Lowell Libson & Jonny Yarker Ltd

  • Pen and brown ink, brown washes, over indications of red chalk
  • 9 ⅞ × 15 ¼ inches · 250 × 382 mm
  • With an associated sheet inscribed with currency calculations
    Drawn c. 1690
  • £7,500

Collections

  • Edward Croft-Murray (1907-1980);
  • By descent to 2018

This preparatory drawing for a ceiling was identified by Edward Croft-Murray as a design by the French decorative painter Louis Laguerre. The study was almost certainly made for a patron, showing two alternative schemes for a ceiling on the same sheet. Unlike Thornhill, Laguerre produced few oil sketches and even fewer drawings. An anecdote related by Joseph Highmore, suggests the reason for this paucity: ‘Burleigh House is adorned with the paintings of several masters, among others, of Cheron and Laguerre; these two were employed on different apartments. At their arrival, Cheron opened his chest of drawings after the life, such as academy figures, draperies &c. and Lord Exeter observing that Laguerre produced nothing of this kind, asked him where was his box of drawings. Laguerre, pointing to his head, answered, ‘I carry them all here.’[1] This has the immediate problem of making attributions to Laguerre complex and problematic.

George Vertue noted, in his short biography of Laguerre, that he was the son of a Catalonian who was ‘Maitre of the Menagerie of Foreign Fowles & Animals’ and that Louis XIV was his godfather.[2] Laguerre trained at the Académie Royale under Charles Le Brun, in 1682 he won third prize in the prix de Rome for a painting entitled Cain batit la ville d'Hénoch, and another third prize the following year, for his sculpture Invention des forges … par Tubal-Cain. Rather than stay in France Laguerre travelled to London in the company of another decorative painter Ricard. He rapidly established a practice in London, as Vertue noted:

‘so young, yet so forward a Genius soon afterwards mett with encouragement from many Noblemen. & painted for them. Halls. Stair cases. Ceilings, &c. in a great Number’.[3]

At the centre is a loosely sketched study for a painting, whose subject is probably Providence accompanying Psyche, indicated by the vessel she holds, in which she was charged to carry water from the river Styx to Olympus. In creating a diminutive central panel and dividing the remaining decoration into smaller compartments, rather than creating a unified painted space as was to become common, the design is consistent with French decorative ceilings of the third quarter of the seventeenth century, such as Charles Le Brun's influential work of the 1660s at Vaux-Le-Vicomte. Laguerre's early work in England, including his staircase ceiling at Sudbury Hall, Derbyshire, which he painted for George Vernon in 1691, also adopted this pattern of decoration. The vertical and horizontal crease marks throughout the sheet suggest that it was sent through the post and served as the painter's means of communicating his work to the client. As was common, the artist has offered two alternative approaches to the design of the plasterwork and the smaller painted compartments. The drawing is entirely consistent in style with Laguerre’s early British works, but with so few drawings to use for comparison a definitive attribution remains difficult.

References

  1. The Gentleman’s Magazine, LXXXVI, part 1, April, 1816, p.302. 
  2. Vertue, vol.III, pp.125-6.
  3. Vertue, vol.III, pp.125-6.