Louis Jean François Lagrenée (French, 1805)


Louis-Jean-François Lagrenée was born in Paris in 1725. A pupil of Carle Van Loo, he won the Prix de Rome in 1749 and spent 1750-54 at the Académie de France in Rome. On his return to Paris in 1755 he was reçu by the Académie Royale on presentation of the Rape of Dejanira (Louvre, Paris), a work inspired by Guido Reni’s painting of the same name in the King’s collection (now in the Louvre). From 1760 to 1762 Lagrenée was premier peintre to the Empress Elizabeth and Director of the St Petersburg Academy. On his return he was appointed a professor of the Académie Royale in Paris. From 1781 to 1785 he was Director of the Académie de France in Rome and the following year was made Recteur of the Académie Royale. Despite his service to the ancien règime, Lagrenée survived the upheavals of the French Revolution and crowned his career by being appointed a curator of the new national museums under Napoleon.
Lagrenée painted historical, mythological and religious works, including the ambitious Assumption of the Virgin for St Pierre, Douai, exhibited at the Salon of 1759 (in situ) and the Audience of St Louis with Pope Innocent IV at Lyon for the Ecole Militaire, Paris (1773 Salon; in situ). In paintings such as the Education of the Virgin and the Bath of the Infant Jesus (both Salon 1765; Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe) he combined a slightly sentimental approach to his New Testament subject matter with a classicising style which looked back to the work of Francesco Albani and Eustache Le Sueur.
Lagrenée supplied mythological and allegorical overdoors and other paintings for the Bâtiments du Roi at Choisy, Bellevue and the Petit Trianon, Versailles. Like Joseph-Marie Vien and Jean-Baptiste Greuze, he turned away from mid-century rococo towards an early neoclassical manner characterised by cool colours, smooth technique and simple, refined composition. Lagrenée won important patrons both in France and abroad, supplying for example paintings of the Lacedaemonian mother and Telemachus and Termosiris for Sir Henry Hoare at Stourhead, Wiltshire (still in situ).
Between 1777 and 1789 the Comte d’Angiviller, Directeur-Général des Bâtiments du Roi, commissioned several large paintings for the Gobelins tapestry manufactory, including the Two widows of an Indian officer (Salon 1783; Hôtel de Ville, Dijon). Lagrenée’s own manuscript Livre de raison (Bibliothèque Doucet, University of Paris) gives an unusually detailed list of his paintings and patrons. He died in Paris in 1805. His brother Jean-Jacques Lagrenée (1739-1821), a history painter who became artistic director of the Manufacture de Sèvres, was his pupil.
The work of Louis-Jean-François Lagrenée is represented in the Louvre, Paris; the Petit Trianon, Versailles; the Château of Fontainebleau; the Hôtel de Ville, Dijon; Stourhead, Wiltshire and the Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe.