French, 1719 - 1795
Vanloo, Charles Amédée Philippe; Vanloo, Amédée; Loo, Charles Amédée Philippe van; Van Loo, Amédée; Loo, Amédée van
Little is known about Charles Amédée Philippe Van Loo (also known as Amédée Van Loo), one of a family of Flemish artists settled in France. He was born in Rivoli, near Turin, in 1719, and began his artistic instruction at an early age under his father, Jean Baptiste Van Loo (1684-1745). The young student's training adhered to traditional workshop practice with its emphasis on the copying of old masters. From this initial period of study, Amédée quickly moved to the French Academy. In 1738, he won the Prix de Rome, which took him to Italy for three years, during which time he also visited Naples and Florence. On his return to France, Amédée settled with his father in Aix-en-Provence for a period of two years.
The next significant date in Amédée's career is 1748, the year that his uncle, Carle (1705-1765), was invited to the Prussian court of Friedrich II (Frederick the Great). The obligations of the older Van Loo, who had just become the director of the École royale des élèves protégés, opened the way for his young nephew to go in his stead. During the first and longer of his two extended stays in Berlin, Amédée produced portraits of Friedrich (r. 1740-1786) and members of his court, as well as paintings of a variety of subjects and genres. Among the most important of his commissions were mythological ceiling paintings in several of the palace buildings at Potsdam. Not surprisingly, Amédée's style was influenced by Friedrich's predilection for painters of the fête galante, such as Nicolas Lancret (1690-1743) and Jean Antoine Watteau (1684-1741), whose Pilgrimage to Cythera the younger artist copied during the early years of his residence in Prussia.
In 1759, Amédée returned to Paris, where he was given a teaching post at the École des beaux-arts and a studio at the Louvre. Until 1763, when he again left France for Berlin, the painter regularly exhibited an eclectic body of works at the Salons. Responses to his works varied. Although Diderot judged Amédée to be the weakest painter in the family, he and other salon critics sometimes found the character of his figures and his palette worthy of praise. One of the artist's most inventive and consequently celebrated compositions (now lost), exhibited just prior to his second departure for Berlin, represented the virtues of Louis XV. This picture is an early example of the painter's fascination with optical themes. When looked at through a faceted lens, a portrait of the king became visible. This interest is evident in other paintings dating to Amédée's second period in Berlin (lasting until 1769), such as The Camera Obscura (1945.10.1) in the National Gallery of Art's collection.
During Amédée's final period of activity, once again as professor at the École des beaux-arts in Paris, he exhibited some of his most interesting surviving works. The Pneumatic Machine (Archangelskoie, Youssoupoff Collection), for which he posed his own family, was inspired by a picture of the same subject painted by Joseph Wright of Derby in 1767-1768. Amédée's interest in contemporary scientific culture is similarly demonstrated in his L'Electricité (Archangelskoie, Youssoupoff Collection) of 1777. He died in Paris on November 15, 1795.
[Frances Gage, in French Paintings of the Fifteenth through the Eighteenth Century, The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue, Washington, D.C., 2009: 419-420.]