to admire for the first time the unpublished works of these two artists, representing of the studies from the reality.
Bibliography of Adolfo Scalpelli
Carlo Bernoni on Quaderno n. 1 – 1984 of Municipality of Tivoli and on the catalog of 2004’s exhibition.
Exhibitions of Adolfo Scalpelli during his life
– 1909, 1910 e 1915 Association of Watercolorist of Rome;
– 1914 Venice Biennale.
Here are some pictures of him and his self-portrait: