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Louis-Joseph Le Lorrain

French, 1715 - 1759

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Born in Paris in 1715, Louis-Joseph Le Lorrain combined, as Pierre Jean Mariette put it, "several talents that made him recommendable." He was a painter, printmaker, draftsman, illustrator, and painter of interiors; he conceived theatrical sets; and he was noted as a furniture designer. Trained as a painter by Jacques Dumont Le Romain (1701-1781), he won the Prix de Rome in 1739. He studied at the Académie de France in Rome from December 1740 until March 1749. Le Lorrain engraved architectural designs for the temporary centerpiece of the annual Chinea festival in Rome (1745-1747). These early neoclassical designs show Le Lorrain's absorption of the classicizing aesthetic of Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778), for whose opere varie he etched the frontis vignette (1750). He worked extensively as an engraver and as an illustrator of mostly French books, designing decorative elements and frontispieces as well as various figures and vignettes. In the 1750s he prepared the drawings for Claude Henri Watelet's (1718-1786) suite of engraved vase designs Raccolta di vasi (1757) and Julien David Leroy's (1724-1803) Ruines des plus beaux monuments de la Grèce (1758).

Back in Paris after 1750 under the protection of the antiquarian, the comte de Caylus (1692-1765), Le Lorrain executed ceiling decorations in encaustic (wax) for several Paris hôtels particuliers. Between 1753 and 1756 he also provided drawings and cartoons for the royal tapestry works at Aubusson. Named a member agréé (provisional) of the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture on January 29, 1752, Le Lorrain exhibited paintings at the Salons of 1753, 1755, and 1757. On July 24, 1756, he was officially received in the Académie as a history painter with a mythological scene, Cupid Transforming the Nymph Peristera into a Dove (location unknown). Le Lorrain exhibited mostly religious, mythological, and allegorical pictures, but at the Salon of 1755 he showed two paintings done in encaustic: a floral still life and a costumed figure. This technique of mixing pigment with molten wax had been revived by Caylus, and Le Lorrain's paintings using this process were notable enough to be mentioned in Diderot's Encyclopédie. No doubt through the influence of Caylus, Le Lorrain produced his most significant creations: his designs for a suite of ebony neo-Greek cabinet furniture built during the years 1756-1758 for the well-known Parisian amateur Ange Laurent de La Live de Jully.

As Mariette recounts, Le Lorrain's worries about his professional prospects led him to travel to Russia in early 1758 as the "First Painter of the Empress of all Russias, [and] Director of her Academy of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture at St. Petersburg." There, Le Lorrain taught pupils the rudiments of history painting while he continued his essays in encaustic, medal designs, portraits, and decorative ensembles. His tenure was short. A "victim of the somber, wintry weather of Russia,"[1] Le Lorrain succumbed to pneumonia at the age of forty-four in 1759.

[1] M. B***y, Le philotechne français, ou Recueil d'éloges, de critiques et d'anecdotes remarquables sur les artistes qui se sont distingués dans ce siècle, La Haye, 1766.

[Benedict Leca, in French Paintings of the Fifteenth through the Eighteenth Century, The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue, Washington, D.C., 2009: 311.]

Artist Bibliography

Mariette, Pierre Jean. Abecedario de P.J. Mariette et autres notes inédites de cet amateur sur les arts et les artistes. Edited by Philippe de Chennevières and Anatole de Montaiglon. 6 vols. Paris, 1851-1860: 3:123-125 (reprint Paris, 1966).
Montaiglon, Anatole de. Procès-verbaux de l'Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture, 1648-1793. 10 vols. Paris, 1875-1892.
Montaiglon, Anatole de. Correspondance des directeurs de l'Académie de France à Rome avec les surintendants des bâtiments. 18 vols. Paris, 1887-1912.
Eriksen, Svend. "La Live de Jully's Furniture à la Grecque." The Burlington Magazine 103 (August 1961): 340-347.
Eriksen, Svend. "Om salen paa Åkerö og dens kunstner Louis-Joseph Le Lorrain." Konsthistorisk Tidskrift 32, nos. 3-4 (1963): 94-120.
Eriksen, Svend. Early Neo-Classicism in France. London, 1974.
Sjöberg, Yves. Inventaire du fonds français; graveurs du dix-huitième siècle. 16 vols. Paris 1977: vol. 14.
Rosenberg, Pierre. "Louis-Joseph Le Lorrain (1715-1759)." Revue de l'Art 40-41 (1978): 173-202.
Conisbee, Philip, et al. French Paintings of the Fifteenth through the Eighteenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 2009: 311.

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