Natural, spontaneous, and fresh, this drawing reflects French artists' new direct approach to nature in the second half of the 1700s. The director of the French Academy in Rome encouraged students to make the Italian capital and its environs one of their favored subjects.
Hubert Robert created this drawing while a student at that academy. It explicitly embodies a theme that remained constant throughout his career: the interaction between living nature and aged, slightly decaying buildings. He brought many such drawings back to Paris, where they served as sources for his paintings for many years.
Robert typically developed compositions whose effect was both picturesque and slightly imposing. This scene, drawn in red chalk, one of his favorite media, combines direct observation with the artist's imagination. Characteristically, Robert included two diminutive figures at the stone well; they serve to accentuate the lean-to's great height and the massiveness of the well's pulley.