Gravelot, Hubert François (DNB00)
|←Graunt, John||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 22
Gravelot, Hubert François
GRAVELOT, HUBERT FRANÇOIS, whose surname was properly Bourguignon (1699–1773), draughtsman and book illustrator, born at Paris 26 March 1699, was second son of Hubert Bourguignon, a master tailor, and Charlotte Vauzon his wife. His elder brother was Jean Baptiste Bourguignon d'Anville, the celebrated geographer, and the two brothers were placed by their father at the college ‘des Quatres Nations.’ The younger brother, who, according to one account, was called Gravelot after his godfather, made but little progress in his studies, and took to drawing very early. He left the college, and wishing to study in Italy, obtained through his father a post in the suite of M. le Duc de la Feuillade, ambassador to Rome. The embassy did not get further than Lyons, where Gravelot spent much time and money in purchasing books, for he was a great reader, and also in verse-making, to which he was addicted throughout his life. Returning to Paris he led a somewhat dissipated life, and was sent by his father, in the suite of M. de la Rochelard, to San Domingo. Here he drew a map of the island, remained there until he was thirty, fell dangerously ill, and finally returned home with empty pockets. He then entered the studio of Restout, the painter, and determined to practise drawing as a profession. In 1732 he received an invitation from Claude du Bosc [q. v.], the engraver, to come to London and assist in the production of a new edition of Picart's ‘Cérémonies Religieuses.’ He accepted the offer, and crossed to England, where he remained for several years. Gravelot had already acquired much of the delicate and minute skill and elegance which has rendered him famous as a draughtsman. He greatly influenced contemporary art in England, and was employed on countless drawings for book illustrations. He drew most of the ornamental frames for Houbraken's well-known portraits of English historical celebrities. He was a friend of Garrick, and made a drawing of Mlle. Clairon, the actress, for him. According to Vertue he was inclined to give himself airs, and Vertue records a fracas at Slaughter's coffee-house caused by Gravelot's slighting remarks on the artists employed by Sir Andrew Fountaine [q. v.] He appears to have lived at first at the Golden Cup in Bow Street, Covent Garden, and afterwards at James Street, Covent Garden, though another account says that he kept a drawing school in the Strand opposite Southampton Street (J. T. Smith, Nollekens and his Times, ii. 208). He taught drawing from the life at his academy, and among his pupils was Thomas Gainsborough [q. v.] Many of his drawings in England were engraved by Charles Grignon [q. v.] In 1745 Gravelot returned to Paris, finding, according to French accounts, the position of a Frenchman in England unpleasant after the English defeat at Fontenoy. He is said to have again revisited England, and to have finally returned to Paris in 1754. His fame as an illustrator of books preceded him, and he found constant employment from the Parisian publishers. He worked assiduously till his sight failed him. He died in Paris on 20 April 1773, and was buried in the church of St. Germain l'Auxerrois. Gravelot led a retired life, and courted no public honours. He was twice married, each time imprudently, but left no children.
Gravelot's illustrations to books are notable for their wealth of grace and fancy, and are executed often in the smallest compass with incredible lightness and delicacy. His art was quite peculiar to himself, and the beauty of his drawings was often lost in the engraving. His designs show both the good and the bad taste of the age, and he is seen to better advantage as an illustrator of romance or poetry, where his imagination had freer play, than of historical or dramatic works. While in England he drew the illustrations for Theobald's ‘Shakespeare’ (1740), and, with F. Hayman, R.A., for Sir Thomas Hanmer's ‘Shakespeare’ (1744–6). Other noticeable works were the illustrations to Gay's ‘Fables’ (1738), ‘The Dunciad,’ Dryden's plays, and ‘Tom Jones,’ besides numerous plates of costumes, caricatures, architecture, &c. Among the last may be noted the interior of Westminster Hall, showing the shops, and the judges in court at the further end. After his return to France his most noticeable works were the illustrations to Boccaccio's ‘Decamerone’ (1757), Voltaire's edition of Corneille's works (1764), Voltaire's own works (1768), Racine's works (1768), and Marmontel's ‘Contes.’ He etched a few plates himself, and at one time took to painting, which, in spite of Boucher's commendation, he abandoned as being too expensive, and begun too late in life. While in England Gravelot published a ‘Treatise on Perspective.’ Examples of his numerous works and several drawings are in the print room at the British Museum. Two portraits of him exist, one engraved by Massard from a drawing by La Tour, and another by Henriques from a drawing by Gravelot himself.[All biographies of Gravelot are based on the eulogy of him by his brother, d'Anville, in the Nécrologie for 1774. See also notices by MM. E. and J. de Goncourt in the Gazette des Beaux-Arts, February 1868, and by Baron Roger Portalis in Les Dessinateurs d'Illustrations au dix-huitième Siècle; Redgrave's Dict. of Artists; Duplessis's Histoire de la Gravure; Vertue's MSS. (Addit. MSS. Brit. Mus. 23067, &c.); Walpole's Anecdotes of Painting.]