Léonard Defrance (Liège, 1735 - 1805) Studies for a visit to the printing office of Clément Plomteux, Liège

Léonard Defrance (Liège, 1735 - 1805) Studies for a visit to the printing office of Clément Plomteux, Liège
Léonard Defrance (Liège, 1735 - 1805) Studies for a visit to the printing office of Clément Plomteux, Liège
Léonard Defrance (Liège, 1735 - 1805) Studies for a visit to the printing office of Clément Plomteux, Liège
Léonard Defrance (Liège, 1735 - 1805) Studies for a visit to the printing office of Clément Plomteux, Liège
Léonard Defrance (Liège, 1735 - 1805) Studies for a visit to the printing office of Clément Plomteux, Liège

Léonard was born in a family of eleven children in Liège, 1735. Cause of his exceptional drawing skills, his parents contracted Jean-Baptiste Coclers (Maastricht, 1696 - Liège, 1772) for a 7 year period of apprenticeship. In 1753 he travelled to Rome by foot together with his friend and painter Ernotte, where he stayed untill 1759 and studied with Laurent Pêcheux after which he travelled to Naples, Florence and Montpellier. In Montpellier he stayed for several years where he was active as a painter of portraits. After visiting Toulouse and Paris Léonard returned to Liège in 1764. In 1773-1774 he visited The Netherlands together with his close friend Nicolas de Fassin (Liège, 1728 - 1811) where he developed a great interest for Dutch genre painting. Defrance and de Fassin would become the founding members of the first professional academy of Arts "Académie des beaux-arts de Liège" in 1775. Cause of his friendship with Jean-Nicolas Bassenge and Pierre-Joseph Henkart Léonard got involved in the Liège Revolution of 1789 after which he flees to Paris. In 1794 he returns to his native city where he is appointed as director of the "École Centrale". Defrance became one of the foremost painters of the daily life and 18th century industrialisation in the principality of Liège. Aside from painting he was also active as an art dealer. Léonard died in 1805 and was buried in the garden of his friend Henkart in Huy.

The present drawing with 3 studies of printers assistants in red crayon is a most interesting and exciting find for which the authorship of Léonard Defrance has been kindly suggested by Benjamin Peronnet.[1]

Defrance painted a total series of 4 paintings depicting visits to the printing office of Clément Plomteux, Liège. 3 of these remain in private hands in Liège and the fourth recently purchased by Musée de Grenoble in 2009.[2] This group of four paintings probably dated 1784 as they are first mentioned by then (images 3-5).[3] The fourth painting of this group was recently discovered by Prof. Daniel Droixhe in Paris in 2008.[4][5]

Clément Plomteux who was a freemason, inherited the printing office of his father in law Everard Kints and was one of the most famous and illustre book printers of 18th century Liège known for large projects such as his "Encyclopédie méthodique". Shameless and without any scrupules as he was, Plomteux edited pirated editions and libertarian books. Due to his freemasonry contacts and large financial funds he had excessive political and economical power for which he was most despised amongst colleagues.

On the walls of the office we find pamphlets advertising works by Rousseau, Voltaire, Buffon, Hélvetius, Raynal and Diderot together with ideas by Defrance which were censured due to their revolutionary contents and liberal nature. Assistants with higher ranks were close to the window with direct daylight, whilst a lower ranked assistant on the far left works with a hammer to put the letters on the same heigth and a typographer shows these activities to a group of visitors.

Our drawing shows the flamboyant walking assistant passing by the group of visitors on the far right of the drawing. The two other figures are printers assistants working with ink balls preparing the printing tables on the far left and in the background on the right, both on the other painting which forms a pendant together with the previously described painting recently purchased by Musée de Grenoble. Henry Hamal owned multiple drawings by Defrance.[6]

 

 

 

[1] Benjamin Peronnet, Christie's, London. Discussed the drawing in Amsterdam and kindly suggested the authorship for Léonard Defrance, based on digital images, 11 may 2014. 

[2] Lénoard Defrance, "La Visite à l'imprimerie, XVIIIe siècle". Oil on panel, 47 x 64,5 cm. Musée de Grenoble. Acquired from Galerie Terrades in 2009.

[3] la Société Libre d'Émulation, february 1784, mentions two paintings by Léonard de Defrance, owned by Clément Plomteux, who represent the interiors of a printing office.

[4] Prof. Daniel Droixhe, Un tableau de Léonard Defrance perdu et retrouvé. Culture, le magazine culturel en ligne de l'Université de Liège, 9-10 November 2009.

[5] Prof. Daniel Droixhe, "Images de livres; Raynal, Buffon, Mercier dans une 'Visite à l'imprimerie' perdue et retrouvée". Histoire et Civilisation du Livre 7, Genève: Droz, 2011, p. 99-113.

[6] Multiple drawings by Defrance, all from the coll. Henry Hamal in the Royal Musea of Fine Arts of Belgium.


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