Philip James De Loutherbourg - Encyclopedia

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PHILIP JAMES DE LOUTHERBOURG (1740-1812), English artist, was born at Strassburg on the 31st of October 1740, where his father, the representative of a Polish family, practised miniature painting; but he spent the greater part of his life in London, where he was naturalized, and exerted a considerable influence on the scenery of the English stage, as well as on the artists of the following generation. De Loutherbourg was intended for the Lutheran ministry, and was educated. at the university of Strassburg. As the calling, however, was foreign to his nature, he insisted on being a painter, and placed himself under Vanloo in Paris. The result was an immediate and precocious development of his powers, and he became a figure in the fashionable society of that day. In 1767 he was elected into the French Academy below the age required by the law of the institution, and painted landscapes, sea storms, battles, all of which had a celebrity above those of the specialists then working in Paris. His debut was made by the exhibition of twelve pictures, including "Storm at Sunset," "Night," "Morning after Rain." He is next found travelling in Switzerland, Germany and Italy, distinguishing himself as much by mechanical inventions as by painting. One of these, showing quite new effects produced in a model theatre, was the wonder of the day. The exhibition of lights behind canvas representing the moon and stars, the illusory appearance of running water produced by clear blue sheets of metal and gauze, with loose threads of silver, and so on, were his devices. In 1771 he came to London, and was employed by Garrick, who offered him Soo a year to apply his inventions to Drury Lane, and to superintend the scene-painting, which he did with complete success, making a new era in the adjuncts of the stage. Garrick's own piece, the Christmas Tale, and the pantomime, 1781-1782, introduced the novelties to the public, and the delight not only of the masses, but of Reynolds and the artists, was unbounded. The green trees gradually became russet, the moon rose and lit the edges of passing clouds, and all the world was captivated by effects we now take little notice of. A still greater triumph awaited him on his opening an entertainment called the "Eidophusicon," which showed the rise, progress and result of a storm at sea - that which destroyed the great Indiaman, the "Halsewell," - and the Fallen Angels raising the Palace of Pandemonium. De Loutherbourg has been called the inventor of the panorama, but this honour does not belong to him, although it first appeared about the same time as the eidophusicon. The first panorama was painted and exhibited by Robert Barker.

All this mechanism did not prevent De Loutherbourg from painting. "Lord Howe's Victory off Ushant" (1794), and other large naval pictures were commissioned for Greenwich Hospital Gallery, where they still remain. His finest work was the "Destruction of the Armada." He painted also the Great Fire of London, and several historical works, one of these being the "Attack of the Combined Armies on Valenciennes" (1793). He was made R.A., in addition to other distinctions, in 1781, shortly after which date we find an entirely new mental impulse taking possession of him. He joined Balsamo, comte de Cagliostro, and travelled about with this extraordinary person - leaving him, however, before his condemnation to death. We do not hear that Mesmer had attracted De Loutherbourg, nor do we find an exact record of his connexion with Cagliostro. A pamphlet published in 1789, A List of a few Cures performed by Mr and Mrs De Loutherbourg without Medicine, shows that he had taken up faith-healing, and there is a story that a successful projection of the philosopher's stone was only spoiled by the breaking of the crucible by a relative. He died on the i rth of March 1812. His publications are few - some sets of etchings, and English Scenery (1805)

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