In 1812, David Pierre Giottino Humbert de Superville settled in Leyden in the Netherlands. Then in his 40s, he had led a particularly adventurous life.
Born in 1770 to an artistic family in The Hague, he studied at the city's academy of drawing and left for Italy at the age of 18, to complete his training – like so many artists before him, since the 16th century onwards. His numerous, powerful copies and studies after the great Italian masters of the Quattrocento and early Cinquecento (the original "pre-Raphaelites") date from his early years in Italy. Like Lord Byron in Greece, some 25 years later, Humbert was passionately inspired by the revolutionary ideas of the late 18th century during his time in Italy. He played an active part in the Roman republicans' struggle for freedom: inspired by Napoleon, the group led a revolt against the established powers, and the authority of the pope. Humbert, a child of the Ancien Régime, was swept along in the new, rising tide of rationalism and liberalism. His work had a profound influence on late 19th-century art. Humbert was the archetypal "enlightened" painter, prefering to pursue his own artistic path rather than produce commercial pictures catering to popular taste. His work is characterised by an unparalleled virtuosity, a passion for the artistic vocabulary and philosophy of the French academic school, as propounded at the Beaux-Arts, and an ardent pursuit of perfection through ceaseless practice and experimentation. The present exhibition – at Musée Fabre and, subsequently, the Institut Néerlandais in Paris – pays tribute to the work of this comparatively little-known artist, with some 90 drawings from the prints and drawings collection at the University of Leyden.