ROME has captured the imagination of artists down the generations. As a spiritual centre and apogee for the Grand Tour, it has become home to some of the highest achievements in Western art.
Shortly after the millennium, Francis Kyle, the London-based art dealer, invited 18 artists from Britain and Europe to make their own pilgrimage to Rome and record their visual senses of the Italian capital. The exhibition of their work has recently opened and shows a rich and eclectic diversity.
The Roman summer has been interpreted by Hugh Barnden in the medium of gouache and oil. He takes the prospect of the city from its rooftop gardens, from which, within a single viewpoint, he can paint architecture spanning 15 centuries.
Julian Bell set out to paint as if Rome were eternally being rebuilt and its history reenacted. From a vantage point between the Capitol, the Palatine and the Forum, he inserted into his picture pipe-laying workmen cast as heroes of classical mythology.
Alain Senez, a Flemish painter, celebrates the eternal city with a large-scale triptych which features an imaginary colonnade, embellished with traces of wall paintings from various periods opening onto a capriccio of Rome.
By contrast, Genevieve Dael stood in St Peter’s to translate the splendour of its polychrome surfaces into an essay on light. Two rows of confessional boxes give a wonderful dimension to one oil painting.
Several artists have taken routes to Rome as their subject. Yorkshire-born Graham Hillier paints the Cassian Way towards Orvieto in Umbria with a wonderful row of trees inviting the eye to search into the distance.
Jonathan Briggs worked in the countryside south of Rome, impressed by the enormous skies over farmland in the Alban hills.
By contrast Liz Butler, miniaturist in watercolour, found her subjects in Rome’s gardens and fountains, revealing the interaction between water and stone. Yet for Lucy Raverat, it is the city’s ruined structures that appeal. Like one of the tourists in a Piranesi etching, she is present in each composition as a tiny, wraith-like figure in a polka-dot dress.
Inspired by Caravaggio, Anna Wimbledon shows the festive, bacchanalian qualities of Rome’s crowded streets and bars where figures, painted with great clarity, emerge mysteriously from darkness into light.
Francis Kyle Gallery, 9 Maddox Street, London W1S 2QE (tel 020-7499 6870). The exhibition runs until April 24.