Architecural Capriccio with the Cestius pyramid by Jean Alexandre Henri Pernet


Jean Alexandre Henri Pernet

Paris circa 1763 – ?

Architecural Capriccio with the Cestius pyramid

Pen and black ink, watercolour.

 570 x 465 mm – 22 7/16 x 17 13/16 in., oval.

Provenance: European private collection; Paris, sale Artcurial, 9 june 2021, n° 23.


A man draped in an antic robe – a philosopher ? – and soldiers are wandering in Roman vestiges such as the Cestius pyramid, a sculpture of Flore and a low relief inspired by the Medici Lion. This capriccio, an imaginary gathering of monuments inspired by Antique remains, is completely typical of Jean Alexandre Henri Pernet, an artist often qualified a French Piranesian.


We have very little biographical information about Pernet, who was the son of a Parisian perfume maker settled in rue d’Argenteuil and whose drawings were often engraved by Laurent Guyot (1756 – 1808). From the scarse documentary sources which mentions him, we learn that he was a pupil of Pierre Antoine Demachy (1723 – 1807) and exhibited at the Salon de la Correspondance, in Paris.


Most of his drawings were sold to collectors and amateurs, but he also designed decorations for object ; his small circular drawings surrounded by elegant bordures, engraved by Guyot, were probably meant to ornate button boxes. 


Pernet likes perspective effects, spectacular architectures, monument assemblage without topography ; he creates imaginary and oniric compositions which combine the taste for ruins, fashionable during the second part of the 18th century, with a search for pittoresque, in a lasting rococo mood. He is also the author of drawings representing historical moments such as  The Storming of the Bastille on the 14 July 1789, known through Guyot’s engraving.


Condition report – The sheet is mounted on a cardboard. Foxing in the right upper part, in the sky. Slight buckling. Overall fresh watercolor.