Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Philip James De Loutherbourg

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DE LOUTHERBOURG, Philip James (1740-1812), an artist of remarkably versatile ability and interesting personality. He was born at Strasburg, 31st October 1740, where his father, the representative of a noble Polish family, practised miniature painting in a semi-amateur manner; 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, Turner, Martin, <fcc. Young De Loutherbourg was intended for the Lutheran ministry, and was educated at the university of Strasburg. 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 the immediate and precocious de velopment of extraordinary powers. Besides this triumph, and independently of it, he became a figure in the fashion able society of that day, and the friend of such men as Diderot, who had just then mainly contributed to make Gesner celebrated. He was elected into the French Academy below the age required by the law of the institu tion, and painted landscapes, sea-storms, battles, all of which had a celebrity above those of the specialists then working in Paris. By temperament whatever was extra ordinary and sensational was attractive to him, and the bizarre appeared in all he did. His debut was made by the exhibition of twelve pictures, including Storm at Sunset, Night, Morning after Rain; and when he painted common things, as a group of asses, he gave the picture such a fantastic title as Father and Mother, Tattle Fanfan, Aunt and Uncle a la Bretagne, Cousin Germain, and the Perruquier of all the Family. In the next stage of his life we find him travelling in Switzerland, Germany, and Italy, distinguishing himself as much by mechanic inventions as by painting. One of these, constructed at his native city, was the wonder of the day, showing quite new effects produced in a model theatre. 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. Charles Blanc says one of these curious models, called "Le Seraphin," still existed in the Palais Royal at the date of publication of his work, ficole FratHjaise. Having repaired to London, De Loutherbourg was employed by Garrick, who offered him 500 a year to apply his mechanisms 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 & own piece, the Christmas Tale, and the pantomime, 1781-2, 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 he 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 pano rama, 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 Barker the elder.

All this mechanism did not in the least prevent De Loutherbourg from painting. Lord Howe's Victory off Ushant, 1794, and other large naval pictures, were commis sioned for Greenwich Hospital Gallery, where they still remain. His grandest work, the Destruction of the Ar mada, is one of the finest sea-fights ever realized on canvas. 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, happily leaving him, however, before the priests in Rome condemned him to death. We do not hear that Mesmer had attracted De Loutherbourg, or that the Revolu tion carried him away, nor do we find an exact record of his connection with Cagliostro; but there exists a pamphlet published in 1789, A List of a few Cares per formed by Mr and Mrs De Loutherbourg without Medicine, which relates some very remarkable examples of such cures. Cagliostro had led him to seek the philosopher's stone, but his success was frustrated by a female relative breaking in on his nocturnal experiments and destroying the crucible at the very moment of projection. He died llth March 1812. His publications are few, some sets of etchings, and English Scenery, 1805. His colour is hot and brown, which has injured his fame as a painter.