The J. Paul Getty Museum

Study of Clouds with a Sunset near Rome

Object Details


Study of Clouds with a Sunset near Rome


Simon Alexandre Clément Denis (Flemish, 1755 - 1812)




1786 - 1801


Oil on paper

Object Number:



33.8 × 39.4 cm (13 5/16 × 15 1/2 in.)

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Object Description

Dark, swirling clouds loom over a narrow strip of land, gently punctuated by far-off trees and a city skyline. The place is Rome. The weather: an impending rainstorm. The day: a late afternoon within the last decades of the 1700s.

This painting is one in a series of cloud studies--in fact the forty-eighth--that Simon Denis made to hone his observational and painting skills. Denis's confident paint handling and sensitive rendering of light capture the awe-inspiring power of nature. Using a warm palette, he juxtaposed light and dark tones to imply both the clouds' airy buoyancy and moisture-laden heaviness. Lively brushstrokes convey the constantly shifting forces of wind and light.

This dramatic cloudscape predates by a century the Impressionists' celebration of outdoor landscape painting in which they recorded specific, yet fleeting, effects of weather and time and exhibited those results as finished paintings. But in Denis's time, oil sketching on paper while outdoors offered the artist an opportunity to test and sharpen his skills. Denis would have kept his cloud studies in the studio for future reference for his finished paintings.

about 1900 - 2005

Private Collection (Southeastern France) [sold, Christie's, Paris, March 17, 2005, lot 408, to Blondeau & Associés, Paris.]


Blondeau & Associés (Paris, France), sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 2005.

Sur le motif: Painting in Nature around 1800 (September 23, 2008 to March 8, 2009)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), September 23, 2008 to March 8, 2009

Christie's, Paris. Dessins anciens et du 19ème siècle. March 17, 2005, pp. 182, 186-87, lot 408, ill.

"Denis consacré." La gazette de l'Hôtel Drouot, no. 12 (March 25, 2005), p. 36.

Josenhans, Frauke, and Mary Morton. Sur le motif: Painting in Nature around 1800, exh. brochure (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2008), unpaginated, cover ill.

Pagel, David. "The Super Natural." Los Angeles Times (December 1, 2008), p. E2.