Hubert Robert pipe-clay dish

‘View of the Interior of the Grotto of Posillipo’, a painting on a pipe-clay dish by Hubert Robert that made £150,000 at Sotheby’s.

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A rare surviving example of a work he produced while in prison during the Revolution appeared at Sotheby’s sale of works from the Joseph Baillio collection on January 31.

Having been arrested in October 1793 (Robert had been under suspicion for his aristocratic connections having been patronised by leading members of the court at Versailles, but was charged with failing to renew his citizen’s card), he spent three months at the convent of Sainte-Pélagie before he was transferred to the seminary of Saint-Lazare. He was eventually released in August 1794 just days after Robespierre’s execution.

During his time in prison, it seems he was allowed to continued to draw and paint, especially on ceramic dinner plates which he sold at low cost including to other internees.

A few examples of these ‘terre de pipe’ or pipe-clay dishes have survived and a handful have emerged at auction over the last 20 years. Baillio had purchased this 7in (18cm) diameter plate for $60,000 (£42,095) at Sotheby’s New York in 2018.

It depicted the interior of the Grotto of Posillipo near Naples – Robert had almost certainly executed it from memory having first depicted the scene in an oil painting back in the 1760s.

A remarkable work which was described in the catalogue as ‘hauntingly beautiful’, it was estimated at $60,000-80,000 but sold at $150,000 (£118,110) – a record for one Robert’s ‘terre de pipe’ at auction according to

Colonnaded building


A great colonnaded building by Hubert Robert, $110,000 (£86,615) at Christie’s.

Meanwhile a Robert capriccio was among a number of French works on paper that also brought a decent contest at Christie’s.

The 2ft 7in x 2ft 3in (78 x 69cm) black chalk, pen and black ink and watercolour (executed on two joined sheets of paper) depicted a vast Roman-style colonnaded building with the roof partly open to the sky. It was in fact making a reappearance in the same rooms where it sold for $140,000 (£85,484) in 2000.

An atmospheric sketch from an important series of works on this subject, it was always likely to attract interest, especially being offered without reserve. Selling at $110,000 (£86,615), it fetched less than the price made 24 years ago but tipped over the $70,000-100,000 high estimate.

Buyer’s premiums

Sotheby’s: 26/20/13.9% + 1% overhead premium

Christie’s: 26/21/15%