Ettore Roesler Franz was an Italian painter in oil and watercolour, of landscapes and genre scenes, who exhibited regularly in London during the late nineteenth century. He remains best known for his immediate and atmospheric views of Rome and its environs, including places and practices that have since been lost to redevelopment and social change. In recent years, his pioneering work as a photographer has also attracted attention. Ettore Roesler Franz was born in Rome on 11 May 1845, the son of Luigi Roesler Franz, who was of Bohemian descent, and Teresa (née Biondi). He was educated at the Christian schools of the Trinità dei Monti and, from 1863, studied art at the Accademia di San Luca. There he befriended the sculptor, Ettore Ferrari.
Between 1864 and 1872, Franz worked at the British Consulate, where he met the consul and artist, Joseph Severn, who had been a close friend of the poet, John Keats.
On the death of Severn in 1879, he and his brother, Alessandro, contributed to a funerary plate in his memory, and Alessandro took his place as consul. Alessandro married the Englishwoman, Julia Teiser, and went to live with her in England, so providing Ettore with an entrée into the society and art market of Britain and its empire.
Franz was probably the first artist to devote himself to depicting the working class areas of Rome, many of which were coming under the threat of destruction, as the city was developed, from 1870, as the capital of the newly unified Italy. Devoting himself to his art from 1872, he began to exhibit at the Società degli amatori e cultori di belle arti, in Rome, in 1873, and the Società promotrice di belle arti di Torino, in 1874.
In 1875, Franz became the first President of the Società degli Acquarellisti di Roma, which he had helped found with nine other artists, including Vincenzo Cabianca, Onorato Carlandi, Nazzareno Cipriani, and Cesare Maccari, and which was modelled on the British Society of Painters in Water Colours. From the same year, he began to exhibit regularly in London, at venues that included the Dudley Gallery, and in 1878 participated in the Exposition Universelle in Paris. Such international exposure would lead to his gaining some significant patrons, including three kings of Italy and members of the Danish, German and Russian royal families.
In 1881, Franz visited various European cities, including Oxford, Paris and Cologne. By that year, he had begun to create the first of his three famous series of watercolours, which had the encompassing title of ‘Roma Pittoresca’ (but is better known in English as ‘Vanishing Rome’). So he held a non-selling solo show at his studio at 96 Piazza San Claudio of works that formed the nucleus of the first series. Two years later, in 1883, the first set of 40 watercolours was exhibited in the Esposizione nazionale di belle arti di Roma, at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni. However, the second and third series of the cycle were not exhibited until 1897, in the foyer of the Teatro Drammatico Nazionale in Via Quattro Novembre.
Among other honours, Franz was appointed Knight of the Order of the Crown of Italy (1890) and an honorary citizen of Tivoli (1903).His friend, the Futurist, Giacomo Balla, painted a famous portrait of him, which was exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1902.
Ettore Roesler Franz died in Rome on 26 March 1907.
His work is represented in the collections of the Museo di Roma.